Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: AFC Playoff Race And Tiebreakers, Bill Belichick, Patriots, Kenny Moore II 

With the Colts finally reaching the bye week, fans had questions for this week's mailbag on the AFC Playoff picture, what to expect from Bill Belichick and the Patriots and Kenny Moore II's nomination for the 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. 

21_Mailbag_1920x1080 readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out on the party this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here, or by taking part in the Forums. You can also send your questions to @JJStankevitz on Twitter.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Chris Wilson, Fishers, Ind.: So the Colts don't play this weekend. Who should I root for to help our playoff chances?

JJ Stankevitz: So let's re-rack the AFC playoff picture as things stand heading into Week 14:

  1. New England Patriots (9-4)
  2. Tennessee Titans (8-4)
  3. Baltimore Ravens (8-4)
  4. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4)
  5. Los Angeles Chargers (7-5)
  6. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)
  7. Buffalo Bills (7-5)
  8. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1)
  9. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)
  10. Las Vegas Raiders (6-6)
  11. Cleveland Browns (6-6)
  12. Denver Broncos (6-6)
  13. Miami Dolphins (6-7)

There are eight games this week that will have an impact on the AFC playoff race (the Dolphins and Patriots, like the Colts, are on a bye this week):

  • Steelers @ Vikings (Thursday Night Football)
  • Bills @ Buccaneers
  • Raiders @ Chiefs
  • Giants @ Chargers
  • Jaguars @ Titans
  • 49ers @ Bengals
  • Ravens @ Browns
  • Lions @ Broncos

So to answer your question, I popped over to 538's playoff predictor and played with results of these games. The Colts, heading into Week 14, have a 62 percent chance to make the playoffs, per 538. Here's how each individual game impacts those odds:

  • Steelers win: 59 percent | Steelers lose: 64 percent
  • Bills win: 58 percent | Bills lose: 65 percent
  • Raiders win: 61 percent | Raiders lose: 63 percent
  • Chargers win: 61 percent | Chargers lose: 66 percent
  • Titans win: 62 percent | Titans lose: 62 percent*
  • Bengals win: 60 percent | Bengals lose: 65 percent
  • Ravens win: 63 percent | Ravens lose: 61 percent
  • Broncos win: 61 percent | Broncos lose: 64 percent

*A Titans win decreases the Colts' chances of winning the AFC South from 5 to 3 percent; a Titans loss increases it from 5 percent to 17 percent.

So the games that could most positively impact the Colts' playoff odds are Bills-Buccaneers, Chargers-Giants and Bengals-49ers. If the Bills, Chargers and Bengals all lose this weekend, the Colts' playoff odds jump to 70 percent.

The games that could most negatively impact the Colts' playoff chances are Steelers-Vikings, Bills-Buccaneers and Bengals-49ers. If the Steelers, Bills and Bengals all win this weekend, the Colts' playoff odds drop to 52 percent.

If you're rooting for the perfect weekend, this combination of results gets the Colts the highest possible playoff odds coming out of the weekend – 75 percent:

  • Vikings over Steelers
  • Bucs over Bills
  • Chiefs over Raiders
  • Ravens over Browns
  • 49ers over Bengals
  • Giants over Chargers
  • Jaguars over Titans
  • Lions over Broncos

Anyways, hope everyone enjoys the weekend without Colts football. The most important thing for the Colts is to win out, and that's the focus for players and coaches – not necessarily how these results play out in Week 14.

Michael Whitney, Velpen, Ind.: I have a two-part question after a simple comment. I read and watched comments about who has the hardest remaining schedule. Have any of the commentators or analysts not realized what kind of schedule this team has had this year! Albeit, we lost some of these games, but in every one, we had a lead or a tie at some point. How many other teams can say this? First question; how are they figuring wild card order when teams have ties involved in there record, and when we have a winning record against those ranked above us?

