The Indianapolis Colts head into the 2013 season with high expectations.
After being ranked as a bottom-five team by most experts prior to the 2012 season, the Colts shocked the world as rookie quarterback Andrew Luck led the team to 11-5. The team started slow, but rode Luck and the inspirational #Chuckstrong movement to a playoff spot.
The team won't surprise anybody in 2013, and faces a high probability of regression after outplaying their talent level last season. But, if anybody can lead this roster back to the playoffs, it's Luck and Pagano.
Here are the Colts' regular-season games for the 2013 season:
|3||@ San Francisco 49ers|
|4||@ Jacksonville Jaguars|
|6||@ San Diego Chargers|
|9||@ Houston Texans|
|10||St. Louis Rams|
|11||@ Tennessee Titans|
|12||@ Arizona Cardinals|
|14||@ Cincinnati Bengals|
|16||@ Kansas City Chiefs|
Which ones will the Colts win in the upcoming season? We predict each of the Colts' 16 games in the following slideshow.
The Colts open the season with arguably the easiest game on their schedule: The 2013 Raiders look like early contenders for Jadeveon Clowney in the 2014 NFL draft. After going 4-12 in 2012, the Raiders traded starting quarterback Carson Palmer to the Arizona Cardinals and are locked in a wide-open quarterback battle.
The Raiders roster simply isn't talented enough to overcome a bad quarterback, and the Colts should score enough points to keep Oakland reeling.
Prediction: Colts 34, Raiders 17 (1-0)
The Indianapolis Colts-Miami Dolphins 2012 matchup was one of the great games in a season that included many. A close competition that saw the two teams swap leads throughout the game, the Colts managed to come away with the victory on the back of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, whose 433 yards were the most ever in a single game for a rookie quarterback.
In their 2013 game, the Dolphins and Colts look like remarkably similar teams. Both have a sophomore quarterback with high potential, secondary issues and weak support in the run game. The Dolphins have a very talented front seven and will be going after Luck. If the Colts can protect Luck and corral newly-signed WR Mike Wallace on defense, they should be able to pick up the win.
Prediction: Colts 25, Dolphins 21 (2-0)
The Colts haven't seen San Francisco since 2009, when Joseph Addai threw the game-winning touchdown to Reggie Wayne for the 18-14 win. Both teams have changed dramatically since then, with both teams finding young franchise quarterbacks last year along with new head coaches in the last two seasons.
After reaching the Super Bowl last season, the 49ers' expectations are higher than they ever have been. 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has one of the highest ceilings of any player in the league, and the 49ers' roster is loaded with talent throughout the roster.
The Colts' lack of pass rush could haunt them in this one: If they give Kaepernick time, he can pick them apart or find running lanes of his own. Even with wide receiver Michael Crabtree injured (as well as several others), San Francisco simply has more talent than the Colts do across the board.
Prediction: Colts 23, San Francisco 31 (2-1)
An extensive history lies between the Jaguars and Colts, but it's been largely pro-Colt since the formation of the AFC South in 2002. The Jaguars have struggled to find a franchise quarterback, while the Colts have luckily transitioned from Peyton Manning, the quintessential All-Pro, to Andrew Luck, the prototypical quarterback of the future.
Last year, the Jaguars managed a miraculous win in Indianapolis after an 80-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Cecil Shorts, who went on to have the most receiving yards for a Jaguar since Jimmy Smith in 2005. But in their second matchup, the Colts controlled the game throughout, winning 27-10.
The Colts should win this game. Unless Jacksonville finds a quarterback between now and then, the same issues will exist.
Prediction: Colts 24, Jaguars 15 (3-1)
Like the 49ers, the Seahawks have also gotten a new franchise quarterback and head coach since their last meeting, a 34-17 Colts win. Since then, the Seattle front office has done a tremendous job of building their roster with high-quality talent at every position.
The Seahawks have been very aggressive this past offseason, trading their 2013 first and seventh-round picks and 2014 third-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for enigmatic talent Percy Harvin. Unfortunately for Seattle, Harvin's recent hip surgery should keep him out until at least November.
But, even without Harvin, the Seahawks are one of the most talented rosters in the league. With elite talent at each offensive position and key pass-rushers and secondary pieces in piece, the Seahawks are built to be able to beat anybody.
The Colts should be able to give them a run for their money, but Seattle is a built to beat a team like Indianapolis.
Prediction: Seahawks 28, Colts 27 (3-2)
The Colts-Chargers matchup is all about Dwight Freeney.
The 11-year Colt left via free agency this past offseason after not even getting an offer from Indianapolis. Freeney held out in free agency for a while, but eventually signed with San Diego on a two-year $8.75 million contract. Freeney has had a strong preseason, showing that he still has the talent that led to his 107.5 career sacks.
The two teams are heading in different directions, but they're currently are a lot more similar than Colts fans would like to admit. Still, with Luck on the roster, you have to like the Colts' chances to pull off the win.
Prediction: Colts 21, Chargers 17 (4-2)
A year-and-a-half after releasing future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, Colts fans still identify with the 12-time Pro Bowler, making his return to Indianapolis the Game of the Week in Week 7. Manning has transformed the Broncos into Super Bowl contenders, even favorites. Meanwhile, Manning's predecessor in Indianapolis, Andrew Luck, has done a pretty good job himself.
