In each of the last three NFL seasons, a team with a losing record the previous year earned a trip to the Super Bowl. That includes the Cincinnati Bengals, who made the team’s first Super Bowl this past February after winning only four games during the 2020 season.
Who could be this year’s Bengals? Well, perhaps the Indianapolis Colts.
NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund labeled the Colts as a “long shot” Super Bowl team when discussing possible championship sleepers during a segment on June 29.
“They’ve got that o-line, they’ve got the run game. They’ve got Matt Ryan who creates a passing offense for them where last year was a bit shakier,” said Frelund. “So you’re surrounding a really good team with a really good quarterback that can execute play-action extremely well.
“I think this is a nice, kind of longer shot Super Bowl pick.”
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Colts Better at Quarterback
One of the top reasons why this year could be a lot different for Indianapolis is quarterback. In March, the Colts acquired Matt Ryan to replace Carson Wentz behind center.
Ryan turned 37 in May, and he’s not the same quarterback who won the NFL MVP in 2016. But Ryan and head coach Frank Reich appear to be a perfect match. Ryan’s accuracy and leadership should, as Frelund put it, stabilize the Indianapolis passing game.
Indianapolis doesn’t necessarily need an elite passing attack because of running back Jonathan Taylor, who led the NFL in rushing last year. Just a consistent passing attack might be enough to turn the Colts into a real contender.
Furthermore, as Frelund noted, the Colts have a strong offensive line. That was a big weakness for the Atlanta Falcons during Ryan’s final few seasons with the team.
The Colts are not only a sleeper Super Bowl pick with the arrival of Ryan, but NFL columnist Adam Schein of NFL.com considers the Indianapolis new quarterback a “dark horse” to win NFL MVP.
Colts Improve Pass Rush
Colts general manager Chris Ballard signed key pieces in cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Rodney McLeod this offseason. Indianapolis also drafted wide receiver Alec Pierce, who could become a starter, with its first choice of the 2022 NFL Draft.
But after Ryan, the biggest addition for the Colts was defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. A Pro Bowler from 2017, Ngakoue has recorded at least 8.0 sacks in all six of his NFL seasons.
Last year, DeForest Buckner led the Colts with 7.0 sacks, and Indianapolis was tied for 25th in the league with 33 sacks. The Colts were also ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in quarterback hits, tackles for loss and net yards allowed per pass attempt.
The one big positive of the Indianapolis defense last year was the 33 takeaways the unit record, which was second most in the NFL. But the Colts are unlikely to get that many takeaways again without more pressure on the quarterback.
With Ngakoue, more sacks and uncomfortable pockets are likely to come for the Indianapolis defense.
That, coupled with the arrival of Ryan, should make the Colts a popular sleeper Super Bowl pick for the rest of the summer.