JJ Stankevitz: You're absolutely right that the Colts have had a difficult schedule to date. They've played the AFC's current Nos. 2, 3 and 7 seeds and the NFC's Nos. 3, 5 and 7 seeds. And lying ahead are games against each conference's No. 1 seed in Week 15 (vs. New England) and Week 16 (at Arizona).

Anyways, let's get into some tiebreakers. The order of tiebreakers for the wild card goes as follows:

  1. Head-to-head record
  2. Conference win-loss percentage
  3. Common opponent win-loss percentage
  4. Strength of victory
  5. Strength of schedule
  6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed
  7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed
  8. Best net points in conference games
  9. Best net points in all games
  10. Best net touchdowns in all games
  11. Coin toss

That's a lot, right? Usually, you only have to pay attention to the top two or three tiebreakers. But let's take a look at where the Colts (7-6, 6-3 in the AFC) stand in these against other teams in contention for the playoffs:

  • New England Patriots (9-4): The Colts play the Patriots in Week 15, so if there's a tiebreaker, it'll be the head-to-head result (unless there's a tie, which...let's not go down that path right now).
  • Tennessee Titans (8-4): The Titans won the head-to-head series, 2-0, so they have the tiebreaker for the AFC South.
  • Baltimore Ravens (8-4): The Raves beat the Colts in Week 5 and own the head-to-head tiebreaker for a wild card spot.
  • Kansas City Chiefs (8-4): If the Chiefs do not win the AFC West, there's a good chance – but not guaranteed – the Colts would have the AFC tiebreaker over them. Kansas City is 3-4 in the AFC entering Week 14. The Colts do not play the Chiefs in 2021.
  • Los Angeles Chargers (7-5): The Chargers are 5-3 in the AFC entering Week 14, and if there were to be a tie in AFC record, it'd go to record against common opponents. LA is currently 1-2 against the Raiders, Patriots and Ravens with games remaining against the Texans and Raiders. The Colts are 1-1 against the Texans and Ravens, so games against the Patriots and Raiders are big not only for the Colts' win-loss record but for their tiebreaker against the Chargers as well.
  • Cincinnati Bengals (7-5): Same deal here. The Bengals are 5-3 against the AFC this season, so we'd go to common opponents. Cincinnati is 3-1 against the Jaguars, Jets, Ravens and Raiders with games left against the 49ers and Ravens. The Colts are 3-1 against the Jaguars, Jets, Ravens and 49ers with that game remaining against the Raiders. But because this is determined by winning percentage, and the Bengals have that extra divisional game against the Ravens, a tie in conference record is unlikely.
  • Buffalo Bills (7-5): Finally a simple one. The Colts thumped the Bills, 41-15, in Week 11 and own the tiebreaker here.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1): By virtue of the Steelers' tie with the Detroit Lions, the only way a tiebreaker would come into place is if the Colts have a tie in their final four games. Again: Let's cross that bridge if we get there, but not now.
  • Las Vegas Raiders (6-6): The Colts play the Raiders in Week 17, with the result determining the head-to-head tiebreaker.
  • Cleveland Browns (6-6): The Browns are 3-5 in AFC play, so a common opponent tiebreaker for a playoff spot is unlikely.
  • Denver Broncos (6-6): Same deal here – Denver is also 3-5 against the AFC.
  • Miami Dolphins (6-7): The Colts beat the Dolphins, 27-17, in Week 4 and have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Miami.

The good news here is the Colts already have head-to-head tiebreakers over the Bills and Dolphins, and could have them over the Patriots and Raiders. Things get complicated with the Bengals and Chargers but, again, all the Colts can really care about here is winning their remaining four games and being confident that'll be enough to make the playoffs.

Joe Clingenpeel, Green River, Wyo.: My question is this: How in the world did the Colts pick Kenny Moore II as their Walter Payton Man of the Year Nominee? Oh, I'm not saying he does not deserve it; he certainly does deserve it. My point is that the Colts are such a quality organization, it had to be difficult to determine who was most deserving of this prestigious award and I am sure that Kenny would agree with me.

