First, everyone wanted to know how the team would fare in the Andrew Luck era after seeing the success that Peyton Manning brought. Then, first-year head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. After responding to that with a win against the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 7, the team became the NFL’s darlings. Now, after interim head coach Bruce Arians has led the team to five wins in the last six games, the Colts are legitimate playoff contenders.
Indianapolis is second in the AFC South at 6-3 — the best record of any second-place team in the AFC. Of the team’s remaining seven games, four are against opponents with a .500 record or worse, and three are against divisional opponents — including two games against the division-leading Houston Texans. The Colts can decide their own fate.
To win consistently, a team must have winners — and Indianapolis has guys who know how to win. Before Arians joined the Colts’ staff this season, he was a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers coaching staff for eight seasons. While there, Arians was a part of 89 wins, three conference championships and two Super Bowl titles. Arians is also largely responsible for the success of Ben Roethlisberger and has played a large role in the development of Luck, who knows how to win as well.
During his three years as the starting quarterback at Stanford, Luck led the team to a 31-8 record, and he has carried his humble confidence and winning ways to the NFL. Through his first nine games, Luck is completing 57.5 percent of his passes for 2,631 yards and 10 touchdowns and has also rushed for five touchdowns.
The Colts also have a stable of players who were a part of the organization’s recent glory days, including Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Even with two games against the formidable Houston Texans, Indianapolis could easily win four of its last seven games and finish with a 10-6 record, putting the Colts in prime position to land a playoff spot. As the Colts enter the home stretch, they will face the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills, who rank 30th and 31st, respectively, in defense. They also face the Kansas City Chiefs, who have had a terribly disappointing season and no consistency at the quarterback position, and the Detroit Lions, who are talented but often shoot themselves in the foot with the amount of silly penalties they commit.
Heck, Indianapolis could likely pull out a victory against the New England Patriots in Week 11, with their fourth-ranked offensive attack picking apart the Patriots’ porous secondary.
While the Colts have the players and coaches who know what it takes to win and the firepower to put teams away or keep up in a shootout, they also have the most important ingredient of all — motivation.
Every team goes into a season with hopes of winning a Super Bowl, but the 2012 Colts are fighting week in and week out to honor Pagano as he battles leukemia. The fact that the team won five out of its six games after Pagano was diagnosed certainly speaks to the character of the team and the effect Pagano has.
Pagano’s leukemia has fallen into remission, and his fight and will to win has inspired his players and coaches to go above and beyond their natural abilities. The Colts haven’t dominated opponents by any means this season, but in last-minute wins over the Packers and Dolphins, they showed their will to win, and that can carry them into the postseason.
The next seven weeks will be a real test, but Indianapolis is a talented team with a superb quarterback, a veteran presence and the inspiration of a coach who has proven anything can be done with the right attitude. That sounds like a recipe for success.