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COLUMN

Hold your horses on Colts playoff dreams

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Colts at New York Jets

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday in MetLife Stadium
TV: WANE, Ch. 15
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM

For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

It's still too early to tell where this team will go from here

Sunday, October 14, 2012 - 3:33 am

There's a temptation among fans and analysts to revise expectations for the Indianapolis Colts. As an optimist but a realist, I advise resisting temptation.

NFL fortunes change way too quickly. The Colts should know. They've run the gamut from awful to awesome, sometimes in 10 minutes' time.

Yes, the Colts are 2-2 and would be 3-1 if not for falling asleep on Cecil Shorts III at the end of the Jacksonville game. Yes, the schedule looks considerably less daunting than it once did, starting with today's opponent, the New York Jets, who are not synonymous with juggernaut. Yes, the rallying cry of “ChuckStrong!” can inspire these Colts in ways no average pep talk could.

Let's be careful not mark them down for the playoffs just yet.

We're at the quarter-season turning point. That's long enough to judge some things: Andrew Luck can play quarterback pretty darn well; Reggie Wayne's the man; and Cory Redding does not hide emotions. It's not long enough to judge other things: The secondary's long-term solvency is questionable; Dwight Freeney may or may not be comfortable; and interim coach Bruce Arians' off-the-cuff coaching style remains a work in progress.

If the Colts beat the Jets today at 1 p.m. in MetLife Stadium, they'll be in a great position. They'll be above .500 for the first time since 2010 and heading back to a home game against the 2013 draft-leading Cleveland Browns.

The Colts' next four opponents after the Jets are all below .500: Browns (0-5), Titans (2-4), Dolphins (2-3) and Jaguars (1-4).

Could the Colts be 7-2 after those four games?

They could, but that's a big leap. Consider that the Titans are coming off a win over the Steelers, and will be playing at home. The Dolphins' record includes two overtime losses and Ryan Tannehill keeps getting better. The Jags already beat the Colts once (Shorts version).

As good as Luck has been, he's still only completing 54 percent of his passes and the Packers botched three possible interceptions. To believe Luck will not have a poor game, with bad picks, is to forget that he's a rookie.

There's also the matter of the Colts' emotion. It's not possible to maintain the kind of drive they showed in the second half of the Packers game. It'll be even harder on the road.

On a more tangible level, outside linebacker Robert Mathis and running back Donald Brown are both out two to three weeks with knee issues.

Mathis' loss may be devastating. His energy and ability to pressure the quarterback has made up for some of the other liabilities of the Colts' rebuilding defense. If the Colts are unable to bring pressure, opposing quarterbacks will be able to exploit the weak spots in the secondary. There are weak spots, as Aaron Rodgers showed in the first half last week before he felt the heat.

It's possible the trio of Vick Ballard, Mewelde Moore and Delone Carter can carry the running back load. None have the speed on the edge that Brown possesses. The Colts' offensive line has yet to prove consistent in power running.

The rest of the Colts' schedule has the potential for some rough spots. It includes road trips to New England, Detroit, Houston and Kansas City. The Patriots and Texans are powerful. The Lions could find their groove by Dec. 2 and who knows where the Chiefs will be?

Before the season, I pegged the Colts for 7-9 in 2012. That was considered an over-the-top “homer” outlook when national media had them No.32 in their power polls. I'm willing to upgrade to 8-8, if the breaks fall and the Lions and/or Chiefs remain mediocre. December's a long way away.

There's a big leap to 9-7 or 10-6, a leap that would likely make Luck the best rookie ever. Could happen. He looks pretty special. But it's not a one-man game.

I'll resist temptation. Nothing has come easy for the new-look Colts so far. And that seems like the main trend with some staying power.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com