While the Indianapolis Colts, led by veteran quarterback Philip Rivers in his first year with the team, are firmly in the NFL’s playoff picture with their 4-2 start to the season, they are far from serious contenders.
For more than a decade, Indianapolis was a model of consistency at the offensive end behind legendary quarterback Peyton Manning. From 1999 to 2010, Manning was named to the Pro Bowl 11 times, and Indianapolis remained a threat to defeat any of the NFL’s opposition in a shootout. During Manning’s time in Indianapolis, the team was a consistent playoff contender and frequently had realistic shots at the Super Bowl, appearing in the big game twice, winning the 2007 Super Bowl and losing the 2010 Super Bowl.
Since Manning got injured and left to join the Denver Broncos in 2012, Indianapolis has not been the same team they once were, despite multiple playoff appearances in the past decade. After a year of an intense tanking lovingly dubbed “Suck for Luck”, they were blessed with stability at quarterback behind 2012’s first overall pick Andrew Luck.
Luck was a star quarterback for Indianapolis, starting as a rookie and making the Pro Bowl in four of his six seasons. During these six seasons, however, the playoff success was far from its Manning-era levels, as Indianapolis only qualified for the AFC Championship Game once in those six seasons. While Luck had some great playoff performances over the years, he could never string enough good performances together to reach a Super Bowl, even with a 28-point comeback playoff victory against the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2013 season. When Indianapolis finally made the AFC championship game in the 2014 season, it was demolished 45-7 by the New England Patriots in the 2014 season. With a defense able to allow 45 points in the biggest game the franchise had in years, they were never going to win the Super Bowl.
Much to Indianapolis’ dismay and shock, however, the 29-year-old Luck retired before the 2019 season, leaving Indianapolis with a question mark at quarterback last season. Jacoby Brissett filled in as the starter with little notice, and Indianapolis still had its uninspiring defense from the years with Luck. It got off to a hot start before finishing the year 7-9, well out of contention. Despite solid quarterback play from Brissett with 18 touchdowns to six interceptions, it would have taken amazing quarterback play for Indianapolis to reach the playoffs, maybe even better than Luck would have been able to provide if he had played.
This year, Indianapolis has started over at quarterback yet again, with the 38-year-old Rivers standing under center after 14 years without missing a start for the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers. As has been the case since Manning departed, Indianapolis’ quarterback play has been far from perfect, as Rivers has a measly seven touchdowns to six interceptions across six games.
While Indianapolis has a better defense in 2020, led by linebacker Darius Leonard and defensive lineman DeForest Buckner under defensive-minded head coach Frank Reich, than they did under Chuck Pagano, the unit is still far from the NFL’s elite. A defensive unit of that caliber will not be able to carry the team deep into the playoffs the same way that the Legion of Boom was able to take the Seattle Seahawks to a 2014 Super Bowl victory and another Super Bowl appearance.
Unfortunately for Indianapolis fans, they have seen this roster makeup before when Luck and Brissett did not have the necessary defense to give them the freedom to make mistakes.
With Rivers not the Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback he was during his prime and the defense not enough to carry a mediocre offense into contention, Indianapolis is not a real contender for this year, despite an early 4-2 record based on their weak strength of schedule.
Jake Wexelblatt is a junior in the College. Deja Vu All Over Again appears online every other week.