With a chance to win consecutive games for the second time this season last Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers once again laid a dud against the San Francisco 49ers. It was a waste of an opportunity to regain control of the NFC South and has put the season on the bring in ways no one is proud of.
Based on the upcoming slate of games in Week 12, however, the Buccaneers are in a prime position to pass the Saints or the Falcons in the standings. First and foremost, New Orleans and Atlanta are set to play with the winner holding a much-needed tiebreaker over the other.
It also means a win for the Bucs gets them right back into the thick of the race for the division crown.
If Tampa Bay is able to snag a Week 12 win, then the Buccaneers will move into first place with a win by New Orleans thanks to their 26-9 head-to-head win in Week 4. If Atlanta wins, then Tampa Bay will move to second place because of a loss to them in week seven.
With all of this said, Tampa Bay must take care of business in their game before gaining a hypothetical advantage in the standings. This week, the Buccaneers will travel to Lucas Oil Stadium to play the Colts (5-5, 3rd in NFC South), who remain in the thick of the AFC Playoff Race.
Due to numerous years of inconsistent quarterback play since the retirement of Andrew Luck in 2019 and a putrid 4-12-1 record in 2022, Indianapolis looked to use the No. 4 pick on one of the top QB prospects in the 2023 NFL draft.
With Carolina and Houston selecting Bryce Young and CJ Stroud with the No. 1 and No. 2 picks, respectively, Indianapolis decided to draft Florida's Anthony Richardson with the No. 4 pick and as the Colts' QB1 moving forward.
About one month before the season, head coach Shane Steichen named Richardson the team's starter, and proceeded to start in the Colts' first four games of the season. In those games, Richardson completed 50-of-84 pass attempts for 577 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, and one interception, while adding 25 carries for 136 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns.
As a result of Richardson's increased use of running and taking countless hits from defenders, the 6'4", 244-pound QB sustained two injuries during his four-game stint this season. In Indianapolis' 23-16 week-four win versus Tennessee, Richardson suffered a season-ending right shoulder injury late in the first half after falling awkwardly to the ground with two Titans draped around him.
“I don't, I just know he has the shoulder,” Steichen said in the Week 4 postgame conference. “We ran something similar to that last week where he popped the big one and then, obviously, this week, he got the shoulder on that play. "That's stuff that you've got to look at, be smart with and it's part of the game and you don't want it to happen.”
Without Richardson for the remainder of the season, Indianapolis looked to veteran Gardner Minshew as the starter, and he has done a decent job. In 10 games, Minshew has completed 163-256 (%) pass attempts for 1,721 passing yards, eight passing touchdowns, six interceptions, and an 83.8 QBR.
Regardless of who's been under center, Michael Pittman has been great in his fourth NFL season. To clarify, Pittman has caught 66 passes for 677 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns, while recording 80+ yards in four games, all team-highs.
Outside of Pittman, both Josh Downs and Alec Pierce have been formidable receiving threats as the No. 2 and No. 3 WRs in the depth chart. Downs, who Indianapolis selected with the No. 79 pick in the 2023 NFL draft, has notched 43 receptions, 523 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns. Meanwhile, Pierce, the No. 53 pick in the 2022 draft, has 18 catches for 264 receiving yards.
With respect to their passing game, the Colts' rushing attack has been extremely efficient this season, averaging 118.0 RYPG (10th in NFL) and 13 rushing touchdowns (6th in NFL). Indianapolis' rushing offense has been anchored by Zach Moss and Jonathan Taylor, who have formed one of the NFL's premier RB duos.
With Taylor absent for the beginning of the season because of a contract dispute, Moss slotted in as the RB1 and didn't disappoint. For reference, Moss has recorded 133 rushing attempts for 617 rushing yards (9th in NFL), and five rushing touchdowns, while averaging 4.6 YPC, all career-bests. As Taylor has returned to the lineup, Moss's role has quickly diminished, as shown by his one-carry and two-yard performance against New England in Frankfurt.
Speaking of Taylor, the 2021 offensive player of the year has been excellent since making his season debut in week five. In six starts, Taylor has taken 85 rushing attempts for 323 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, and 3.8 YPC, while catching 16 passes for 137 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns.
Through 11 weeks, Indianapolis' defense has been exploited by their opponents, as the Colts have given up averages of 24.8 PPG (25th in NFL), 358.5 YPG (24th in NFL), 129.7 RYPG (24th in NFL), and 228.8 PYPG (17th in NFL).
Despite this, the Colts have plenty of playmakers across the defense, starting on the defensive linemen. Collectively, Indianapolis has 30 sacks on the season, the 12th most in the league. Led by DE Dayo Odeyingbo's team-high six sacks, start DT DeForest Buckners' five, DE Kwity Paye's four, and DE Samson Ebukam's four, the Colts have done a great job at pressuring the opposing QB.
In addition, the Colts' LB core has been great, highlighted by the breakout of sixth-year Zaire Franklin, with 117 total tackles (3rd in NFL), 1.5 sacks, three passes defended, and two forced fumbles. Franklin was typically accompanied by three-time All-Pro Shaquille Leonard, but it was announced on Tuesday that the Colts shockingly cut the sixth-year superstar, making him available to sign with any team after clearing waivers.
Throughout the secondary, veteran CB Kenny Moore II has been solid with 67 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, five passes defended, and three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Similarly, Julian Blackmon and Rodney Thomas have formed a rising-star safety duo: Blackmon has posted 66 total tackles, five passes defended, and three interceptions; Thomas has added 28 total tackles, four passes defended, and two interceptions.