The Colts have taken expectations, drowned them in a pond out back and driven into the sunset in their '69 Camaro.
In 2012, the Colts were supposed to be entering a rebuilding era. An 8-8 season was the best-case scenario, and that was only if Andrew Luck was a really good rookie quarterback. Seventeen weeks later, the Colts were 11-5 and in the playoffs.
In 2013, the Colts were supposed to improve, but maybe not in the win column, regressing to the mean after an incredibly lucky season in 2012. Perhaps they would contend for the division title and make the playoffs as a wild-card team, but that was it. But, once again, they defied expectations by winning the division by a landslide and winning a playoff game in dramatic fashion.
With that in mind, maybe it's futile to make predictions. But it's the offseason, and we're going to do so regardless.
Here, we look at the ceiling and the floor for the Colts in 2014. What we will ignore, however, are catastrophic injuries. Some wear and tear will be assumed, but the future of the team could shift drastically if, say, Andrew Luck were lost for the season. Assuming relative health, then, what kind of projections can we come up with for Indianapolis?
We'll start with the bad news: The Colts still have a lot of flaws. Those flaws could be mere annoyances, like Coby Fleener's proclivity to drop balls in traffic, or they could be more devastating, like the lack of a pass rush outside of Robert Mathis.
The worst-case scenario for this season involves each of those flaws rearing its ugly head, with the Colts' haphazard attempts to fix them going terribly wrong.
We'll start on the defense. In this scenario, not one member of the Colts front seven truly develops. The defensive line is decent against the run, but the linebackers continue to struggle, while Bjoern Werner's pass-rushing skills continue to lag behind the curve.
|Robert Mathis: Leading the Defense|
|Sacks||Hurries||Forced Fumbles||Total Pressures|
|The next best||5.5 (Jerrell Freeman)||21 (Fili Moala, Erik Walden)||6 (Freeman)||34 (Walden)|
|Pro-Football-Reference.com and Pro Football Focus|
Even when Robert Mathis returns from suspension, he regresses to the mean and gets eight or nine sacks. The lack of pass rush kills an inconsistent secondary, which is prone to allowing big plays with LaRon Landry and Delano Howell manning the safety position.
Offensively, the interior line is still a wreck. Khaled Holmes and Hugh Thornton don't progress as hoped in 2014, while Donald Thomas' return from injury results in a severe loss of agility and reaction time. The running backs continue to struggle behind the lackluster blocking efforts, and the passing game can only do so much to carry the offense.
Fortunately, with Andrew Luck and a deep group of targets, the passing offense means the team is still competitive. Much like 2013, Luck and Co. manage to put enough big plays together to get some wins. But with a tougher schedule, the Colts go 9-7 and just miss out on a wild-card spot in the playoffs.
Whenever you have Luck as your quarterback, your ceiling is going to be high.
Going into his third season in the NFL, Luck and the Colts have the highest ceiling yet in 2014. Not only is Luck benefiting from two years of experience, but he is also entering his second year under Pep Hamilton as the Colts offensive coordinator. Of course, Luck also has a year of experience under Hamilton at Stanford, so the comfort level at this point should be at its peak.
The other thing that Luck and the offense have going for them is the weapons that Ryan Grigson has assembled. Not only is the team gaining Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen back from injury, but the Colts also signed Hakeem Nicks in free agency and drafted Donte Moncrief. Never before have the Colts had a receiving corps this deep, although it's not as top-heavy as in previous years.
To truly reach their ceiling, the Colts must create a dynamic, top-flight offense—not just a good offense, not even a very good offense. The offense must be great.
That's not far-fetched at all. The Colts scored 67 points in two games in the playoffs, and that was with Wayne, Allen and Thomas injured and a train wreck of an interior offensive line. If that offense reaches it's potential, which, of course, hinges on Andrew Luck reaching his, the Colts could have a top-three offense in the NFL.
The defense is never going to be great, at least not as it's presently constructed. It simply doesn't have the talent to rival the great defenses in the NFC. But it can be a good complementary piece to a dynamic offense if certain players develop in 2014.
Bjoern Werner headlines the developers, namely in an area that he struggled with immensely in 2013: pass rush. If he does so, and the defensive line blossoms with the addition of Arthur Jones and the development of Josh Chapman and Montori Hughes, the Colts defense will have the necessary pieces to give opposing teams just enough trouble to keep them at bay.
The other thing that must change in order for the Colts defense to excel includes two injury-prone defensive backs staying healthy and creating turnovers. LaRon Landry and Greg Toler both were signed in 2013 to bring an element of playmaking to the secondary.
Clearly, that didn't happen in 2013, as both players missed games due to injury and were inconsistent at best—ineffective at worst—when on the field. If they reach the levels that the Colts thought they'd be able to, the Colts secondary will be effective enough to take advantage of quarterbacks' mistakes and offset occasional lapses.
If everything goes right for Indianapolis, this is a group that could make USA Today's Nate Davis look like a smart man by going 13-3 and making it to the Super Bowl. Except unlike in Davis' scenario, this team could win that final contest.