The Indianapolis Colts finished the first half of the season with a 3-5 record. Here's a look at how they have fared and what's ahead:
First-half rewind: Nobody knew what to expect from the Colts heading into the season. In the midst of a rebuild, they had a new head coach and a quarterback who hadn't played a regular-season game in 19 months. Andrew Luck completely silenced any doubts about his surgically repaired right shoulder when he attempted 121 passes in a four-day span over Weeks 3 and 4. Frank Reich has made most forget about the debacle of the Josh McDaniels coaching situation with an aggressive style that has put an emphasis on quick throws mixed in with the running game while being tough on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Grade: Average
What has to happen for the Colts to make the playoffs? The Colts have to learn how to close out games. They could be sitting on top of the AFC South if they were able to do that in the first half of the season. All five of their losses came with them in position to win the game in the fourth quarter, including four in the final two minutes. The schedule shifts in the Colts' favor in the second half of the season, because they face only one team -- Houston (6-3) -- that currently has a winning record, and five of their final eight are at home.
MVP: Luck will have a chance to jump in the league MVP race if he's able to get the Colts out of their 3-5 hole and make a push for the playoffs. He has thrown for more touchdowns (23) than every quarterback in the NFL not named Patrick Mahomes. Luck has not missed the playoffs in any season in which he's played in all 16 games. His 65.8 completion percentage, which is currently a career high, should remain steady or improve with receiver T.Y. Hilton (missed two games) and tight end Jack Doyle (missed five) back in the lineup.
Biggest surprise: There's a two-way tie in this category between the offensive line play and the emergence of rookie linebacker Darius Leonard. Led by center Ryan Kelly, guard Quenton Nelson and left tackle Anthony Castonzo, the Colts have had one of the better offensive lines this season. Luck closed the first half of the season having not been sacked in the final three games. The Colts raised some eyebrows in the second round of the draft when they selected Leonard out of South Carolina State, a Football Championship Subdivision school. All Leonard has done is become the anchor of the rebuilding defense and a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate while leading the NFL in tackles for most of the season.
Hurdle to overcome: The Colts have 60 penalties, 10th most overall and fourth among teams that have played eight games. They aren't good enough to continually overcome their own errors by giving away free yards, especially with a defense that has a bend-but-don't-break philosophy. They're 23rd in the league in pass defense after failing to add a No. 1 cornerback. The Colts won't face a Tom Brady or Carson Wentz in the second half of the season, but that's still an area of concern no matter which quarterback they face.