Before the NFL season started, an NFL head coach told me there is some sentiment around the league that the hot wild card team down the stretch might be the better way to win a title than by simply winning a division title.
We saw that last year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Remember, they were a wild card team that went out on the road and won three games to get to the Super Bowl.
So who Is the best candidate this year? It's the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts, fresh off two impressive victories over teams that had been their conference's top seeds up until the past few weeks, have the mental toughness, the physical style and the outstanding coaching that makes them a team that can make a real Super Bowl run as a wild card team.
They might be the team nobody wants to play come playoff time.
Running the football travels in the postseason, including in bad weather. The Colts run it as well as any team in the league, led by MVP-candidate Jonathan Taylor, who is the league's leading rusher.
With Taylor keying the offense, the Colts can pound the football and then take shots with Carson Wentz, who can be inconsistent when asked to carry a team. But as a complementary piece, he can make it work.
With Wentz possibly out this week after the Colts placed him on the reserve/COVID list Tuesday, it could be up to Sam Ehlinger to beat the Raiders. That will be a real challenge, one that will tell us a lot more about this Colts team. If they win in that scenario, that will send an even louder message to the rest of the AFC about how dangerous they can be come playoff time.
The defense has made strides the past two weeks in limiting the Patriots and Cardinals in their recent victories. They still need to rush the passer better, as we saw in the second half against New England. But winning at Arizona last Saturday night after all the losses due to COVID shows how mentally tough they can be.
At 9-6, the Colts can still win the division if the Tennessee Titans lost their last two and they won their remaining games. That's not likely. So it looks like it will be the wild card road for the Colts.
Indianapolis is up to ninth in my Power Rankings this week heading into a big game with the Las Vegas Raiders. That game will have a playoff-like atmosphere since both teams are alive, which is something the Colts have faced the past two weeks. Those are the kind of games that get you ready for the postseason — and maybe even a deep run.
Is it better to be the division winner or a hot wild card team? Time will tell, but there is precedent, including last year, for the latter.
|They made it interesting against the Browns, but they remain in the top spot. The defense hasn't been as good lately, which has to be a concern.
|They are all the way back. Even without Travis Kelce on Sunday, they carved up the Steelers. They are back to being dominant.
|They got the offense cranked up against Washington, which is a good sign. Dak Prescott needed a big day. The pass-rushers will make them a dangerous playoff team.
|Even without Matthew Stafford playing well, they were able to beat the Vikings on the road. That's the sign of a good team.
|With his top two weapons out, Tom Brady turned to Antonio Brown to pick up the slack and he responded. They are playing for seeding now.
|Winning at New England the way they did sends a message to the NFL that they are back. Josh Allen was outstanding.
|Getting A.J. Brown back really showed how different they can be with a passing game threat. They will be a tough out in the postseason.
|Barring a disaster, they will be the AFC North champions. They are ahead of schedule as a franchise with Joe Burrow.
|Winning at Arizona with their offensive line decimated shows how well they are coached. Frank Reich has done an amazing job with this team.
|They have gone from the top seed to a wild card team in two weeks. There has to be concern about their passing game.
|They are in the playoffs, but they haven't looked like a playoff team the past three weeks. They have to get it going against Dallas this week.
|Losing on the road to the Texans is inexcusable. It doesn't matter how many guys sat out with COVID. They play playoff-like games the next two weeks.
|Losing on the road to a good team on a short week isn't awful, but it had to sting since they controlled the game against the Titans for most if. Jimmy Garoppolo's end-zone pick was damning and he now has a thumb injury.
|COVID and injuries have crippled this team as they fall out of the playoffs as of now. They face a tough game this week against the Rams to try and survive.
|Beating the Broncos keeps their playoff hopes alive. The defense came up big in that one, which will be needed this week against the Colts on the road.
|Here come the Eagles. They have a real chance to be a playoff team. Win two and they are in, which would be a heck of a story.
|If they win their last two, they will be in the playoffs. It won't be easy as they play at Tennessee and then close against the Patriots.
|They did little on offense against the Chiefs, which shows their fatal flaws. They can still get into the playoffs, but it's a long shot.
|They simply do not score enough, no matter who plays quarterback. The defense keeps them in games. They need a quarterback.
|Baker Mayfield throwing four interceptions with the season on the line against the Packers is not a good look. They are long shots to make the playoffs now.
|At 7-8, they have little room for error the rest of the way. They have to beat the Packers to survive this week.
|They just had way too many injuries and COVID losses to beat Miami. Their season looks to be coming to an end.
|They kept their slim playoff hopes alive by beating the Lions. Now they have to try to keep it that way by winning a road game at Buffalo. Good luck.
|Their season is over. They had a lot of high hopes coming because of the defense, but it never lived up to the hype.
|So much for the playoffs. Now comes the tough part: Are they able to keep Russell Wilson next season? Do they want to keep him?
|Their offense is awful. Does it matter who plays quarterback? They have to get that fixed for the future.
|They are still playing hard late in the season, even with their third-team quarterback. But it still won't save Matt Nagy's job.
|David Culley has this team playing good football. Davis Mills has impressed and might be their long-term starter if he keeps it up.
|Without Jared Goff, they competed against the Falcons on the road. It's another god sign for Dan Campbell.
|No matter who plays quarterback, this offense is dreadful. It sounds like Joe Judge is coming back, though.
|They beat the Jaguars with a lot of guys out and their head coach out with COVID. It wasn't pretty, but they'll take it.
|It's official. They are the worst team in the league after losing to the Jets. They will be picking first in the draft, barring a miracle.