Unfortunately for the Colts, this one looks like it should be a loss. Manning and the Denver passing attack should be able to eviscerate a questionable Colts pass defense (including the pass rush), and the Broncos defense is one of the most dynamic in the league.
The Colts would need a near-perfect performance from Luck and the offense in order to pull off the upset, which, while possible, isn't probable.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Colts 17 (4-3)
The Colts split the season series last year with the Texans, winning the final game of the season just two weeks after losing in Houston. The Colts couldn't contain J.J. Watt during that first matchup and just didn't make plays at the end of the game to pull off the upset. In their second game, on the other hand, the Colts game-planned much better for Watt and made key plays in the fourth quarter to ensure the victory.
In 2013, the Houston roster is once again more talented, but the gap isn't as big as Texans fans may want to believe. The Colts should once again win at least one of these two games, but I don't think it's this one.
Prediction: Houston 26, Colts 20 (4-4)
The Colts' last game against the Rams came in the preseason last year, where Andrew Luck's first NFL action wowed all observers.
The Rams have compiled an impressive level of talent under Jeff Fisher, and are hoping to have a big year in 2013. Unfortunately, St. Louis is still in a division with San Francisco and Seattle and will have a difficult time passing either for a potential playoff spot.
This should be a very competitive game, but I give the edge to the Colts for two reasons. First, the game is at home. Second, I think the Colts have the advantage in the quarterback battle. While the Colts' defense is admittedly weaker than the Rams', Luck and the offense should be able to make up the difference.
Prediction: Colts 24, Rams 16 (5-4)
The Colts got the best of the Tennessee Titans twice last season, both in close games in which the Colts made big plays at the end and the Titans didn't. Vick Ballard's immortal leap into the end zone was last year's iconic play in Tennessee, which won the game in overtime for Indianapolis.
The Titans are an organization whose direction has been questionable this offseason, but they have made some key improvements. I think Tennessee is heading in the wrong direction, but the Colts are bound to drop a game or two that they should win, and I think this is one of them.
Prediction: Titans 23, Colts 21 (5-5)
Former Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians returns to Indianapolis in this Week 13 showdown, this time as the Arizona Cardinals head coach. Arians has put his mark on the team already, initiating a trade to get Carson Palmer from the Oakland Raiders, providing a huge upgrade to the Cardinals' biggest weakness: Quarterback.
Even with the upgrade, the Cardinals offense will be hampered by one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Drafting Jonathan Cooper in the first round of the 2012 draft will help, but the line was straight awful last year, and one guard won't improve the entire unit as much as Palmer will need it to in order to survive in Arians' downfield passing offense.
Prediction: Colts 28, Cardinals 23 (6-5)
Expect the Colts to exact their revenge in this one, especially as they are in the thick of a playoff race and the Titans are headed to the top half of the 2014 draft. The Titans haven't swept the Colts since the AFC South's first year in existence in 2002.
Don't expect the Titans to start that trend again in 2013. The Colts are too talented, especially on offense, to lose both games, and playing this one at home should give Indianapolis the boost needed to pick up the victory.
Unless the Titans' defense finds some way to corral the Colts' skill players, there's little hope of getting the road win here.
Prediction: Colts 27, Titans 17 (7-5)
The Bengals and Colts were the AFC's two wild-card teams in 2012, and both are looking to make the next step and win the division in 2013. This game could be the difference between a division title and another wild-card spot.
The Bengals have improved their already impressive roster with a strong draft in 2013, with skill players like Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard giving Andy Dalton even more to work with. Meanwhile the Bengals' strengths (defensive line, big receiving targets) line up with the Colts' weaknesses (offensive line, linebackers in coverage).
I like the Colts in the quarterback battle here, as Dalton simply can't do what Luck can under pressure. But the Bengals' roster is much stronger as a whole, and with the game in Cincinnati, I don't think the Colts will be able to pull this one out.
Prediction: Bengals 31, Colts 27 (7-6)
This very well could be the game that decides the AFC South. I don't expect either of these teams to reach 12 wins, so whoever wins this late matchup will have an edge. The Colts have the easier remaining schedule, playing the Chiefs and the Jaguars, while the Texans play the Titans and Broncos.
After winning every single home game against the Texans in the franchise's history, no matter how improbable, I've learned my lesson. I'm not betting against them now.
Prediction: Colts 35, Texans 24 (8-6)
The Colts won this game in Kansas City 20-13 last year, clinching their playoff spot. They'll look to pull off a similar victory in 2013, and should be able to.
While the Chiefs have upgraded their quarterback by trading for Alex Smith this offseason, the Colts offense was able to move the ball fairly well last season, and I expect them to be able to again in 2013. The combination of Smith and Andy Reid's West Coast offense may be a bit more difficult for the Colts to handle in 2013, but I expect the Colts' improved offensive efficiency under new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to more than make up for it.
Look for a bit higher scoring game this year, but a similar result.
Prediction: Colts 27, Chiefs 21 (9-6)
The Jaguars may or may not still be quarterbacked by Blaine Gabbert at this point in the season, but unless they managed to pull off a midseason blockbuster trade, the alternative won't be any better. Chad Henne, while putting up some impressive total stats last year, was even less efficient than Gabbert most of the time last season.
Unless Luck is injured (knock on wood), the Colts should have an indescribable quarterback advantage.
The Colts' final game comes at home, against the worst team in the division. If the team needs a playoff-clinching win in the final week, you have to like their chances.
Prediction: Colts 31, Jaguars 17 (10-6)