It isn't an accident that our roster is full of respectable, high quality, young men of character; these are the traits the Colts are looking for when they obtain players. Although I no longer live in Indiana, I was born a raised there and have been a Colts fan since they moved to Indianapolis. I have seen some pretty great Colt teams over the years. In fact, my wife and I had season tickets for a couple of years during the Payton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James era so I saw some pretty exciting players and games. I can honestly say, that this seasons team is my favorite, mostly due to the number of high quality players that the Colts have on this year's team.

John Wooden once said, "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is what others think you are...the true test of a (person's) character is what (they) do when no one is watching." Kenny, congratulations, you are truly a man of character and you deserve to be the Walter Payton Man of the Year. I am proud that you are a part of the Colt tradition!

JJ Stankevitz: What a nice email, and Joe, you're absolutely right – the Colts have a locker room full of high character guys. That doesn't happen by accident, and it's a testament to the culture in place here in Indianapolis. That culture starts with the Colts' front office identifying and bringing in the right players, and then those players fitting in with the established player leadership in the locker room.

Kenny Moore II could not be a better representative for the Colts on and off the field, and is a fantastic choice to carry on Walter Payton's legacy with this award. Read more about him here.

Don Ball, Fountaintown, Ind.: You're 5 things to watch articles talks about anomalies. Have you been watching the games? Did you not realize their record is 6-6?

JJ Stankevitz: Hey, time for a not-so-nice email. Here's what I wrote that you're referencing: 

The Colts feel like those turnover and penalty issues are fixable – especially because they haven't been a team that's committed many turnovers or been flagged for many penalties this season. Entering Week 12, the Colts only had 10 giveaways in 11 games, and they have the fourth-lowest penalties per game average (4.8) in the NFL this season.

So in a sense, the things that cost the Colts last weekend were anomalies with how this team is playing in 2021.

I realized the Colts record is 6-6. Sure. (They're now 7-6). And I watch the games, duh. 

But my point was this team is not prone to turnovers or penalties, so when, 12 weeks into the season, they had a game in which they committed turnovers and penalties, it felt more like an anomaly than a trend. That's real.

Scott Deeds, Toledo, Ohio: How can the Colts run D limit the Patriots rushing attack?

JJ Stankevitz: Good question. The Patriots have over 100 rushing yards in 11 of their 13 games this season, including a season-high 222 on Monday night against the Buffalo Bills. The trio of Damien Harris (164 attempts, 754 yards), Rhamondre Stevenson (100 attempts, 429 yards) and Brandon Bolden (30 attempts, 169 yards) has been outstanding, and Bolden has been a particularly reliable threat out of the backfield (34 targets, 32 catches, 303 yards) filling in for the injured James White in that role.

The Patriots are 0-2 when they rush for under 100 yards, for what it's worth. I'm not sure what the answer is – that's why I'm not a coach! – but the Colts have held opponents under 100 rushing yards in six of 13 games this season. We've seen this defense tackle well against the Titans' Derrick Henry-led rushing attack, and that's probably the starting point – tackling well.

Gary Ottinger, Whitestown, Ind.: If Bill Belichick decides to put his number one DB on T.Y. Hilton and double cover Michael Pittman Jr, how will or should the Colts respond? Will NE be able to do this while putting extra efforts in stopping or slowing JT and the running game?

JJ Stankevitz: Belichick is notorious for taking away the thing an opposing offense does best. In the Colts' case, that's run the ball. But it's hard to stop both the run and the pass when you're over-committing resources to one (i.e. dropping eight into coverage or loading eight defenders into the box). New England has a fantastic defensive line and some outstanding defensive backs, so this game will certainly be a challenge for Frank Reich to devise a gameplan that'll work against Belichick's defense. But the Colts have 30 or more points in seven games this season and have been one of the best offenses in the NFL since the start of October.

Next Saturday is gonna be a fun one, that's for sure. But for now, I'm going to rest up over the bye weekend. The Colts Mailbag will be back next Friday and I'm sure I'll have plenty more questions to answer about Colts-Patriots.

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