2013 Record: 11-5 (AFC South Champion, No. 4 Seed in AFC)
Wild Card Round: Win 45-44 vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Divisional Round: Lose 43-22 @ New England Patriots
The Colts running game could struggle mightily in 2014 after losing running back Donald Brown to San Diego.
They didn't make a huge commitment to run the ball last season because their interior linemen struggled to get much of a push. However, they were one of the more efficient rushing teams in the NFL because of Brown's prowess on off-tackle carries.
Brown isn't a back known for his ability to break tackles or his break-neck speed, but he has excellent patience and vision, which should be a prerequisite to play behind the Colts' porous interior offensive line.
However, it is not a prerequisite, which is why Trent Richardson found his way onto the roster. There's no doubt that Richardson is a more physically impressive player than Brown, but he doesn't seem to have the vision and patience that Brown does, which leaves him consistently swallowed up on runs up the gut.
The Colts are relying on addition by subtraction to improve their offensive line, and I'm not convinced that it will. Second-year player Khaled Holmes will start at center and rookie Jack Mewhort will start at left guard, replacing Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn respectively.
Josh Chapman will move into the starting lineup at nose tackle this season and should provide a better anchor against the run, although he's limited as a pass-rusher.
Arthur Jones was signed to get more pass rush out of their starting three defensive linemen because they contributed little last season, and the Colts don't want Robert Mathis to completely carry the burden of pressuring the opposing quarterback for another season.
They lost their best inside linebacker when Pat Angerer left for Atlanta, but they did add a comparable veteran in D'Qwell Jackson through free agency.
Where the Colts needed to add talent was in the secondary. Vontae Davis has proven himself to be a high-end No.1 cornerback, but they lack options beyond him.
Greg Toler will start opposite Davis, but given his injury history, its unlikely he'll make it through the season healthy. Nickelback Darius Butler is a ball hawk, but his inconsistent play and penchant for getting beat deep makes him an unreliable replacement for the injury-prone Toler.
The Colts also let go of their best safety, Antoine Bethea, and managed not to bring in any suitable replacement; the starter appears to be Delano Howell, an undrafted player in his third season.
The Road to the Postseason
The Colts begin the regular season with a road game in Denver, followed by a home game against the Philadelphia Eagles, which will be played without Mathis, who's suspended for the first four games.
I can't imagine the Broncos dropping their season opener, and the Eagles present a tough matchup because of their dominant running game, led by All-Pro back LeSean McCoy.
The schedule quickly eases up from there, as the Colts face between Weeks 3 and 7 the bottom teams in their division, as well as the Baltimore Ravens, whose stout defense could keep the game close despite their questionable firepower on offense. The Colts should win at least three of the four games.
The meat of their schedule lies in the middle, however, as a difficult four-game stretch looms. The Colts host the Bengals in Week 7 and the New England Patriots after Indy's Week 10 bye, and they hit the road to face the Pittsburgh Steelers and Giants in between.
The Bengals, Giants and Patriots all present problems for the Colts because of their deep and talented secondaries, and although Indianapolis has a better team than the Steelers, it's never easy to go into Heinz Field and win.
But luckily for the Colts, playing in the AFC South allows them the opportunity to get right back into the playoff hunt despite potentially heading into Week 12 with a 4-6 record.
Their final six games include no 2013 playoff teams and, once again, they face each of their divisional opponents, although I wouldn't put it past them to drop at least one game within the division—potentially to the Houston Texans in Week 15.
Games against the Washington Redskins and Browns should be easy wins while a Week 16 road game in Dallas could prove to be trouble.
Their Competition for a Playoff Spot
Within the division, it looks like only Houston has the potential to give Indianapolis trouble. With far and away the most talented defense in the AFC South, the Texans may just need to come out on the right side of a couple close games and, with a schedule so weak that I can't help but laugh every time I look at it, they could easily take the division even if they get swept by the Colts.
As odd as it sounds, the AFC South could get two teams into the playoffs despite being the weakest division in football.
And it could be the Colts that get a wild card bid.
The San Diego Chargers will be in the thick of the wild card race once again, but a grueling final quarter of their schedule could be their undoing. They host the Patriots and Broncos before hitting the road for games in San Francisco and Kansas City.
Beyond the Chargers, the Steelers, Ravens, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets will be lurking close behind but, in my mind, they aren't in great position to have winning records this season, and it will take at least nine wins to get the second wild card spot in the AFC.
Many are touting the Colts as the next team to make the leap into the elite of the NFL, but that prediction is mainly motivated by a blind faith in Andrew Luck and an ignorance of a questionable running game and aging defense.
There's no doubting that Luck improved from year one to year two, and he's certainly one of the most clutch young quarterbacks in NFL history, but his play is still maddeningly inconsistent and that is not a part of the recipe for winning your division in consecutive seasons.
Ultimately, being in a conference that's a little thin around the middle could propel the Colts into the playoffs, but they're going to have to improve on the offensive line and refresh the defense with young talent before they're ready to make a Super Bowl run.
Projection: 9-7 (No.6 Seed in Playoffs)