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Colts Mailbag: AFC Playoff Odds And Scenarios, Bill Belichick's Patriots Defense, Jonathan Taylor's Shot At NFL MVP

Ahead of one of the biggest Colts games at Lucas Oil Stadium in recent memory, fans had questions for this week's mailbag on where the team stands in the AFC playoff picture, how Bill Belichick will try to limit the Colts' run game and if Jonathan Taylor has a shot at winning NFL MVP. 

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Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out on the party this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here, or by taking part in the Colts.com Forums. You can also send your questions to @JJStankevitz on Twitter.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Matthew Hammons, Bel Air, Md.: Coming into the last four weeks of the year the Colts are in a good spot for a wild card. How many of the last four did you think the Colts need to win to get in? Some are saying 2 of 4 will be good but it looks like they need a signature win against the Pats this week or Cards next week. Thoughts?

JJ Stankevitz: Before diving into this, let's run down where the AFC playoff picture stands heading into Week 15 – which starts on Thursday night with the Los Angeles Chargers facing the Kansas City Chiefs.

  1. New England Patriots (9-4)
  2. Tennessee Titans (9-4)
  3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-4)
  4. Baltimore Ravens (8-5)
  5. Los Angeles Chargers (8-5)
  6. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)
  7. Buffalo Bills (7-6)
  8. Cleveland Browns (7-6)
  9. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)
  10. Denver Broncos (7-6)
  11. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)
  12. Las Vegas Raiders (6-7)
  13. Miami Dolphins (6-7)

Now for your question – the Colts' mentality is, of course, to win out.

"We know when Judgement Day is," head coach Frank Reich told his team on Monday (as captured by "Hard Knocks"). "It's Saturday. The New England Patriots. Focus on getting prepared for Judgement Day because we know we got four of them coming. And then there's one at the end of the season where we know if we get in or we're out."

But let's play with some of the numbers here, since you asked. Using FiveThirtyEight's playoff predictor, the Colts' playoff odds based on their record over their final four games are:

  • 4-0: 100 percent
  • 3-1: 99 percent
  • 2-2, with losses to NE & AZ: 53 percent
  • 2-2, with losses to NE & LV: 35 percent
  • 2-2, with losses to NE & JAX: 47 percent
  • 2-2, with losses to AZ & LV: 47 percent
  • 2-2, with losses to AZ & JAX: 52 percent
  • 2-2, with losses to LV & JAX: 33 percent
  • 1-3: <1 percent
  • 0-4: 0 percent

This doesn't take into account any other results that could happen over the final four weeks of one of the most unpredictable NFL seasons in recent memory, of course. But if the Colts beat the Patriots on Saturday night, their playoff odds will improve to 87 percent.

So that's the goal for right now: Win on Saturday and don't worry about what happens Sunday.

*_Tanner Edge, West Terre Haute, Ind.: Hi JJ! With the Patriots bringing "big boy football" to Lucas Oil Stadium, do you see us running the football to the outside even more to stretch the field with JT and Hines? I think that gives our run game a big advantage with how big Hightower and Bentley are at the LB position. What are your thoughts on how we might try to use our speed to our advantage on a big/physical front provided by New England?_ *

JJ Stankevitz: Sharp question. I wrote about the Patriots' big, physical, throwback defense earlier this week – which features those 250-plus-pound linebackers you mentioned in your question.

I'm not sure exactly how Frank Reich will try to attack the Patriots' defense with the Colts' run game. But something he said on Monday was interesting with regard to countering Bill Belichick's efforts to mute Jonathan Taylor.

"I think it's a combination of always having your core stuff ready – having some things in our back pocket, knowing the different ways that he might try to attack us," Reich said. "That's unpredictable to some extent. It probably is helpful to us that it is later in the year so that we have a lot of accumulated reps on offense so if we need to make adjustments in the course of a game, we can go to things that we've run and have a lot of accumulated reps on."

The key thing here is those accumulated reps on offense. The Colts aren't an offense that does only one thing well – they've shown they can be successful with different run concepts, different pass concepts, RPOs, play-action, etc.

Since Week 4, no team has scored more points than the Colts (228) and no team has allowed fewer points than the Patriots (96). That's the battle the Colts and Patriots are walking into on Saturday night, and whew, it's going to be a fun one.

Alex Hunden, Indianapolis, Ind.: Dear Mr. Stankevitz, Jonathan Taylor currently leads the league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. That being said, what do you think his chances are of being the MVP and/or OPOTY?

JJ Stankevitz: A non-quarterback hasn't won MVP since 2012, and only three non-quarterbacks have won the award in the last 20 years. So Taylor is up against not only the likes of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Justin Herbert, etc., but he's up against the narrative that only quarterbacks should win MVP.

Still, Taylor's case is compelling in just how good he's been compared to the rest of the league. Taylor enters Week 15 with:

  • 312 more rushing yards than anyone else
  • 323 more yards from scrimmage than anyone else
  • 31 more first downs than anyone else
  • Two more touchdowns than anyone else
  • Seven more explosive runs (10+ yards) than anyone else

Only the Cowboys' Tony Pollard – who has 134 fewer carries – has a higher yards per carry average among running backs than Taylor's 5.6. Taylor's rush of 83 yards still stands as the longest of the season, too.

