The Colts Mailbag is back! Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.
Missed out this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for the next Colts Mailbag by clicking here. I'll also be checking the comments on our Official Colts Podcast YouTube page and will answer some listener questions in here, too.
Let's get after this week's questions:
Scott O'Neil, Elizabethtown, Ky.: If Houston, Jacksonville and us make it to the playoffs, is there any possibility we will play one of them in a playoff game?
JJ Stankevitz: Everything is on the table right now, Scott. Right now, the No. 7 seed Colts would face the No. 2 seed Miami Dolphins in the first round of the playoffs, with the No. 4 seed Jacksonville Jaguars hosting the Cleveland Browns and the Houston Texans out of the playoffs as the No. 8 seed.
But: The Colts, Jaguars and Texans are all 8-6 entering Week 16. The Jaguars own tiebreakers over the Colts, Texans and Colts and Texans (a three-way tie), so they have the upper hand to win the AFC South. Odds to win the division, per the New York Times' Upshot playoff simulator:
- Jaguars (61%)
- Colts (21%)
- Texans (17%)
Right now, the odds suggest the AFC's final playoff spot will come down to Week 18's Colts-Texans matchup. The Cleveland Browns have a 92 percent chance to make the playoffs as a wild card, while the Buffalo Bills are at 71 percent followed by the Colts (54 percent total playoff odds) and the Texans (46 percent). The Bengals (34 percent), Broncos (24 percent), Steelers (3 percent) and Raiders (2 percent) are all still in the mix, too.
But there are plenty of scenarios where the Colts and Texans enter Week 18 holding playoff spots, even if Jaguars are still winning the AFC South (most of them are convoluted but involve the Bengals, Bills and Broncos not reaching 10 wins). If three AFC South teams make the playoffs, though, the more likely outcome is either the Colts or Texans win the division, with the Jaguars earning a wild card berth. In this case, the Colts would likely be the AFC No. 4 seed and host the Cleveland Browns, who own a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Jaguars and play the Texans in Cleveland this weekend.
One last thing. The Colts do technically still have a chance to earn the AFC's No. 1 seed. From NFL Next Gen Stats, the one-in-5,000 shot the Colts have at a first-round bye require:
- The Colts to win out and go 11-6
- The Ravens to lose out and go 11-6
- The Jaguars to go at best 2-1 and finish 10-7 or worse
- The Browns Chiefs and Dolphins to go 1-2 over their final three games
This would make the Colts outright champions of the AFC South, with the Colts, Ravens and Dolphins all 11-6. Because the Colts didn't play the Dolphins, head-to-head tiebreakers would be thrown out. But the Colts would hold the conference record tiebreaker over Baltimore (8-4 to 7-5) and a common games tiebreaker over the Dolphins (6-0 vs. 4-2).
Again: It's a longshot, but it's possible.
More than anything, it's just fun to talk through wonky playoff scenarios in late December again. And what you really need to know is if the Colts win out, they'll be in the playoffs – anywhere from the No. 7 seed to division champs to, yes, a first-round bye.
Karl Kalbach, Ridley Park, Pa.: When is Alec Pierce going to get more passes and utilize his skills? And why hasn't he been more involved? We need him!
JJ Stankevitz: Pierce is always a threat to stretch the field, but to utilize him on deep balls a lot has to go right: The playcall has to be called at the right time, the defense has to give a look that can be beat deep, Pierce has to win on his route, the protection has to be good and Gardner Minshew II has to deliver an accurate throw downfield.
But I wanted to use this question to look at some of the stuff Pierce is doing you may not notice. The Colts have been pleased with Pierce's gritty commitment to run blocking, which is not a given for wide receivers, and noted the pass interference flag he drew to set up D.J. Montgomery's touchdown late in the second quarter of Week 15's win over the Steelers.
