INDIANAPOLIS – You need a microscope to try and find the Colts remaining playoff hopes in 2022.
A season that began with much promise to finally end the longest divisional win drought of any AFC South team is likely to extend to an 8th straight season.
While playoff chances are all but extinct, some might be wondering what is there to watch for with the Colts (4-8-1) closing out the season.
Games against the Vikings (road), Chargers, Giants (road), Texans will not bring much playoff stake for late December/early January.
Still though, there are definitely some things to watch for as the Colts put a cap on this season.
Let’s examine 9 storylines for the final four games of the season:
1. Matt Ryan’s Starting Job
It took Jeff Saturday little time to make a quarterback switch upon his surprising hiring.
Matt Ryan has been the guy for Saturday in all 4 starts since the interim coach entered the building.
But Ryan’s play has deteriorated, as his 15th NFL season has reached the month of December.
Does the fact that the Colts have little to no chance of making the playoffs impact Ryan’s starting job? Would that change if/when the Colts are fully eliminated from the playoffs?
Saturday said the Colts will be evaluating all positions during the bye week, including quarterback.
Remember, the 37-year-old Ryan is under contract through 2023 and already has $12 million guaranteed for next season. He has 2023 bonuses of $10 million (roster bonus) and $7.2 million (salary) waiting, with those becoming guarantees if Ryan gets hurt.
2. Bernhard Raimann’s Left Tackle Future
Form an individual standpoint, you could make an argument this 4-game stretch for Bernhard Raimann, coupled with the baptism by fire he already has received, is the most important for him compared to anyone else on the roster.
Has Raimann shown enough to be the Colts left tackle of the future?
As expected, it’s been a up and down rookie debut for Raimann, who started at left tackle for just two seasons at Central Michigan. Raimann has looked better though in recent games.
If Raimann can secure the left tackle job moving forward, that would do wonders for the future roster puzzle at such a critical spot the Colts have refused to try and seriously address since Anthony Castonzo began flirting with retirement.
3. Draft Order Watch
For some Colts fans, this is all that matters the rest of 2022.
Instead of the playoff standings, they want to see the 2023 draft order and where the Colts will fall.
With that unanswered QB of the future question looming large, many want to see the Colts in the top-10, and climbing as close as they can to the top-5.
And the Colts are currently in the 7th spot of the draft order.
Fans also will want to keep an eye on Washington’s record, with the Colts getting their 3rd round pick in 2023 (the Colts do not have their own 2023 third-round pick due last April’s draft trade for Nick Cross).
Currently, these are the Colts draft picks for 2023: Round 1-7, Round 2-39, Round 3-86 (from Washington), Round 4-109, Round 5-143, Round 6-183, Round 6-207 (from Buffalo), Round 7-225.
4. Jeff Saturday Evaluation
This is more of an unknown in how to evaluate Jeff Saturday’s time in Indy.
Does the record matter a lot or a little? Will Jim Irsay put his emotions aside in comparing Saturday to other candidates? Was the bye week what Saturday needed in getting a break from the coaching grind, hoping he can do this on a full-time basis?
One would think an 8-game record has to come into play at some point, but there’s no denying Saturday was thrown into a tough/awkward situation for an interim.
Saturday’s 4-game Colts era has seen a team getting off to much better starts and with slightly improved offensive line play. But the offense still stinks, the turnovers are far too abundant and they can’t close out games at an acceptable level.
Of course, if the Colts tailspin to the finish line, how much of that is an indictment on the roster put together by Chris Ballard?
5. More Opportunities For Rookies?
It’s probably premature to think this is realistic, and Jeff Saturday squashed the notion they would alter playing time in terms of the ‘future’ down the stretch.
But it’s a conversation you have to have whenever those playoff chances are over.
Isn’t that a perfect time for the Colts to look into playing more of their rookies?
Some of the names in this group would be Jelani Woods, Nick Cross, Dallis Flowers, Curtis Brooks (who has been on the practice squad all year).
6. Free Agent Watch
With the final quarter of the season here, it also is a chance to see if we see any lasting impressions for guys not under contract with the Colts in 2023.
It’s not a star-studded list of free agents, but you still have around a handful of starters potentially bound for the open market.
Here’s a look at some of the Colts free agents for the 2023 offseason: WR-Parris Campbell (25), OL-Matt Pryor (27), OT-Dennis Kelly (32), DE-Yannick Ngakoue (27), DE-Ben Banogu (26), DL-Tyquan Lewis (27), LB-Bobby Okereke (26), LB-E.J. Speed (27), CB-Brandon Facyson (28), S-Rodney McLeod (32), K-Chase McLaughlin (26).
Will these games have even more of a critical evaluation on them, seeing the type of effort guys play with when the playoff hopes are fading fast?
7. Anymore Sam Ehlinger?
That supposed 10-game evaluation for Sam Ehlinger lasted just 2 games.
Ehlinger started against Washington and New England, before Jeff Saturday decided (and Jim Irsay allowed) the Colts would be going back with Matt Ryan under center.
In his first starting action, Ehlinger had a nice debut versus Washington, but struggled in his first road start against the Patriots.
If the Colts decide to keep Ehlinger on the bench for the rest of the season, how does that impact their future evaluation on him? Does it?
8. Yannick Ngakoue’s Future?
Like with separating Bernhard Raimann from the other Colts rookies, Ngakoue deserves his own mention among the other free agents.
Ngakoue, 27, has bounced around 5 different teams in 7 NFL seasons.
He’s putting up normal numbers for his NFL career, yet you feel like those impactful sacks have still been a hair quiet. Honestly, he’s might have a career-high in sacks (8.5 sacks through 13 games, with a career-high of 12 sacks in 2017).
Still though, Ngakoue’s 2022 season off the edge isn’t something the Colts have had often in the last decade.
Does that mean this marriage will continue, especially if Gus Bradley is still around?
9. How Many Pro Bowlers?
When you have a season like the Colts are having, individual accolades aren’t going to be abundant.
Obviously, the Colts will not be close to the NFL-leading 7 Pro Bowlers they had last season.
With Pro Bowlers, you have to look at two categories of ‘deserving’ vs. ‘deserving + likely to be voted in.’
Grover Stewart, unfortunately, probably falls more into the first category. So does Zaire Franklin. Will DeForest Buckner, Stephon Gilmore and/or Quenton Nelson fall into that second group?
Outside of those 4, it’s hard to make a legit case for anyone else.