Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: AFC South & Playoff Tiebreakers, Kyler Murray, Michael Badgley, Parris Campbell

Ahead of Saturday's Christmas night game against the Arizona Cardinals, Colts fans had questions about a number of topics ranging from the team's odds of winning the AFC South to how the defense will look to contain Kyler Murray. 

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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:

Cody Johnson, Fort Wayne, Ind.: Who should we be rooting for outside of the Colts this weekend?

JJ Stankevitz: The Colts' Christmas night game will give us plenty of opportunities for scoreboard watching, of course. But the most important scoreboard watching game might not be this weekend – it's tonight, if you're reading this on Thursday.

Currently, the Tennessee Titans (9-5) have a de facto two-game lead on the Colts (8-6) in the AFC South thanks to winning both of their meetings with Indianapolis this season. That means over the final three games of the season, the Colts need to be two games better than the Titans to win the division.

So if the Titans go 1-2, the Colts need to go 3-0; if the Titans go 0-3, the Colts need to go 1-2.

And we'll have a better idea of what the Colts need to do to keep the AFC South door open on Thursday night, when the Titans host the San Francisco 49ers at Nissan Stadium. Heading into Week 16, FiveThirtyEight gives the Colts a 16 percent chance of winning the division – low, but certainly possible.

Here's how a few different scenarios could play out this weekend:

  • Titans lose, Colts win: This would make the AFC South, effectively, a coin flip. FiveThirtyEight gives the Colts a 48 percent chance of winning the AFC South if this happens.
  • Titans win, Colts win: This drops the Colts' odds of winning the division to nine percent, as it'd require the Titans to lose to the Dolphins and Texans and the Colts to beat the Raiders and Jaguars for Indy to overtake Tennessee.
  • Titans lose, Colts lose: This would drop the Colts' odds of winning the division to 10 percent. Same deal as above.
  • Titans win, Colts lose: This would clinch the AFC South for the Titans.

Football Outsiders, by the way, is a little more bullish on the Colts' shot to win the division than FiveThirty Eight – FO has the Colts with 26.7 percent odds to win the AFC South entering Week 16.

Bryson Howell, Indianapolis, Ind.: How much pressure is on the Colts right now heading into a challenging game against the Cardinals? Is this a must win for the Colts?

JJ Stankevitz: The Colts are treating every game as a must-win, of course. The short answer to your question is, though, this game is not a must-win for the team's chances of making the playoffs. A loss to Arizona drops the Colts' chances of making the playoffs from 89 percent to 80 percent.

But a loss to Arizona coupled with these results would lower the Colts' playoff odds to 66 percent:

  • Browns beat Packers
  • Bills beat Patriots
  • Chargers beat Texans
  • Raiders beat Broncos
  • Steelers beat Chiefs

That's the worst-case scenario, though (interestingly, the Ravens-Bengals game doesn't really affect the Colts – someone's gotta win the AFC North, after all).

The best-case scenario for the Colts' chances of making the playoffs, though, is the reverse of those results. If the Browns, Bills, Chargers, Raiders and Steelers all lose – and the Colts win – Indy's playoff odds jump to 98 percent.

Also, while we're in deep in the weeds talking about playoff odds, a quick explainer about tiebreakers. The Colts are currently the AFC No. 5 seed with an 8-6 record despite losing to the Ravens, who also have an 8-6 record.

That's because, entering Week 16, five teams are 8-6: The Colts, Ravens, Bengals, Bills and Chargers.

The Bengals currently have the AFC North tiebreaker, so they're the No. 4 seed. So with four teams tied for three wild card spots, head-to-head tiebreakers do not come into play (unless one of those teams beat each of the other three, which has not – and will not – happen this season).

That means the next tiebreaker is conference record. The Colts, by virtue of their 7-3 record against AFC opponents, own that tiebreaker over the Chargers (5-4), Bills (5-5) and Ravens (5-5).

And the good news is the Colts, if they beat the Raiders and Jaguars, would have the AFC record tiebreaker over every team in the conference except the Patriots – who, of course, the Colts have the head-to-head tiebreaker over.

Anyways, after all that – to paraphrase Kenny Moore II's mom, I need a Tylenol.

Tanner Edge, West Terre Haute, Ind.: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! The Edge Family cannot wait for this Christmas matchup with the Arizona Cardinals!

