The Colts shocked the world this year, going from 2 wins to 11 wins and the 5 seed in the AFC. However, they haven’t been as good as their record. They enter the postseason at -30 in points differential (the worst ever by an 11+ win team). This because they have just 2 wins by more than a touchdown and 4 losses, including 3 losses by 20 or more.
They are 11-5 by virtue of their 9-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or more. A lot of people think this is impressive and point to this as a reason why Andrew Luck should be Rookie of the Year over Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin in spite of the latter two’s far superior stats (stats aren’t everything, but sometimes you can’t ignore them: Griffin and Wilson were 3rd and 4th in QB rating, Luck was 26th). I disagree with that as record in close games tends to be inconsistent on a game to game passes (teams who win a game by 7 points or less win the following game 52% of the time if it’s also decided by 7 points or less).
I don’t believe that some teams “know how to win games” more than others, just that some teams happen to play slightly better than their opponent more often than their opponent plays slightly better than they do. But even if that’s true, consider the Colts’ schedule. The Colts played a ridiculous 10 teams this season who won 7 or fewer games, going 9-1 in those 7 games, with 8 of those 9 wins coming by a touchdown or less. As a result of their weak schedule and unimpressive points differential, the Colts were DVOA’s 25th ranked team this year, worst ever by an 11 win team. They managed to win 11 games despite ranking 18th and 21st respectively in scoring offense and scoring defense. They only thing they were good at this season was winning close games, something I don’t think they can keep up.
And even if you believe regular season success in close games does predict success in close playoff games, you can’t argue that regular season success in close games against the Titans, Jaguars, Chiefs, and Lions predicts success in close postseason games against the likes of Baltimore, New England, and Denver. In fact, those games probably won’t even be that close considering the Colts struggle against playoff caliber teams on the road, where all of their playoff games will be unless they somehow face the Bengals in the AFC Championship (which won’t happen because they’ll have to win 2 road games first).
It is true that they are 3-2 against playoff teams this season and they are the only AFC team to have two wins over playoff teams from the superior NFC (in fact, while the AFC division winners are 0-6 against NFC playoff teams, wild cards Cincinnati and Indianapolis are somehow a combined 3-0). However, all 3 of those wins came at home and two of them came by a combined 6 points (I’ll get to the 3rd in a minute). On the road, they’ve lost in Houston by 12 and in New England by 35, their only two road games against playoff teams. They also have road losses by 20 in Chicago and 26 against the Jets (I think the simplest takeaway from this write up is that the Colts lost by 26 to the Jets).
I said I’d get to the 3rd win against a playoff team, last week’s 12 point win over the Texans. That was their most impressive game of the season. Not only was it their 3rd win of the season against an opponent who finished .500 or better, but it was their 2nd win of the season by more than a touchdown. It was a convincing win against a legitimate team, something they hadn’t had to that point in the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time, one week before the playoffs. Am I more sold on them as a result? Yes. Do I still think they’re the worst playoff team in the league this year? Yes. Houston, while they are a legitimate team, is also not as good as their record, for many of the same reasons as the Colts (easy schedule, 5-0 record in close games). It was also at home and I’m still not convinced they can even hang close with a playoff team on the road.
Projected fate: Lose to Baltimore in Wild Card round