At the moment, the sixth seed in the AFC seems to be the most mysterious of the 12 postseason spots. Despite there being seven games to go, it appears unlikely that many of the NFC teams looking in from the outside will be a major factor (outside, perhaps, the Eagles and stuck-in-neutral Packers).
On the other hand, there are four legitimate defenders for the second wildcard in the AFC. In this week’s episode of the The MMQB NFL Podcast, we discuss our favorite dark horse candidates, and who might be able to surprise us there.
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Albert Breer:It feels like at this point every year there’s a team that turns the corner. Maybe we’re not talking about them a lot mid-November and then all of a sudden they find their way into the playoffs.
I want to open things up by giving you the dark horse that I don’t think many people are talking about, and that’s the Indianapolis Colts. Now, the narrative out there over the last two months is that Andrew Luck has no help around him. We’ve heard about the offensive line problems, of course. I think people are looking at the Colts as they were constituted over the last few years. But I think that franchise is very close to turning the corner. In fact, we may be seeing it right now. I think there are two reasons why the Colts are a team to watch going forward—number one is Luck himself, who, quietly, has played really well the last three weeks. Number two, I think they’ve drafted well. I think this class has a chance to make a team that was so reliant on Andrew Luck since he came into the league and transform them into a team that can win in different ways and doesn’t need Andrew Luck to throw for 300 yards a week.
Jenny Vrentas: I wonder if Josh McDaniels looks at the way Luck is playing and has any regrets. Obviously, when he decided not to take that job there was still uncertainty about [Luck’s] health. But now it looks like, you were kind of hoping to see him come through the other side and that’s what we’re seeing now. But when you introduced this segment you said dark horses, which, defined as a team with a losing record who may still make the playoffs. So under that category, the Eagles fall into it. The Packers are not quite losing because they’re 4-4-1. So, I don’t think those teams count as dark horses, but by definition…
Breer: Conor, do you have a dark horse?
Conor Orr: I got a tasty one: Baltimore. Come on, let’s pivot to Lamar Jackson. Show people something they haven’t seen before.
Breer: So, what, they’re gonna roll out the option offense and take the NFL by storm?
Orr: Maybe not take the offense by storm but at least show something that they haven’t been showing on film for the last 10 years. If a team can control the clock with that defense and Lamar Jackson can play some sound football—I mean, why won’t John Harbaugh do it at this point? There are reports that there will be a mutual parting of ways at the end of the season. His time there feels like its coming to an end. Why would you go out not trying it? His legacy in Baltimore is secure. I don’t think there’s anything he could do to mess that up. He won a Super Bowl. He’s been the consummate Baltimorean. Why not give it a shot?
Who did we miss? Send responses to @AlbertBreer on Twitter and we’ll take a look before taping Tuesday’s pre-Thanksgiving spectacular. For a chance to win Albert’s personal cell phone number with 24-7 access to all things NFL, subscribe to the SI slate of podcasts, including Tim Rohan’s fantastic Fall of a Titan series, and send us a picture on Twitter to enter the raffle.