The leader of a new day in Indy.
I'm just joking, mostly. In trying to ascertain what each team in the division must do to win the Super Bowl this year, it's difficult to make a case for the Colts that doesn't involve the flux capacitor or the City on the Edge of Forever.
Indianapolis isn't likely to be a playoff team, which makes winning the title a challenge. Still, if there was a perfect storm that would sweep the Colts to New Orleans, this is how it would have to unfold.
1. The rest of the division falls apart.
A couple of years ago, we saw Sam Bradford's Rams playing for a playoff spot with a 6-9 record. Because I can't imagine Indianapolis winning more than seven games, that's the kind of scenario it would take for the Colts to make the playoffs.
If Matt Schaub gets hurt, the Titans collapse under the weight of a difficult opening stretch, and Blaine Gabbert doesn't improve, maybe the whole division is just so terrible that Indianapolis wins an extra game or two.
In a doomsday scenario for the AFC South, the Colts could wind up as the Omega Man. Extend that to the rest of the AFC for a moment. The Patriots' defense struggles. Peyton Manning only plays 10 games. The Ravens and Steelers wind up facing each other in the playoffs, meaning no one has to play them both.
If it all broke just perfectly like a cosmic Rube Goldberg machine, anything is possible.
2. Chuck Pagano works a miracle and the defense is average.
In doing this series, I limit myself to the vaguely plausible. Note that with those restraints I can't possibly change this to say, "Pagano works a miracle and the defense is good." Good is not on the table. Average is barely on the table.
For the Colts to get there, a variety of unlikely things would have to happen. Pagano's scheme would have to maximize the talents of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Given that for both to rush the passer at the same time requires a blitz in the 3-4, I think that's unlikely. Still, for the sake of argument, let's say both guys do well and get a combined 24 sacks.
Then, the secondary will have to improve. We'll say that Tom Zbikowski proves to be a slightly above-average NFL starter. It's plausible. Then Jerraud Powers stays healthy for 16 games. It could happen. Then one of the young corners plays slightly below average football. I could buy this.
If all those less-than-likely events happen at the same time, I could see a scenario where the Colts have an average defense.
3. Andrew Luck gets hot at the right time
I don't believe the Colts' offense will be league average this year, but I don't think it's as implausible as the rest of this piece. So if steps one and two happen, and the Colts win the South at 8-8 or 7-9, and find themselves in the playoffs, then it's just a question of getting hot at the right moment.
Look at Eli Manning from 2007. He had a passer rating of 73.9. He lead the league in picks thrown. His YPA was 6.3 He completed just 56.1% of his passes. Luck can do that this year. In fact, that's not a ridiculous projection at all.
Manning was average all season before catching fire. Luck doesn't have to be good for 16 games in this scenario. He only has to be average all year, and then play great for the last four weeks of the playoffs. Maybe by the end of his season, he'll have begun to figure out the NFL and be ready to take the leap.
Look, it's not going to happen.
No part of this scenario is going to happen. When you listen to what Jim Irsay and Ryan Grigson say publicly, there's nothing but honest admission the team has huge holes. They are clearly engaged in a long-term plan and have always been willing to punt this season in favor of the future.
Twelve months from now, this piece will be much more believable.
Now, where did I park my DeLorean?