Here's a checklist for what the team needs to accomplish by the end of the 2012 season in order for fans to feel good about the direction of the team:
They must develop Andrew Luck. Nothing will make Colts fans feel more secure about the future than seeing Luck have early success. He doesn't have to have a Matt Ryan rookie year, but he can't have a Blaine Gabbert season either.
They must solidify a defensive identity. That identity cannot be "roadkill." The Colts aren't going to be very good on defense in 2012, and it's unrealistic to think that they are. However, fans will want to see some semblance of a plan taking shape. Chuck Pagano has to provide a glimpse of what is to come. The players may not all be there, but the plan needs to be.
How many games will the Colts win in 2012?
They must win more than two games. While another 2-14 season could lead to the mother lode of draft picks in exchange for the rights to Matt Barkley, the Colts would be well served to win four or five games. If they do, fans will be able to feel like the team is improving.
They need to find an offensive tackle. The Colts drafted two potential tackles in 2011, and they need either Anthony Castonzo or Ben Ijalana to permanently nail down a starting job. Both battled injuries in 2011, and if the Colts can finish the year confident that they have an anchor on the line, they'll move ahead with confidence in 2013.
Either Fleener, Allen or Hilton needs to emerge as an offensive threat. Indy used three straight draft picks on offensive weapons. If at least one of the three emerges as a big-play threat in his first year, the team will be doing well.
Ultimately, 2012 is about answering questions for the Colts. Right now there are question marks all over the field. The more of those questions that are answered in 2012, the more clarity and conviction the team will have in its 2013 offseason.