Taylor does have something going for him beyond his record-setting production, too: With the Colts playing in primetime against big-time opponents the next two weeks, big games against the Patriots and Cardinals could do a lot for his case – and perhaps chip away at that narrative that the MVP should be a quarterback.

Ron Preston, North Chesterfield, Va.: JJ, thanks for your articles and insight on the Colts. Do you think the Colts need to prove to themselves they can beat upper-tier opponents? I see them as one of the best teams in the NFL and capable of going all the way. As coach Reich says, "why not us?" #coltsmailbag #gocolts

JJ Stankevitz: I think the Colts already proved they can beat an upper-tier opponent when they thumped the Bills, 41-15, in Buffalo a few weeks ago. The Patriots, of course, are an upper-tier team that'll present a different kind of challenge, as I mentioned earlier: Trying to score against one of the greatest coaches in football history, whose defense is playing better than anyone over the last few months.

"You have to be willing to consider what are you going to do to adapt to the way they are going to play," Reich said. "That's a big philosophical question that you have to ask at the beginning of the week. To what extent are you willing to change certain things? Like most times, it's we're going to change some but we're not going to change everything. We are going to mix it up. We're going to do whatever it takes. We believe we have the players that can do that and can compete on all levels. So, that's the give and take during the week."

Rico Wolford, Tulsa, Okla.: Why hasn't Mike Strachan played, all that talent setting on the bench?

JJ Stankevitz: Here's what Reich said about Strachan's rookie season when asked this week:

"It's been good," Reich said. "He's continued to do a good job on the scout team, in drills and working hard. Very high on Mike. Things have been going pretty well at that position for us. We have confidence in him. If for some reason somebody got dinged and we needed Mike to be ready to go, we have confidence that he would be able to play winning football."

Matthew Stuthers, Terre Haute, Ind.: Not really a question, but more of a fun and inspiring fact, once we beat the Patriots, we'll complete the sweep of the AFC East, which we haven't done since 2006. Oh, and what a good year that was. ;)

2020

Wins: Bills, Jets, Dolphins

Losses:

2018

Wins: Bills, Dolphins

Losses: Jets, Patriots

2015

Wins: Dolphins

Losses: Jets, Bills, Patriots

2012

Wins: Bills, Dolphins

Losses: Jets, Patriots

2009

Wins: Patriots, Dolphins

Losses: Bills, Jets

2006

Wins: Patriots, Bills, Jets, Dolphins

Losses:

JJ Stankevitz: Great eye. And yeah, I'd say things worked out pretty well for the Colts the last time they swept the AFC East.

Jeremy Fulford, Indianapolis, Ind.: With the prime time flex for the Patriots and Christmas Day at Arizona, that gives our guys two Saturday games in a row, which is a schedule quirk. Outside of the playoffs, how long has it been since the Colts played on Saturday and at home no less? Also, what about calendar holidays as well? Clearly playing on Halloween was an "experience" to say the least.

JJ Stankevitz: The Colts have played 41 Saturday regular season games in franchise history, but only seven since moving to Indianapolis. The Colts last played on Saturday in 2017 (at Baltimore) and last played a Saturday home game in 1995 – against, coincidentally, the Patriots (a 10-7 Colts win). And the last time the Colts played two Saturday games in the same season was 1966, with both those games against the Green Bay Packers.

Also: Next week's trip to Arizona will be the Colts' first Christmas game in franchise history.

Goncalo Baptista, Lisbon, Portugal: Greetings!

I'm an NFL fan from jolly ol' Europe and I've been following the sport for few years now.

I wanted to know more about each team from resources other than second-hand information like Wikipedia; stuff that people who live and breathe the club know and feel.

So, to not waste more of your time, could you please let me know what makes the Colts special? What is it like to get behind them and cheer every Sunday for every inch gained?

Thank you for taking the time to read this as I know you have far better things to do!

JJ Stankevitz: First of all, thanks for reaching out from Portugal!

So two things: First, the Colts are fun. They score a ton of points on offense and have a bunch of takeaways on defense. Guys like Jonathan Taylor, Quenton Nelson, DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard and Kenny Moore II are stars. The Frank Reich-Carson Wentz reunion is going well. On the field, this team is easy to like.

But for as good as the Colts are on the field, they're just as impressive off the field. Moore has had a tremendous impact on Indianapolis and is the team's 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee. Leonard is a big part of the Colts' Kicking the Stigma campaign to raise awareness about mental health. Wentz's food truck, Thy Kingdom Crumb, provides high-quality, free meals around Indianapolis.

These are just a few examples of the impact Colts players and coaches are making off the field. Catch up on "Hard Knocks In Season: The Indianapolis Colts" on HBO and HBO Max, if you can, to get a greater sense of how the people are in this organization.

Hope that helps!

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