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Let's get after this week's questions:
*_Tanner Edge, West Terre Haute, Ind.: Hey JJ! Thanks for answering my questions. I enjoy reading the mailbag and having a platform to write to my favorite team! I think I learned my lesson last week when I predicted a Colts blowout win over the Raiders…._ *
I think our Colts can play with anyone when we are playing our best. I know that we are in playoff mode and our best will have to be showcased in order to stay alive. Assuming we win against Jacksonville, just how hard has it been in the past for a wild card team to win the Super Bowl? Obviously the first key is to beat Jacksonville on Sunday to get into the playoff mix but what do you see as major points of emphasis for us to go deep into the playoffs and win the Super Bowl?
JJ Stankevitz: First of all, the Colts are not assuming they'll beat the Jaguars – they haven't won in Jacksonville since 2014, after all.
But if the Colts do beat the Jaguars and make the playoffs, they'll try to become the 12th team in NFL history to advance to the Super Bowl as a wild card team. The previous 11:
- 1975 Dallas Cowboys (lost Super Bowl X)
- 1980 Oakland Raiders (won Super Bowl XV)
- 1985 New England Patriots (lost Super Bowl XX)
- 1992 Buffalo Bills (lost Super Bowl XXVII)
- 1997 Denver Broncos (won Super Bowl XXXII)
- 1999 Tennessee Titans (lost Super Bowl XXXIV)
- 2000 Baltimore Ravens (won Super Bowl XXXV)
- 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers (won Super Bowl XL)
- 2007 New York Giants (won Super Bowl XLII)
- 2010 Green Bay Packers (won Super Bowl XLV)
- 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (won Super Bowl LV)
Winning in the playoffs, of course, is hard. Opponents have 17 games of film and data to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and to scheme to minimize those strengths and accentuate those weaknesses. That's why teams prioritize being able to win in multiple ways – which the Colts believe they can, whether it's because of a huge day from Jonathan Taylor, Carson Wentz making some key throws, the defense taking the ball away or Bubba Ventrone's special teams making an impact.
Dylan Durnal, Lebanon, Ind.: Hello JJ. So assuming we get the win (which I'm sure we will) who do you think our first playoff opponent will be? I'm going with Cincinnati and I honestly believe they are a team we can beat. What do you think?
JJ Stankevitz: Again, the Colts still have to win (or have the Chargers, Steelers and Patriots lose) to get in the playoffs.
But if the Colts do make it, they could be seeded anywhere from No. 5 to No. 7 in the AFC, depending on a few other results. I covered all those scenarios here earlier this week, so how about we take Dylan's question and look at how the AFC's division winners could be seeded – and what that could mean for the Colts.
Here how the AFC's current top four seeds stand heading into Week 18:
- Tennessee Titans (11-5, @ Texans)
- Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, @ Broncos)
- Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, @ Browns)
- Buffalo Bills (10-6, vs. Jets)
The Bills do not have the AFC North clinched – a Bills loss and Patriots win over the Dolphins would hand the division to New England. So that's another variable here.
I'll be honest – I started typing out all the possible scenarios for the AFC's division winner seeding, and it was way too long and way too dense to put in here. So let's take Football Outsiders' seeding odds and plug them in here to get an idea of who the Colts might face if they make the playoffs:
- Titans: No. 1 (64%), No. 2 (18.6%), No. 3 (15.7%), No. 4 (1%)
- Chiefs: No. 1 (30.4%), No. 2 (45%), No. 3 (12.9%), No. 4 (11.8%)
- Bengals: No. 1 (4.4%), No. 2 (20.4%), No. 3 (24%), No. 4 (51.3%)
- Bills: No. 1 (0%), No. 2 (10.8%), No. 3 (42.1%), No. 4 (35.2%)
- Patriots: No. 1 (1.2%), No. 2 (5.4%), No. 3 (5.4%), No. 4 (0%)
The Colts have a 89.1 percent chance of making the playoffs, per Football Outsiders, with these seeding odds: No. 5 (18.9%), No. 6 (46.2%), No. 7 (24%).
So the most likely outcome is the Colts are the No. 6 seed (46.2%) and travel to Buffalo to face the No. 3 seed Bills (42.1%). But we're still talking about less than a coin flip for either of those outcomes, let alone them together. The Colts could conceivably face the Titans, Chiefs, Bengals, Bills or Patriots while being the AFC No. 5, 6 or 7 seed. There's a lot left to be decided, to say the least.
_Xavier Mezzetta, Fishers, Ind.: Why don't you guys run the ball more?
JJ Stankevitz: The Colts are third in the NFL in rush attempts (481) and 28th in pass attempts (494).
