The Indianapolis .500: A Colts Guide to the Unexpected

The 2012 Indianapolis Colts season was truly unforgettable. It was a season that Kafka would have loved, but the fans surely hated. The team was in a strange place it had never been before (2-14), feeling unjustly persecuted (Manning’s injury), and hurting deeply from its father’s flaws (poor drafting by Nepotism Chris). The metamorphosis was sure to come, but thankfully, that did not mean some twisted, fucked-up,  Kafkaesque transformation, but a new head coach, a new GM, a new quarterback and a new era of Colts football the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback. For the first time, the team’s goals are not the playoffs, the top pick, or a Super Bowl, and that is alright. Every team’s goal is getting better, but where will the record fall within that “getting better” spectrum?  5 or 6 wins seems to be the general consensus and I think lots of Colts fans would count 6 wins as a coup after last year and the rebuilding that followed.

I say 8-8. It is not only a possibility, but a probability and it isn’t even that outlandish.

First off, the schedule matters. Teams go from last to first in their division all the time because of how the schedule sets up to put 4th place teams against other 4th place teams.  The Texans are clearly the class of the division, but the Jaguars are terrible and the Titans are just ok and going in with a 2nd year quarterback, no Kenny Britt and a new head coach. So what does that schedule look like?

@CHI, vsMIN, vsJAX, vsGB, @NYJ, vsCLE, @TEN, vsMIA, @JAX, @NE, vsBUF, @DET, vsTEN, @HOU, @KC, vsHOU

No, those bold games are not predicted wins, just games that are winnable. The only risky one is the Houston game, and I am going on the assumption the Texans will be resting players for that game. That is 11 winnable games, and while I am obviously not suggesting that they will win all these games, I am also not suggesting that they will definitely lose the rest of those games. I mean some of those games look completely unwinnable, but given the nature of injuries in the NFL, who is to say that Stafford and Calvin Johnson get hurt, putting that game in play, or Tom Brady getting hurt and making every Colts’ fan beam like Christmas morning? Sure, these things are unlikely, but these same rules apply to even just decent teams like Tennessee and Buffalo, who are one or two injuries away from ruin. 11 winnable games and you don’t think the Colts can get 8? Free your mind.

So how did I decide which games were winnable? It had little to do with the standings last year, though it certainly didn’t hurt that most of the teams were pretty mediocre. The new Colts era requires a fresh look at the Colts. It used to be that any team that had a strong offense, particularly running the ball, could give the Colts a run for their money. That appears to have changed. Teams have thus far been able to move the ball a little, but given the defensive scheme and run-blitzing that the Colts will do, the key to beating them no longer lies up front. The real issue is the secondary where Antoine Bethea and Jerraud Powers are good/decent and the rest of it is very much in question.  In order to beat the 2012-2013 Colts, you have to be able to throw the ball, and throw it consistently. That is why Minnesota and Adrian Peterson don’t scare me. That is why the Jets don’t scare me, That is why playing a 4th place schedule is often easy: there is a total lack of solid quarterbacks. Most of the time, none of those last place teams have good quarterbacks, but the Colts have one in Andrew Luck.

Much has been said about Andrew Luck, and it is for that reason I have yet to write a post on him. The short version is that he is really, really impressive. So impressive that I have little doubt the Colts will average 24 points a game this year. They look capable of moving the ball in the red zone on the ground, which will ease some of the burden, and look like they will be a decent passing team under Bruce Arians. The only teams that are going to be able to really stifle this offense are teams that are much better than the Colts. Few, if any, teams on the Colts level will be able to totally shut the team down. Thusly, it comes down to the defense. How quickly can Chuck Pagano get the system in place? How quickly can the players learn the ins and outs? Will the lack of a nose tackle make the front 7 toothless? All these questions still need to be answered, but even moderate answers to these questions suggest the Colts can string a few wins together and surprise some teams.

