There’s one question that seems to surround the Indianapolis Colts following last week’s 15-13 win against the 2-6 Denver Broncos.
Is this team lucky or is it good?
I answer with a question of my own. Does it matter?
Long ago, Bill Parcells – the legendary NFL coach and family mentor to Colts QB Jacoby Brissett – coined the phrase, “You are who your record says you are.”
It’s a quick way to say style points don’t matter in professional football. Win and you’re in.
There is no committee to determine which teams move on to the playoffs and which are left at home. But that doesn’t stop the proliferation of power rankings and other subjective measurements.
And, by those metrics, some in the national media remain unconvinced on Indianapolis.
The 5-2 Colts rank outside the top 10 in both NFL.com and ESPN’s rankings this week. Two teams they recently beat – the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans – are ranked ahead of them.
There are several factors at play here.
First, preseason predictions are hard to shake. Several prognosticators likely dismissed Indianapolis shortly after franchise quarterback Andrew Luck retired in late August. It’s going to take more than a string of close victories to change some minds.
A second factor has to do with star power. Kansas City and Houston have MVP candidates in Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, respectively. Fairly or not, that affords those teams the benefit of the doubt.
T.Y. Hilton, Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson are among the league’s best players and have tremendous fame locally. But they don’t move the needle in the national conversation the way star quarterbacks do.
Which brings us back around to the original point. It doesn’t matter what outside sources think of the Colts. And that includes the local media.
I picked Indianapolis to win the division at 9-7 on CNHI Sports’ NFL preview page. The Colts already are more than halfway to that win total, and it appears more than nine wins will be necessary to win the AFC South.
But I’m constantly trying to measure how much that initial reaction plays into the way I view this team.
Are the Colts lucky or good? Right now, I’d say a little of both.
Indianapolis was very good in the wins against the Chiefs and Texans. The defense did what no other team has come close to accomplishing in limiting Mahomes and the high-powered KC offense to 13 points last month.
Two weeks later, the offense led the way in a 30-23 victory against Houston.
Two good teams and two good wins in two different ways.
Indianapolis was far less impressive in wins against Denver and the Tennessee Titans. Those contests were slow-moving brawls that saw the Colts make big plays in the fourth quarter – Jordan Wilkins’ big run to set up the game-winning touchdown in Nashville and Brissett’s great escape and 35-yard completion to Hilton on Sunday.
Was that luck or clutch execution? Is there a significant difference between the two?
Like almost everything in the NFL, it’s in the eye of the beholder.
One objective statistic detractors can point to is the Colts’ plus-7 point differential for the season. It’s a uniquely low number for a team with five wins in seven outings, and it suggests a regression to the mean could be ahead in the second half.
It could also suggest a young team is growing together and learning how to win games on the fly. That’s certainly the interpretation within the locker room, where a larger margin of victory is welcome but not essential.
“I just want to get the win, man,” linebacker Anthony Walker said. “At the end of the day, I don’t care how it comes. We’d rather them not be as close, but this is the NFL. We know this is the job that we live in, and teams are gonna play hard every week. These are professional players. So we’ve gotta be ready to battle each week.”
That the Colts have been.
All seven of the team’s games this season have been decided by seven points or less, and every one of them has been a battle.
There’s every reason to believe Sunday’s contest at Pittsburgh will continue the trend.
And the lucky/good debate will rage on.