Angela VanVlymen, Columbia, Ky.: Why do the Colts not play more "no huddle" on offensive as Manning did? They seem to do really well with that.
JJ Stankevitz: Smart question – it's one Frank Reich was asked about this week after the Colts scored their first touchdown against the Raiders in Week 17 at the end of a two-minute, no-huddle drive.
"We've done well in two-minute, (Carson Wentz's) done well in two-minute," Reich said. "I've done a ton of two-minute in my past as a player and as a coach. So, it's something that I like to do. It's not been our identity this year so much. One of the reasons is, when you start going no huddle, you're very limited in the run game. Since we got the guy we got back there, we're trying to in many ways, center things around him.
"There's a quote I always say, a proverb I always say, 'A man of wisdom avoids all extremes.' Just because we're run-centric, just because we think we have the MVP in our backfield doesn't mean that we can't go small sections of no huddle here or there. We talk about it every week, we get it in two-minute. There's just limitations to it that I've experienced but it's always in our back pocket."
Stephen Corrigan, Deposit, N.Y.: Why didn't the Colts let Las Vegas score on last possession to get the ball back?
JJ Stankevitz: If you caught "Hard Knocks" on Wednesday night, you saw players and coaches were hoping Hunter Renfrow scored and that officials wouldn't overturn the call on the field.
But after officials marked Renfrow down at the Colts' 24-yard line, there almost certainly was going to be no "let the Raiders score." If the Colts let Josh Jacobs run unabated to the goal line, he would've been coached to give himself up at the one-yard line and let the clock run down for a game-ending field goal. So the Colts trying to go for the strip – hard to do when a running back has every conceivable point of pressure on the ball in that spot – was the right call.
See the best images from the Indianapolis Colts Week 17 matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Jesse Gallo, Largo, Fla.: Hi J.J, since the Colts do not have a first round pick in the next draft, what do you think the priority should be for their pick in the second round - left tackle, receiver, corner? I know Chris Ballard generally goes with best player available, but if you had to go with need, what position would you look for?
JJ Stankevitz: It's a little early but I always like a good draft question. Ballard, yes, goes with best player available – if you get caught drafting for need, you often wind up in trouble. Remember what Ballard said last year when he fielded questions about why he didn't draft a left tackle?
"When you force something, you usually create two holes," Ballard said. "And you can't do that in the draft."
So if any of those positions are considered a "need" after the Colts evaluate their 2021 roster, go through the first few waves of free agency and then get to the draft, it doesn't mean they'll take a tackle or wide receiver or corner because they "need" one. And there always are other options – the Colts signed Eric Fisher a few weeks after the draft to be their starting left tackle, after all.
Paul Fredlake, Summerville, S.C.: It appears that Rock Ya-Sin has turned the corner this year. Do you think the Colts will look to re-sign him on a long term deal?
JJ Stankevitz: Good eye, Paul – Ya-Sin has had a solid Year 3 with the Colts. Among cornerbacks with at least 350 coverage snaps, the 25 receptions allowed by Ya-Sjn are second-lowest in the NFL and the 231 yards he's allowed are third-lowest. He's ninth in yards per reception allowed (9.2), one-tenth of a yard behind Los Angeles Rams superstar Jalen Ramsey. Ya-Sin's PFF coverage grade of 73.4 is 20th, and he's one of 27 cornerbacks to have three or fewer penalties assessed to him this season.
Compare all that to Ya-Sin's first two years in the NFL, in which he allowed 79 receptions for 1,191 yards (15.1 yards/reception) and was penalized 15 times. His PFF coverage grade of 54.8 in that span was 26th-lowest among cornerbacks with at least 500 coverage snaps.
Veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes said last week he's been impressed with Ya-Sin's consistency in working on the details of his technique. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, too, has been impressed with the growth Ya-Sin has made in Year 3.
"The physical side of it, there's more poise at the top of the routes, at the end of the routes," Eberflus said. "There's more poise there. He's learning how to use his abilities to keep his hands down and to have that poise and to bust the triangle open at the top. So, he's done a good job with that.
"Then, really just the mental side of it, he's always been a positive guy. He's always been positive, he's always had self-belief. He believes in our system, he believes in the players around him and he's a consummate pro that way."
And just as an aside, I've seen some folks consider the Colts' 2019 draft class as a "down" year – probably because 2018 and 2020 have been so wildly successful. But even in a "down" year, the Colts added Ya-Sin, Bobby Okereke and Khari Willis – three starters on defense – as well as special teams ace E.J. Speed.
Most teams wouldn't consider that to be suboptimal.