The conventional wisdom in preseason circles is that Andrew Luck— the collegiate superstar tasked with filling the void left by Peyton Manning—will have a strong rookie campaign. Various prognosticators have projected 4,500 yards, 30 touchdowns and a 90 passer rating for Luck in just his first year. Such numbers would virtually guarantee him a Rookie of the Year award and, perhaps, even a spot in the Pro Bowl. The sky seems to be the limit for Andrew Luck.
However, the Colts are expected to be the height of mediocrity at their absolute best. Bleacher Report's own Sigmund Bloom is even less enthusiastic about Indianapolis' prospects for the upcoming season.
With all due respect, I simply disagree.
The Colts absolutely will not have the worst record in football in 2012
No team has finished with the worst record in football in consecutive seasons since the 1994-95 Cincinnati Bengals. I grew up in Cincinnati. I watched all of those games. If the Colts are as completely worthless as those teams were, I will eat my left arm.
The Colts have a future Hall of Fame defensive end/linebacker, another who is a fringe HOF candidate at the same position, a future Hall of Fame wide receiver, a multiple-time Pro Bowler at one of the safety positions, and a tandem of corners (Jerraud Powers and Vontae Davis) that will at least keep opposing offenses honest. If they can find a decent kick returner (Mardy Gilyard is still out there, just saying) they will have a pretty solid roster.
Very few teams with Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks are bottom-feeders in the NFL
This is a quarterback-driven league, now more than ever. The Indianapolis Colts were treacherously bad last season because they did not have a quarterback until Week 13—even then, that quarterback was career backup Dan Orlovsky. Kerry Collins was literally sitting on his couch watching television when the Colts called him.
As for Curtis Painter, where to begin? Words cannot describe Curtis Painter. Curtis Painter went out there against the venerable Blaine Gabbert and was completely out-played... by Blaine Gabbert. Blaine Gabbert might not win the starting job at Missouri this year if he were to return and somehow claim his extra year of eligibility.
As soon as the Colts got rid of the retiree and the scrub, they suddenly became competitive.
Knowing that Irsay was ready to move on from Manning, we Colts fans actually cheered against our team in Week 17, because if Orlovsky went out there and played decently okay enough for a fifth straight week the team was going to play itself right out of the "Suck for Luck" Sweepstakes.
If Orlovsky had been around to start all 16 games, the Colts would have turned in a completely underwhelming season, perhaps limping in with a 6-10 record. Hopefully, that would have been enough to fire Jim Caldwell anyway, but it wouldn't have made all of the NFL talking heads/pundits start screaming to blow up the joint and start over.
The Colts have Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck is monumentally better than the guy who went 2-3 with the supposedly inept Colts just one season ago. Andrew Luck is expected to be a perennial Pro Bowler. He has all of the tools that you need in a quarterback. He is as fast as Cam Newton. He is as big as Tim Tebow. He once annihilated a USC Trojans defensive back for having the audacity to pick up a fumble and even THINK about his touchdown celebration.
Remember the aforementioned statistical projections? 4,500 yards, 30 touchdowns, 90 rating? Those are not the numbers of a weak team. Those are not the numbers of a middling team. Those are the numbers of a team that brings the pain every week. Luck already has great timing with Reggie Wayne and is very comfortable checking down to long-time college teammate Coby Fleener as well as the Colts' stable of pass-catching running backs.
Sure, the Colts can't run the ball, but the Giants can't run the ball either. That didn't stop them from going 9-7 in the toughest division in football last season and winning the Super Bowl. If Luck produces anywhere near his rookie potential, the Colts will be a lot better than the 2-14 doormat they were in 2011. They will be a lot better than the team that finished a respectable 2-3 to close out the season.
Last season the Bengals were the last team into the playoffs, at 9-7. The Titans were the last team out, also at 9-7. Why were the Titans 9-7 instead of 10-6? Because they lost to the supposedly terrible Colts after some brain cells started rubbing together and Curtis Painter was sent home for the rest of the season.
If the target for the playoffs is 9-7, then the Colts have as good a shot as any team in the AFC. Their chances are enhanced by one more piece of logic.
The Colts probably have the best QB in the AFC South
Dear Houston Texans Fans,
Matt Schaub gets injured all the time. He's also not as good as Andrew Luck anyway. Houston will probably finish first in the division (I actually have them at 12-4), but that is because it is better at the other 21 positions on the field.
The Titans went 9-7 with a seasoned veteran QB calling the shots, a solid defense, a decent running game—it wasn't as amazing as advertised, but still strong—and the opportunity to face Blaine Gabbert twice and Curtis Painter once. They will not go 9-7 again with Jake "Hurt" Locker running the show. This slightly more capable version of Tim Tebow is an impressive physical specimen, but he is probably not a devastating professional quarterback. Even if Locker one day develops into one, he isn't NFL-ready today. In case you haven't noticed, Luck is ready.
As for the Jaguars, Maurice Jones-Drew, aka Pocket Hercules, aka Shawn Merriman Meets Wall, held out the entire offseason and preseason. As much as I love MJD, and I truly do, there is a 100-percent chance that he suffers a significant injury and/or plays slow this season. He will definitely be playing slow early in the year, and the Colts get the Jags in Week 3. Jones-Drew also shares the backfield with Blaine Gabbert, who is, of course, still Blaine Gabbert.
An easy schedule and a perfect storm of QB matchups
Look at the Colts' schedule this year. They get the dysfunctional Jags twice, they get the unimpressive Locker twice, they beat the Texans last season when they were terrible and they get to play the Jets and Sanchbow in Week 6, at which point sports fans are predicting general disarray for Gang Green. They get senior citizen Brandon Weeden throwing, not against Big 12 matador defenses, but against professional defensive backs; they get Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Cassel.
No season plays out exactly as predicted, but the Colts will have the better QB in perhaps 10 games next year. Throw in a plus-minus for random wins and losses (the Packers and Patriots are horrendous against the pass) and it is hard to imagine the Colts winning fewer than 7 games.
My prediction is a 9-7 rookie campaign in which Luck is just as good as advertised and the Colts squeak into the playoffs as the sixth seed. If there is anything to learn from the New York Giants, it is that barely squeaking into the playoffs by beating your rival in Week 17 still counts for something.