Will our defensive strategy switch up a bit from our base zone schemes with Arizona running a lot of RPO's with mobile quarterback Kyler Murray? I personally see us playing more sticky coverages with man coverage and press cover 2 every now and then so we can emphasize QB contain off the edge. Murray is a threat when he is able to buy time and extend plays! If we are able to contain Murray I see Deforest Buckner having a monster game with pass deflections and sacks to give our team the advantage.

JJ Stankevitz: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the Edge family too! Tanner consistently puts in smart questions to the Colts Mailbag, so happy to highlight another one.

As for how the Colts will defend the Cardinals – your guess is as good as mine!

But you bring up a good points about RPOs, since only the Chiefs have run more RPOs than the Cardinals (194) this season, per Pro Football Focus. Arizona averages 5.1 yards per play on RPOs, 11th in the NFL and a shade ahead of the Colts (5.0).

Arizona's quarterbacks (Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy) lead the NFL with a passer rating of 128.4 on RPOs, too. So Kliff Kingsbury clearly knows what he's doing in drawing up those plays.

But where Arizona is best on RPOs is when Murray hands the ball off. The Cardinals are well ahead of the rest of the NFL with 784 rushing yards on RPOs and are averaging 5.2 yards per attempt on those plays (for context: the Colts, as a team, lead the NFL with 5.2 yards per attempt on all running plays). The Cardinals have had 23 runs of 10 or more yards on RPOs – six more than the team with the next highest total (Philadelphia).

The Colts are certainly aware of all this. Interestingly, they haven't played many RPO-heavy teams this year – Miami, Buffalo, Seattle and Jacksonville are the only four teams to have called more than the league average number of RPOs this season.

Cody Wilson, Avon, Ind.: Been a while since I've asked a question. So if we make the playoffs either as division winners or a wild card team, what teams do we have the best match up against. Basically, Round 1, what team would we want to face with JT leading the charge and what team do we not want to face that would present the most match up problems for our offense and defense?

JJ Stankevitz: Fair question, and a good question – but let's not totally get ahead of ourselves yet. The Colts are in a good position to make the playoffs but haven't secured a spot in the postseason, won't be able to until Week 17 at the earliest.

But I'll answer your question this way: There's no such thing as a "good" matchup in the playoffs. Every team gets there for a reason, and every opponent you face will have 17 games of film and mountains of data on which to evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses, and work to minimize and attack those. The Colts may be well-equipped for January football, but if they make it, every and any team they face will provide a difficult challenge.

Jonathan Drawdy, Gastonia, N.C.: When should we expect Paris Campbell back on the field for the Colts?

JJ Stankevitz: Campbell, who was placed on injured reserve before Week 7, has yet to be designated to return to practice. So we don't have a timeline on if and when he could be back just yet.

"He's continuing to make good progress," head coach Frank Reich said this week.

Devin Esterly, Greentown, Ind.: Do you see any decision coming on the kicker situation?

JJ Stankevitz: The decision is there's no change right now. Michael Badgley will remain the Colts' kicker, Reich said this week. Rodrigo Blankenship remains on injured reserve after injuring his hip in warm-ups prior to the Colts' Week 5 game against the Ravens.

"Not anticipating any changes at this point," Reich said. "Continue to like every other position, it's a week-to-week league, but not anticipating any changes at this point."

Mike Boerner, Great Falls, Mont.: I have been a Colts fan for as long as I can remember. This running game is really looking like the old days around the mid 2000's. How are we going to compliment the running game through the air if we run into roadblocks?

JJ Stankevitz: I think we already saw the counter-punch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who limited Jonathan Taylor to *only* 83 yards on 16 carries behind a fantastic effort from their front seven. Carson Wentz threw for 306 yards in that game, and his two interceptions weren't exactly his fault (the first was on a remarkably play by safety Antoine Winfield Jr., and the second was a game-ending heave to the end zone). Wentz threw for three touchdowns and showed he can be an effective weapon through the air on the rare occasion the Colts can't get their run game going early on.

"I think our identity is what it is, it's a run-first deal – chunk play, play-action stuff, RPO stuff," Reich said. "I do think Carson has had many good games. I think for us to go where we are going to want to go, I think there are going to be games where Carson will be the 'star of the game.' I think that will have to happen."

Cameron Tobery, Frederick, Md.: What is your favorite video game?

JJ Stankevitz: NFL Blitz 2000 and it's not even close. I'll beat anyone who dares to challenge me in it running Da Bomb or Quick Dish on offense, and medium zone or safe cover on defense.

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