The 2012-13 NFL season has treated the Indianapolis Colts better than most anticipated. The year started off with the firing of coach Jim Caldwell and the legendary Bill Polian, who essentially built the Colts' dynasty in the 2000s. Franchise quarterback, fan favorite and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning was also let go in an attempt to rebuild the organization that Manning put on the map.
The 2011-12 Colts finished 2-14, leading the way for Indy to draft No. 1 in the 2012 NFL draft. Coach Chuck Pagano was brought in, as was franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. Shown the door were familiar players and Colts greats, such as Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark.
All of the hardships that followed the Colts heading into the year 2012 makes their No. 5 AFC playoff seed such an impressive seed. The team is young but ready to win now. Whatever happens in the playoffs this season will simply be a point to build off of for next year.
Since 2012 treated the Colts a lot better than anybody expected, 2013 could bring a few surprises as well. Here is the wish list heading into 2013 for all Colts fans.
What good is a franchise quarterback if he spends the whole game on the turf? Through the first 16 weeks, Andrew Luck has been sacked 40 times, risking injury with every plummet to the ground.
Luckily for the Colts, and for Luck, he is very athletic and elusive. He has the same 40-yard dash time as Cam Newton and can scramble when plays break down. But the constant pressure he faces has certainly been a factor for his 18 interceptions, which might be the difference in his Rookie of the Year campaign.
The Colts also have had one 100-yard performance by a rusher this season, when rookie Vick Ballard put up 105 against the Houston Texans in Week 15.
All in all, the Colts offense has been pretty successful in 2012, especially considering how young they are. However, strengthening the offensive line is a major priority heading into the 2013 season.
Since the Colts will draft late this coming April, the top skill position players will be gone, leaving an abundance of talent for the offensive line available late in the first round.
If the Colts want to add veteran talent to the offensive line, they can target players like Branden Albert, Ryan Clady and Andy Levitre. To say the least, there will be proven NFL talent on the offensive line in the 2013 free-agent market.
Regardless of how they do it, the Colts need to bulk up on the O-line. A player like Luck is extremely valuable and needs the ultimate protection. The running game also needs to be ready to produce on a week-to-week basis.
Taking care of the offensive line will allow for the Colts offense to continue to grow in 2013.
Andrew Luck has 18 interceptions through his first 15 NFL games. That may be the No. 1 factor in his mediocre 75.6 passer rating.
However, Luck hasn't let those interceptions take away from the Colts winning. And for goodness' sake, the kid is a rookie!
Colts fans should feel that Luck is the superior rookie quarterback in the 2012 draft class. The only problem is that the accolades are hard to obtain when a quarterback averages more than one interception per game. This may be why Luck was snubbed from the Pro Bowl and might finish in third place for the Rookie of the Year voting.
A quarterback needs to have a short memory, and Luck has just that. He is able to forget about his turnovers and continue to fight for his team, but he is turning the ball over too much. He is gaining more and more experience with every week, and his interception rate should decrease in 2013.
With Luck giving the ball away less in 2013, he will be on the field more often to produce points and win games. Plus, fans should be able to compare Luck to the game's elite with ease when he isn't throwing to the defense as often.
Dwight Freeney is a defensive end playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. The switch from a 4-3 defense has hindered Freeney's production, as he only has four sacks heading into Week 17.
Playing linebacker has taken away Freeney's signature spin move, which has enabled him to have 106.5 career sacks and 44 forced fumbles. He will be 33 when he hits the open market and may want to settle down where he is comfortable playing his natural position.
However, the fans won't want to see Freeney go. After seeing Peyton Manning go, it is very clear that players spending their entire career with one franchise are very rare in today's NFL. Freeney has spent 11 seasons in Indianapolis and has been a fan favorite and Pro Bowler since 2002.
His status will be unknown heading into the offseason. He is a tremendous pass-rusher but at age 33 might not be up for learning the ins and outs of playing linebacker. As of right now, the fans should be optimistic and hope that Freeney chooses to stay home and finish out his career with the team that has taken him on two Super Bowl runs.
The Indianapolis Colts' last AFC South crown came in 2010. However, for Colts fans, that seems like ages ago. Some player named Jeff Saturday snapped the ball to Peyton Manning, who would hand off to Joseph Addai or throw to Pierre Garcon or Dallas Clark.
So yes, a lot has changed in just two seasons. The roster is completely different, and a new generation of players have taken over. But through all the personnel and coaching changes, the Colts are playoff bound in 2012.
This season has proved that the Colts can fight and grind to get results in the National Football League. Clutch moments and close wins have proved these Colts are for real, and whatever playoff experience players get this January will be extremely beneficial heading into 2013.
The fans are content with the No. 5 AFC playoff seed but will be eying the AFC South title in 2013. They should sweep Jacksonville until the Jaguars turn their franchise around, and that may take a few seasons. They swept the Titans this season and are a more rounded team, leaving the divisional crown the Houston Texans' to own.
However, the AFC South used to be Indianapolis'. They have dominated that division like the Patriots have dominated the AFC East. And there is nothing like playing a home game in the playoffs, for both players and fans.
To build off a successful 2012 season, the 2013 Colts should be aiming their goals on the divisional crown. This season proved to the rest of the league that the Colts are winners, and a divisional title opens possibilities for playoff byes and home-field advantages.
Nothing would quite indicate a 180-degree turn from 2011 than a division title. And that should be the No. 1 priority for the Colts in 2013.