Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky
Analysis: The Colts are a premier AFC team that could wind up in the familiar position of having a playoff bye wrapped up well before their final game. There isn’t a unit on offense or defense that hasn’t improved since 2008. But the schedule so far and the schedule to come are quite different. Indianapolis has contributed to a combined winning percentage of .297 for the six teams it has beaten, none of which have a winning record. The 10 teams to come have a .538 winning percentage and half of them have winning records. Can they win them all? Yes. But an undefeated season is unlikely for anyone, and this team can certainly have a bad day, encounter a team having a great one -- or both.
Toughest challenge: Undefeated Denver will be difficult, two games against potentially blossoming Houston could be tough and a trip to Baltimore won’t be easy. But the league’s marquee game remains Colts-Patriots. New England visits Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 15 for a Sunday night game. The Colts have won four of the past five meetings (including the playoffs), but four of those games were decided by a touchdown or less.
Playoff carryover: The playoffs have always been the question in the Bill Polian/Peyton Manning Era.
The team is 7-8 with six first-game exits in nine appearances and a win in Super Bowl XLI. Hot starts are nice, but that big finish trumped anything the team has done. So far, this team appears to have the sort of depth needed for a deep playoff run and Manning has been as good or better than ever. The run defense is improved, but the rushing offense could be an issue against a tough defense.
Putting too much on Manning and the pass attack is what killed them last season in a wild-card game in San Diego, when their failure to get two yards that would have enabled them to run out the clock came back to bite them. If the Colts play as they have so far, they may not encounter such a tight situation in January or February.