PFW examines the Colts as they prepare for the playoffs, identifying the keys to the offense and the defense, a player to watch, and what they have to do to win the Super Bowl.
10-6 / First place in AFC South
Keys to offense: QB Peyton Manning's ability to control the tempo of the game by running the no-huddle continues to be the driving force behind the Colts' success on offense. Without the services of two of his favorite targets, TE Dallas Clark and WR Austin Collie, Manning still set a career high in passing yards (4,700), often finding WRs Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon. Even young TE Jacob Tamme and undrafted rookie WR Blair White, both of whom were forced into starting roles, made solid contributions. Manning also threw the most interceptions (17) of his career since 2002, which magnifies the importance of the offensive line and running game taking some of the weight off Manning's shoulders.
Keys to defense: Like the offense, the "D" has been decimated by injuries this season, particularly in the secondary. Pro Bowl DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will have to wreak havoc in the backfield to prevent opposing QBs from exploiting the team's inexperienced DBs. The run defense, which had been a sieve earlier in the season, has bounced back over the past month, with MLB Gary Brackett and FS Antoine Bethea leading the charge. Getting CB Kelvin Hayden and WLB Clint Session back healthy would help a lot.
Player to watch: Garcon has been inconsistent this season, dropping too many balls, but he has played his best football during the club's critical four-game winning streak, with four TD catches over that span. Garcon's home-run potential opens things up for Wayne, and Garcon's ability to move the chains and find the endzone in big moments has provided a major boost to the offense over the past month.
They'll win the Super Bowl if ... Mathis and Freeney can put enough heat on the quarterback to ensure that the patchwork secondary is not exposed. The Colts must also continue to get spirited efforts from the ground game and the run defense.