Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Power Rankings: Preseason: 6. This week: 2.
Where they stand: The Colts are the AFC’s lone unbeaten team and as they prepare for their showdown Sunday night against New England, they rate as the favorite to represent the conference in the Super Bowl in Miami on February 7, 2010.
They’ve got the league’s top passing offense led by the MVP frontrunner Peyton Manning and the league’s top scoring defense led by whirling dervish Dwight Freeney, who’s got a sack in every game. In Jim Caldwell’s first half season as Tony Dungy’s successor, things have gone as well as could possibly have been expected.
Disappointments: Incumbent left tackle Tony Ugoh lost his starting job to Charlie Johnson and currently rates so low among the team’s offensive linemen that he’s not even dressed for the Colts’ last three games. Another lineman drafted high and expected to be a long-term answer, guard Mike Pollak, has shared time with journeyman Kyle DeVan, who played in 2009 with the Boise Burn of ArenaFootball2. The run game continues to struggle, with only 85.4 yards a game and just 3.4 a carry from lead back Joseph Addai.
Defensive tackle Ed Johnson was supposed to spur a run defense revival on his second chance, but word is he was lazy and not in shape and the team surprised a lot of people by cutting him after five games.
Surprises: As a result of injuries, the Colts have gotten four starts from Kelvin Hayden and none from Marlin Jackson, the two players the team expected to be locked in as their top cornerbacks. That’s a scenario that would undo the season for virtually every team in the league. But the Colts have gotten great play from third-round draft pick Jerraud Powers and undrafted rookie Jacob Lacey, with veteran Tim Jennings working as the extra corner.
Indianapolis ranks an impressive ninth against the pass even without those two corners and with only two games from another secondary starter, strong safety Bob Sanders who’s now out for the season along with Jackson.
Outlook: The Colts have a tough stretch coming, with New England Sunday night followed by trips to Baltimore and Houston for a rematch with the Texans. Their first loss, or two, will likely arrive in that span, but they should still wind up with the top seed in the conference and line up for two home games in the playoffs.
The question is whether Caldwell can jolt them out of the first-round funk that’s seen them bow out of the postseason quickly to San Diego two years in a row after winning Super Bowl XLI.