The Indianapolis Colts are going to provide some intriguing plot twists to the AFC South this season.
In other words, the Colts will be better than what's expected in 2012. Obviously improving from a 2-14 season isn't difficult, and anywhere from 4-12 to 6-10 is certainly realistic.
However, Indy has the make of a team that's better than 6-10. Yes, I'm being quite optimistic here regarding the Colts, and the preseason only reveals so much.
Therefore, let's break down the Colts, their schedule and the AFC South to see how Circle City pans out in 2012.
Texans Remain Only Proven Team in Division
The Houston Texans are the expected front runner of the AFC South, but the Colts can realistically get second in the division.
Maurice Jones-Drew is the main component of the Jags, and if he remains as a holdout, Jacksonville's offense won't be nearly as productive. And according to Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports, Jags owner Shahid Khan doesn't appear to be budging:
“He’s not here, and that’s his decision,” Khan said of Jones-Drew. “Believe me, it’s not a great concern. You hope for the best, and you plan for the worst. Our goals for the season don’t change, and if he isn’t here, he isn’t here. I don’t control it. It’s his choice.”
Now, Rashad Jennings is a solid option after MJD and has done well in the preseason. Still, MJD is the NFL's best back, and without him the Jags won't be nearly as effective.
As for Tennessee, the defense has to prove it can stop the run. The Titans made some fulfilling draft picks to patch up the front seven, but any minimal production from Donald Brown and Co. only makes Luck more dangerous in play-action.
Quarterback Jake Locker also remains a work-in-progress with accuracy and decision-making concerns, as we've seen this preseason. With that you can expect the Colts bringing the pain as much as possible against the Titans.
Doing so causes timing and rhythm issues which ultimately lead to forced turnovers and additional possessions for Luck.
Key Players Give Way to More Potential
Offensively, Andrew Luck is the given key player to the Colts' success.
And the man has made some impressive throws this preseason. By no means has the No. 1 pick been perfect, but the confidence to make some tough throws as he did against Pittsburgh lays a strong foundation.
And his receiving corps are reliable as well. Veteran Reggie Wayne remains the No. 1 target, and tight end Coby Fleener already possesses the chemistry with Luck from Stanford.
Role players like LaVon Brazill and Donnie Avery just add to the repertoire, while the running game is dynamic courtesy of Mewelde Moore and rookie Vick Ballard in addition to Brown.
Head coach Chuck Pagano's defense also presents better players than given credit for.
We know the tag-team pass rush duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will be stellar; it'll just be interesting to see both in the 3-4. Because of their presence, however, you can also expect more production from Cory Redding in the trenches.
Unfortunately the Colts will be without stud linebacker Pat Angerer for a little while. According to the Associated Press via ESPN.com last week:
Less than 24 hours after beating St. Louis 38-3 in the preseason opener, the Colts' new coach said starting inside linebacker Pat Angerer, last year's leading tackler, could miss at least six weeks because of a broken foot.
This certainly puts more pressure on the front seven to stop the run and the secondary to lock down the coverage on the outside. Still, with veterans in Tom Zbikowski and Antoine Bethea at safety, the roll down coverage will help in Cover 3.
From an all-encompassed perspective, Indianapolis certainly has plenty of developing ahead. What we're seeing, though, is a team moving in the correct direction en route to a more promising immediate future.
Schedule More Favorable Than At First Glance
Fortunately, the Colts don't have to play the Houston Texans until Weeks 15 and 17. So that takes much pressure off Indy during the early stages of the season. Obviously, though, teams like Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago, New England and Buffalo will be rough outside the AFC South.
But when you include Houston, that's still only seven games, and the Colts split with the Texans last year. The Miami Dolphins and New York Jets are winnable games as neither possesses the amount of explosion like the Patriots.
Plus, Indy's offense is capable of effectively moving the ball against both defenses which have dealt with inconsistent troubles at stopping the run and pass. Elsewhere, the Colts can definitely beat the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings.
Neither team has a promising quarterback on Andrew Luck's level, and the defenses are vulnerable to play-action pass and the intermediate passing game. A tough, but beatable opponent is the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16 (sandwiched between the Texans).
At that point in the season, a lot will depend on Luck's development. The Colts' defense has the ability to isolate Dwayne Bowe in coverage and get pressure on Matt Cassel. It's shutting down Jamaal Charles that will be difficult, as K.C. is decently balanced with a sound defense across the board.
When it's all said and done, however, the Colts can potentially win around seven, maybe eight games. Going 4-2 in the division isn't out of the question, and that confidence alone will lead to a few more.
In short, watch out for the Colts come time for kickoff in 2013.
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