The Colts 0-1-1 AFC South Start Is Likely Disastrous

September 23, 2022

Looking ahead, the Colts must win against the Titans in Week Four. The division is up for grabs.

The Indianapolis Colts left Jacksonville winless in the AFC South after two weeks, at 0-1-1. Here’s why the team must win their remaining divisional match-ups, if the team hopes to have any chance of winning the division.

Colts Need To Win The Intra-Divisional Matchups

While all eyes are focused on the Colts’ week three home match-up against the dangerous Kansas City Chiefs, their Week Four game against the division rival Titans may be even more crucial. Since the NFL realignment in 2002, the four-team AFC South division has completed twenty seasons. During that span, the team that had the best division record won the AFC South title sixteen times. Two other times, the division record was tied between the first and second place finishers. Only twice in twenty years has a team with the best division record not won the AFC South title.

As fans of the Tony Dungy era remember, the Hall-of-Fame coach emphasized winning intra-divisional games above all else. That emphasis served the Colts well, leading to five AFC South titles during Dungy’s seven-year tenure, from 2002 through 2008, winning an average of just under five out of six division games. Overall, the Colts have won the AFC South nine times, winning an average of just over five out of six division games.

In all but one of the twenty seasons in the AFC South, the division winner has won at least four divisional games:

Division WinsDivision Titles
65
58
46
31
<30
AFC South division titles by intra-division wins, 2002 – 2021

The lone exception? The 2006 Colts team that got similarly embarrassed in Jacksonville and finished 3-3 in the division, en route to a Super Bowl victory. It is safe to assume that season was an outlier – the epitome of the many Colts teams that Peyton Manning carried on his shoulders.

Colts’ Frank Reich Has To Capitalize On Opportunities

Manning, a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, was a generational talent; comparisons to Manning-led teams are likely unfair and unrealistic. That said, Manning-led teams under coach Dungy never finished lower than second place in the AFC South.

Subsequent coaches have trended downward since that era:

CoachDivision WinsAverage FinishFirst PlaceSecond PlaceThird PlaceFourth Place
Dungy4.91.35200
Caldwell4.02.02001
Pagano4.22.02221
Reich3.52.30310
AFC South division finishes by Colts head coach, 2002 – 2001

This trend may be another indictment of the Reich era. While he has dealt with more quarterback turnover than his three predecessors, he has also benefited from an incredibly weak AFC South division, yet his teams have failed to finish better than second place.

The Colts Must Be Better

It appears that the weaker the division, the more important divisional games become. The weak AFC South team that beats up the other weak AFC South teams the most, wins the division. Twice, Reich-coached Colts teams have won four division games. Both times, the Colts finished in second place in the division.

In short, historically, winning the AFC South title requires winning at least four division games – and during Reich’s tenure, even that hasn’t been enough. For the Colts, winning the division title has required winning 5 division games:

Division WinsFirst PlaceSecond PlaceThird PlaceFourth Place
64000
53000
41600
31120
20011
Indianapolis Colts AFC South place by division wins, 2002 – 2021

Indianapolis is winless in their first two division games, which makes the week four game against the Titans – who swept the Colts in 2021, 25-16 on the road and 34-31 in overtime at home – a must-win. Especially if combined with a Week Three loss to Kansas City, a Week Four loss to Tennessee would leave the Colts 0-3-1 overall, winless through the first half of their division games, and on the outside looking in at the race for the 2022 AFC South title.


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