"He has a ton of impact in the game in a lot of different areas – one of those being in the blocking game, being able to move around, do some different things, help out in different situations with different blocks that come up," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. "Several of our guys juggle some of those roles and Alec is in there sort of mixing it up from time to time. Like I've said before – being that threat, being that threat out there that sometimes can loosen that secondary a hair because you do have concerns about the deep ball. Alec's been doing a really nice job, had another huge pass interference drawn – it was a really big play in that drive. It's not easy to score in those two-minute drives without a ton of time on the clock. You've got to get some of those explosives and to hit D.J. on that in-breaking route and then turn around and get the explosive to Alec – both of those guys did a really nice job on that drive getting us going. So, good to see."
The Colts' wide receiver room is full of whatever-it-takes guys, with Michael Pittman Jr.'s physical presence setting that tone. Plenty of coaches over the years have pointed to Pittman's commitment to run blocking being important: If the Colts' 1,000-yard receiver is doing it, everyone else will, too. And Pierce's own physical competitiveness has fit well in the Colts' wide receiver room, whether he's running routes or keeping defenders away from running backs.
"You're out there just playing football trying to help your team win – if that calls for blocking, that calls for blocking," Cooter said. "If that calls for running routes and getting open, that calls for running routes and getting open. Now obviously, a lot of the receivers have gotten to this point in their life because of how good they are running those routes, getting open and making those plays.
"Alec has really taken pride – a lot of our guys, several of our guys have really taken pride in doing whatever it takes to help the team win, help the team have a good showing on offense, help that play be a little bit more successful even though you may not get the praise on the telecast or the praise on the articles after the game. Those guys are doing a great job – Alec, Pitt and D.J. is in there. All of the guys have their role doing that and they take it serious because they know it is an important part of the game.
"I think our guys – we're lucky to have such a good group of guys that they're putting everything they can put out there to win these games, to help our offense do what we need to do to win these games and they're willing to be unselfish to do that. That's been really beneficial for us as an offense and it's great for us as a coaching staff to be able to go to those guys and say, 'Hey, we got this blocking assignment for you. It's going to be really big on this play.' Not every receiver around the league loves that and our guys do a good job of saying, 'Shoot, if it helps our team win – we're all in for it.' Credit to our guys, credit to the type of people we have in that receiving room."
Christian Dolan, Mattoon, Ill.: Reports are showing AR could throw in January. If this ends up being the case, do the Colts need to consider putting AR back in for playoff games, or do you play the hot hand of Minshew like the Eagles did with Foles?
JJ Stankevitz:Pump the brakes here. Head coach Shane Steichen confirmed this week Richardson will not return this season – there's a difference between being cleared to throw and being cleared for football activities. The expectation is, and always has been, Richardson will be back for the 2024 season.
But even though he's not playing, Richardson is gaining valuable experience behind the scenes. Cooter this week touched on what Richardson has been doing while rehabbing his shoulder.
"I think it's a great learning environment for a young quarterback, a rookie quarterback," Cooter said. "Anthony is around a lot. He's in a ton of these meetings. He's asking questions when the time is right. It's a unique situation because there is a lot to be learned in this sport, in this league, in this building and Anthony, gosh, he wants to learn a lot of it.
"But at the same time, each week we are preparing to play an opponent and he knows it's important for everybody else in the room to do their work and get ready for that opponent. Anthony has done a nice job of asking his questions when the time is right, taking notes and being locked in when there is information that can be received.
"It's no different than any of us in our profession. You've got the ability to learn some things when you're not going into the line of fire, right? He's not maybe learning something so that he has to go execute it in 45 minutes on a practice rep, he's able to maybe dive a little deeper or into a little different nuance of the play or the idea or the defender or whatever we're doing to hopefully build a little bit more of a long-term understanding which we hope will pay off in the future.
"Anthony has been good around here, obviously doing a lot of work on his rehab – which is most important, we've got to get back healthy. There is a lot to be learned here and he's attacking that."