The 2013 Colts are one of the NFL's most interesting teams.
Was the 2012 season a legitimate leap forward and a sign of things to come? Or was it an emotion-filled Cinderella run by a flawed team that was extremely fortunate to win nine of their ten close games and overcome a negative point-differential?
I tend to lean towards the latter, although I do think the Colts are way ahead of where they should be in Year #2 of a full-scale roster overhaul. Some believe that this team will be a Super Bowl contender, but I just don't see it. The 2012 Colts were likely a 7-win team that had nearly everything going their way on the field. The Colts can't hope for a flukish 9-1 record in games decided by seven points or less, or duplicate last year's negative point differential and expect another 11+ win season.
The good news is that the schedule looks manageable. The bad news is that a lot of the poor teams that appeared on this slate a year ago (Jacksonville, Tennessee, Miami, Kansas City) are going to be better. Here's my breakdown:
at San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, at Cincinnati
Let’s get this out of the way first. Judging by the preseason predictions, the Colts only have four games against legitimate Super Bowl contenders this year. One of those, defending NFC champ San Francisco, is the road opener in Week 3. Indianapolis does catch a break by getting Seattle – a much better home team than road team – at Lucas Oil Stadium, and they won’t have to battle the high altitude against Peyton Manning in Denver. Although, the argument could be made that with as emotional as it will be in Indy that week, maybe it would’ve been better to play the Broncos on the road. Cincinnati is the sexy Super Bowl darkhorse, and they look like the #2 contender to Denver in the AFC.
I really hope we don't see these at Lucas Oil on 10/20
Out of these four, Seattle would be the win that would least surprise me, given their recent history of playing in the Eastern Time Zone. But, a 1-3 record in these games would have to be considered a success.
Oakland, Jacksonville, Tennessee
I hate using the word ‘gimmie’ in the NFL, because there have been so many cases of teams stubbing their toe in home games against heavy underdogs. That rarely pertained to the Colts during the heyday of the Peyton Manning era, although they did have some close scrapes in those years.
Drawing the Raiders at home in Week 1 is the equivalent of a Big Ten team drawing a low-level MAC team to kick off the season. With a new quarterback in Terrelle Pryor under center, there’s really no excuse for the Colts not to win Sunday’s game going away. Jacksonville and Tennessee, two of the worst teams in the NFL last year, look to both be awful again in 2013. If not for a defensive breakdown by Sergio Brown late in last year’s Week 3 loss to the Jags, perhaps we’re talking about the Colts as the defending AFC South champions.
ROAD GAMES AGAINST LESSER OPPONENTS
at Jacksonville, at Tennessee, at Arizona, at Kansas City
The road was not very kind to the Colts last season. Four of their five losses came away from Lucas Oil Stadium, and three of those were of the blowout variety (Bears by 20, Jets by 26, Patriots by 35). The Colts’ other road wins: the 2-14 Jaguars, the Titans in overtime, a miracle comeback in Detroit, and a team quarterbacked by Brady Quinn. Yuck. That’s why I hesitate in calling any of these four games ‘gimmies’. Division tilts on the road are generally a headache (especially when this guy is involved), Arizona is a long trip, and the Chiefs should be much better than the version the Colts saw in December of last year.
Miami, at San Diego, St. Louis, Houston (both).
You may disagree with some of the teams on this list, but I think all of them have talent levels that are close to where the Colts’ is. The Dolphins are an intriguing Week 2 opponent. Ryan Tannehill showed flashes in his rookie year, but was lost in the shuffle due to the outstanding performances of his other young QB counterparts. Miami spent major money in the offseason, and for whatever it’s worth, the team has the same Vegas odds (40-to-1) as the Colts to win the Super Bowl. San Diego has been a longtime rival and thorn in the side of the Colts. The Chargers have been sliding for the past couple of seasons, but that Sunday Night game out West will certainly be a challenge. St. Louis is greatly improved, and were one of the NFL’s biggest surprises last year at 7-8-1 despite playing in the brutally tough NFC West. I put both games against Houston on here because the Colts have owned the Texas in Indy (a perfect 10-0) and have generally played them tough in Houston (they hung around last year).
I’d expect a split in the Houston games. If the Colts can win two out of the other three, they’ll be in great shape.
Colts go 9-7 and narrowly miss the playoffs. They lose the four games in the losses category, win all three of the gimmies, go 3-1 in the road games against lesser opponents, and 3-2 in the coin flips. They'll be a better team than they were in 2012, but the record won't reflect that.