NFL
September 4, 2020
BY Bryan Zarpentine

The Indianapolis Colts Aren't Super Bowl Contenders With Philip Rivers

The Indianapolis Colts made a bold move during the offseason, signing veteran quarterback Philip Rivers to a one-year deal worth $25 million. After Andrew Luck unexpectedly retired on the eve of the season last year, his backup Jacoby Brissett struggled as Indy finished 7-9, missing the playoffs. 

Thus, bold action was required and the Colts took it by reeling in Rivers, who previously spent his entire career with the Chargers. The 38-year-old is surely an upgrade over Brissett and oddsmakers have agreed. The Colts are slight betting favorites to win the AFC South despite both the Texans and Titans making the playoffs last season. Indianapolis also sneaks into the top-10 odds to win the Super Bowl this year. However, the addition of Rivers has been widely overblown.

While the Colts are better with him at quarterback than Brissett, the improvement won’t be as dramatic as many people think. There are plenty of reasons why Rivers joining the Colts doesn’t make Indianapolis a Super Bowl contender.

The Unfortunate Truth

As is the case with most 38-year-old quarterbacks, Rivers’ best days are behind him. It was clear during his final season with the Chargers that he was beginning to fade. Rivers' 23 touchdown passes in 2019 were his fewest in more than a decade and his 20 interceptions in 2019 tied for the second-most in his career. Perhaps most distressing, Rivers' passer rating was his lowest since the 2007 season. While not all of that can be blamed on Rivers, who ended up throwing for over 4,600 yards last year, a substantial drop in touchdown passes and a simultaneous increase in interceptions is a cause for concern with any quarterback. And when that quarterback is 38, Father Time is usually involved. 

The sad truth is that even when Rivers was in his prime, he wasn’t good enough to lead his team to the Super Bowl. 

Now, don't get us wrong: Rivers has always been a good quarterback, at least good enough to be selected to eight Pro Bowls. But he's always fallen short when he's had the opportunity to elevate his team to a championship level. Since taking over as the full-time starter for the Chargers in 2006, Rivers led his team to the playoffs just six times. In those postseason appearances, the Chargers reached the AFC Championship Game only once, and that was in 2007 when LaDainian Tomlinson was playing at an MVP level, taking the pressure off Rivers.

Rivers hasn't always been able to overcome the deficiencies of the team around him, which is the mark of a Super Bowl winner. If he couldn’t do it in the prime of his career, why would anyone think he can do it with the Colts at the ripe age of 38?

The Supporting Cast

For Rivers to have any chance of leading Indianapolis to a Super Bowl this season, he’ll require a lot of help from his supporting cast. While there is plenty to like about the Colts, their roster is far from perfect. If Indy had a strong and well-balanced roster, Rivers might be good enough to make the Colts Super Bowl contenders. However, the Colts have some weaknesses and uncertainties that Rivers might not be able to overcome. 

Offensively, the Colts are relying a lot on second-year receiver Parris Campbell and rookie Michael Pittman Jr. Campbell played in just seven games and caught 18 passes as a rookie, due to multiple injuries. Pittman, who boasts plenty of potential but is unproven in the NFL, will have a steep learning curve as a rookie because of the lack of an offseason program and an abbreviated training camp. Meanwhile, the Colts can no longer rely on T.Y. Hilton to be their top target. Hilton is undersized, on the wrong side of 30, and coming off an injury-plagued season. That’s not an ideal set of circumstances for someone that Indy needs to be a surefire No. 1 receiver until Campbell and Pittman can assert themselves. 

Rivers will benefit from playing behind arguably the best offensive line in the league, but he'll need his weapons to mature and stay healthy if they want to have a shot at a deep run in the playoffs. 

There are also concerns for the Indy defense. Despite the acquisition of DeForest Buckner to improve the defensive line, rushing the passer could be an issue. The only Colts player to notch more than five sacks in 2019 was the aging Justin Houston. In the secondary, there are a few questions at cornerback with Xavier Rhodes joining the Colts in free agency after a couple of down seasons and an abundance of youth and inexperience at the safety position.

On top of everything, the Colts are still undecided on their kicker for the 2020 season after parting ways with Adam Vinatieri after last season. Vinatieri’s struggles hurt the Colts in close games last season. Without a firm answer as to who his replacement will be, Indy is at risk of having similar problems this year.

The Competition

Last but not least, Rivers and the Colts face too much competition in the AFC to be a serious Super Bowl contender. Earlier in his career, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were constantly getting in his way. In 2020, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are the elite quarterbacks in the AFC who are poised to lead their teams to the Super Bowl this season.

Even in their own division, Rivers and the Colts face serious competition from the Texans and Titans. Both were playoff teams a year ago and will fancy themselves to get back there in 2020. Even if the Colts are the betting favorites to win the AFC South with Rivers, it’s not by much. The division figures to be a three-team race that’s up for grabs and will likely come down to the last few games of the season. With that in mind, just winning the AFC South and reaching the playoffs will be a challenge for the Colts, much less reaching the Super Bowl.

Granted, the Colts have a better chance of making the playoffs with Rivers at quarterback than they did a year ago with Brissett. But there is still a fine line between making the playoffs a being a Super Bowl contender. Even when the Titans made a surprise run to the AFC Championship Game last season, there was a clear gap between them and the Chiefs. The Colts are in a similar position this year. The addition of Rivers at quarterback can only improve them so much. Given the lack of certainty with other parts of Indy’s roster, Rivers isn’t good enough to make the Colts a Super Bowl contender in 2020.

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration