Head coach Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts have a big chip on their shoulder. No one is expecting much from the Colts this year, which makes Pagano and his players eager to prove those doubters wrong.
A .500 record would certainly shock the people who picked the Colts to be the worst team in football this season. So how do they achieve that 8-8 record?
Who can the Colts not afford to lose during the 2012 season? Answer: They can't afford to lose anybody. Despite the fact that General Manager Ryan Grigson added many solid players to this team, this roster is still very thin. Basically, the Colts are in trouble no matter who goes down.
Two obvious names to me are:
Andrew Luck—see the 2011 version of the Colts for a good comparison of what this team would look like without Luck.
Cory Redding—he's the leader on that defensive line. He has the most experience in Pagano's defense and is a must-have for this defense to be successful.
D Needs Stops on Third Down/Luck Needs to Stay Upright
Chuck Pagano wants the Colts to run the football and stop the run. While that would be a nice change for the Colts, it's more important for the defense to get off the field on third down and for the offensive line to keep Andrew Luck upright.
Indianapolis was 31st in the league last year in third-down defense. Longtime Colts fans would scream at their televisions and shake their heads as they were forced to watch an opposing offense convert yet another third down. Meanwhile, the defense wears down, and the offense just sits on the sideline watching the clock tick down. Overall, the Colts have to make stopping teams on third down a priority if they want to have a chance to be successful this season.
Speaking of the offense, Andrew Luck needs to be given time to run it. He's the franchise. A banged-up or even a hurried Andrew Luck does not bode well for the Colts. The Colts' patchwork offensive line needs to protect its quarterback and give him time to live up to the hype. If his jersey's relatively clean at the end of the game, there's a good chance he will surpass the hype.
Must Win Games
The Colts' schedule isn't all that bad. Check out these five home games that the Colts not only must win to get to .500, but should win:
Speaking of the schedule, the Colts get the Houston Texans at home in Week 17. Something that would help the Colts reach .500 is if Houston can run away with the division. If the Texans have the division clinched by the final week of the season, there's a good chance they would rest their starters. That would give the Colts a very good chance of picking up another victory.
So that's six victories right there. They would need two more to finish at .500. They've got the Jags, Titans, Jets and Chiefs on the road. They also have the Bills at home. They would have to steal a couple victories out of those five games, but it could happen. Like Merril Hoge said, this team is going to "shock some people."
Follow Brian on Twitter @coldy4goldy.