Last year was an unbelievable journey for the Indianapolis Colts. After going 2-14 in 2011, the Colts brought in Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick and played the majority of their season without their head coach, Chuck Pagano, who was battling leukemia.
The ChuckStrong movement brought the team, and city, together as Luck helped lead the Colts to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth.
Heading into the 2013 season, the Colts now have a healthy head coach along with a number of new faces. Ryan Grigson was aggressive in free agency, addressing a number of holes on the roster.
Still, there are no guarantees in the NFL, and there are a few games this season that will judge how good this team is and whether or not they can make another playoff run.
Week 3 at San Francisco 49ers
Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers took the world by storm last season, heading to the Super Bowl. They may have fallen just short of greatness against the Baltimore Ravens, but this team continues to look scary heading into the 2013 season.
A frightening defense became even scarier by bringing in Eric Reid out of LSU and Tank Carradine out of Florida State in the draft, as well as bringing in Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency.
This will be a tough test offensively for the Colts, but this will be an even bigger test for the defense, as they'll be going up against the read-option.
The Colts didn't have to focus on the read-option last season, but now they will be forced to go up against the dual-threat QB in Kaepernick along with a strong backfield in Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter.
All eyes will be on Erik Walden in this game, as he was absolutely torched last season in the NFC divisional round while playing with the Green Bay Packers. As you can see, things were ugly (he's wearing No. 93).
He will truly have to set the edge and help the Colts contain this offense in order to keep things from getting ugly.
A win here would be huge, but it will be more important that the Colts can prove that they can play at a high level early in the season to make a statement in the NFL. If they can keep this game from getting out of hand, they will be put on the map only three weeks through the season.
Week 5 vs. Seattle Seahawks
Funny to think that just a few years ago the NFC West was the laughingstock of the NFL. Now, they've quickly become a powerhouse division.
Russell Wilson was great in his rookie year, and the addition of Percy Harvin will make this offense more exciting to watch. However, this team thrives on aggressive defense and a strong running game behind Marshawn Lynch.
Grigson made it clear that this defense has now been shaped to stop the run. They brought in Walden, Ricky Jean-Francois, Aubrayo Franklin, Greg Toler and LaRon Landry, all players that could very well start or receive significant playing time this season.
All of these guys (with the possible exception of Toler, even though he's a physical corner) have some experience stopping the run. In particular, the signing of Landry made it clear stopping the run is this team's intent. Landry is a hard-hitting safety who plays better in the box than in coverage.
Playing against a big-time running back like Lynch will prove if this defense is built to succeed at stopping the run. If they can't, this could be a difficult season to watch defensively.
Week 7 vs. Denver Broncos
Who would've guessed, right?
This isn't only the biggest game for the Colts this season (or maybe even the last decade in regards to the regular season), but this could also be the biggest game in the league. The return of Peyton Manning will be something that Colts fans talk about the entire year.
Even though the Colts play their first prime-time game of the year the week prior against the San Diego Chargers, this will be the first time a lot of people watch the Colts in 2013.
The Colts will probably head into this game somewhere around 4-2 or 3-3. The schedule may get a lot easier after this game, but a win against Manning would be absolutely huge for the team and the city.
Again, I don't expect the Colts to easily handle the Broncos, but they need to show the country that they can stick with the big boys if they want to continue to be taken seriously.
On a sidenote, how are Colts fans going to react when Manning throws a pass to Wes Welker? I don't think that's something fans in Indy would have ever imagined happening at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Week 12 at Arizona Cardinals
Other than a game against the Houston Texans, the Colts have a pretty nice streak of games after playing the Broncos and having a bye in Week 8. Still, heading into Arizona and playing Bruce Arians and his new team will be a game the Colts will need to win.
The Cardinals may have brought in Carson Palmer to run the show on offense, but how much of an impact can he make? It's hard to imagine a QB that's 33 years old turning around an offense that ranked 28th in passing yards and dead last in rushing yards per game.
On the bright side for the Cardinals, Palmer is the ideal quarterback for Arians and a vertical passing game. He's always had a strong arm, and no one is denying that.
Meanwhile, Pep Hamilton will be trying to prove to Arians that he knows how to use Luck more effectively in his "No Coast Offense".
This is a game the Colts should win. It's important that they actually do win the games they're supposed to in order to earn another playoff berth in the Pagano-Luck era.
Week 14 at Cincinnati Bengals
If it's a tight race in the AFC South for the division title, this is going to be a game that the Colts absolutely must win.
These two teams are on the same boat. They both have young quarterbacks and teams that are quickly improving and trying to steal their division titles back.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are showing signs of age and the Ravens lost a hefty number of starters to free agency, leaving the division wide open. The duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green on offense gives them a shot to win every week, not to mention the addition of Tyler Eifert on offense. The team is continuing to bring in pieces on both sides of the ball, and this roster is beginning to look a bit intimidating.
Since these two teams are pretty evenly matched, it would be a huge win for the Colts this late in the season. If they could pull it off, they would be one game closer to a potential playoff spot or even the AFC South title.
Week 15 vs. Houston Texans
The final two games for the Colts could be pretty easy, as they will be playing the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars. This means that Week 15 will be one of the most important games of the year.
Both of these teams will likely be fighting for the division title at the end of the year. The Colts were able to upset the Texans at the end of last season, causing them to lose a potential first-round bye in the playoffs.
It will be a tougher task this season, however, as the Texans brought in some new faces. DeAndre Hopkins will give Matt Schaub another option on offense as well as open up the field for Andre Johnson. Sam Montgomery will add an intimidating presence of defense. Ed Reed will add a veteran presence and potentially become the heart and soul of the defense.
If the Colts can win this game, they very well may have the division locked up. If they lose, they could very well be scrapping for a playoff spot.
This will certainly be an intriguing season for the Colts, and they will need to win some big games in order to make it to the playoffs for the second straight season.