So who are they going to surprise? Let’s go through that list of winnable games.

The architect of the Ravens defense teams up with an architecture major at QB.

Vs. Minnesota (Week 2)

Adrian Peterson’s second game back from a torn ACL, Christian Ponder, and a pass rush that is a little bit scary. That is what you sign up for when you play the Vikings. So Peterson is not at 100% yet, but even 80% of him is more than enough to handle. The Colts will presumably make Ponder beat them, and I think he can for a half, but not for a  full game. This is a game that the Colts should win. The offensive line is not nearly as bad as it is being made out to be, the defense should be able to hold the vikings to 20 points or less and that means the Colts have a shot. If Ponder has a good game the Vikings win, if not the Colts will win. That is very much a toss up.

Jacksonville (Week 3 & Week 10)

The Jaguars are really bad, and if Maurice-Jones Drew doesn’t play they could be historically bad. Blaine Gabbert is nothing to fear and these are games the Colts should split at the very least. Winning both is a definite possibility.

@New York Jets (Week 6)

For all the press coverage Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow get, they still combine to make maybe one very good quarterback. Individually, neither is really very good or capable of picking apart a defense routinely. Sanchez does it from time to time, Tebow does it from time to time, but betting on either to do it without question on any given week is shaky. Given the Jets poor offensive line play thus far, lack of a receiving corps and ongoing instability,  picking the Jets third in their own division is totally reasonable. This is a very winnable game.

vs Cleveland (Week 7)

The Browns are not very good. They are not terrible, they are not completely without hope, but Greg Little and Brandon Weeden are not going to strike fear in the hearts of any opposing fans or coaches. This game is a borderline must-win.

Tennessee (Week 8 & Week 14)

The Titans are a very solid team and have been for a while. They are not overwhelming in any aspect of the game since Chris Johnson’s paycheck and I have serious doubts about Jake Locker. Winning both of these games would be a bit surprising, but not stop-the-presses shocking. The Titans defense might chew Luck up a little now and again but both games are winnable, and Colts fans should expect a team “getting better” and “making progress” to win at least one of these games.

vs Miami (Week 9)

Another perennially solid team that has few weaknesses but fewer overwhelming strengths. They will be decent and the Colts may very well lose this game, but starting rookie quarterbacks is risky, especially when that quarterback isn’t the fastest learner the coaching staff has ever seen. I have not watched tape on Ryan Tannehill, but I will be slightly shocked if he turns into a good NFL quarterback. He fits the mold of physical specimen that has technique issues (Patrick Ramsey, Jeff George, Josh Freeman, Jamarcus Russell) better than he fits the mold of some physical questions but does a lot well (Philip Rivers, Jeff Garcia, Jim Harbaugh). I’m not calling him a definite bust, but he has to prove himself, not confirm prior beliefs.About a 6 on the winnable scale.

vs Buffalo (Week 12)

I expect the Colts to lose this game in part because I expect the Bills to be good, but in part because even if they are not good, they will be able to move the ball easily against the Colts defense. This one is not all that winnable, but if we see broken ribs Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of healthy Ryan Fitzpatrick, this game could be in play.

@ Kansas City (Week 16)

This game is about on the same level as the Miami game in that the Chiefs have a lot going for them, but since it is never all working at the same time, you never know what you are going to get. If Jamaal Charles is on the field, things get a little trickier, but this is still a winnable game. Winning at Arrowhead might be tricky but after last year it seems like a definite possibility. If this game was week 1, I would probably count it out, but after 15 weeks of development and getting things in place, this game is absolutely in play.

If you give the Colts that week 17 win against a resting Houston (more than plausible), can you see 8-8? Can you let yourself believe that the Colts could be overachievers (in the eyes of all not just the pessimists) for once? Now maybe the talent pool would get replenished quicker if they went 4-12, but that is not happening. The Colts are better than that, and they are a .500 team this year. Expect it.

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