Are the Colts Contenders?

Now that the draft is over and the rookies have had their mini-camps and the team has largely addressed their issues for the most part, what direction is this team heading.  Andrew Luck, Chuck Pagano, and Ryan Grigson are all entering their third season with team and thus far it has been considered successful up to this point.  The AFC South looks to be theirs for the taking again, but realistically the team’s goal is bigger than winning the AFC South or even a game in the playoffs.  The team as a whole is looking to hoist the shiny silver trophy from Tiffany’s as their ultimate prize and Andrew Luck’s signature win that QB’s need to be considered elite.  The Question that is really at the heart of the issue, how realistic is this for the “New Era Colts”?

What we know:

The Colts should have no problem winning the AFC South as bad the division was the last couple of years. However, the teams have drastically changed via the draft, coaching changes, and large-scale roster transformations.  We all witnessed how fast the Colts were able to turn things around, I suspect that to be true for many of the teams going through similar circumstances.  The Texans were a much better team than their record showed last season, so expect them to prove to be one of the tougher teams they will be playing twice this year.  Watts and rookie sensation Clowney are looking to show Luck that last year was a fluke.

Most of us believe that the Texans will be better, and the rest of the division should be better overall due to coaching and philosophy changes. Jacksonville and Tennessee are at least heading down a path different from their last couple of years that proved either no change in record or regression after making moves that the teams though would improve their win totals. The Colts should be able to handle their division but it will not be as easy as last year. We know that the Colts should be improved in the following areas: WR, OL, DL, LB, and should be even at RB, CB. Areas that are of concern: S, C, and DE. Some of these areas the team has planned on using personnel that is already on the team, so we will have to wait and see if their plans pan out. The DE/OLB position is further exacerbated by Robert Mathis missing the first four games of the season; he was responsible for nearly half of the sacks of the team by himself. Someone is going to have to step up in his absentia, if the team is going to make a run that they want.

Luck, quite simply just needs to continue doing what he does best, and hopefully the team’s offensive personnel will be better equipped to help him this year. The team added playmakers like Nicks, and Bradshaw as well as Donte Moncrief through the draft. The receiver position should be much better to handle injuries compared to last year’s thin core of receivers. If Wayne is fully healed (we should expect him to be) he should still be able to produce on the field regardless of age and contract status. In fact, the team is so deep in the receiver position, they will probably have to cut one of the following: Brazill, Whalen, Rogers. All three helped the team last year with little experience. Wayne, Hilton, Nicks, and Moncrief all sure to make the roster unless injuries, there just won’t be enough spaces for everyone.

Also returning from injury, Dwayne Allen. Allen was heading into his second season as the team’s best tight end and was on his way to be one the league’s best all around at that position. Coby Fleener filled in well and by some metrics had a great season, removing some heat he had taken for not playing up to the level of his draft pick in 2012. Between Allen & Fleener and either Jack Doyle or Weslye Saunders battling out for probably the final roster spot for tight ends, Luck and Pep should be set at tight end. Factor in Rookie undrafted free agent Erik Swoope, a basketball player converting to tight end that will most likely end up on the practice squad, the Colts are set at tight end and should have some of the best in the league going forward for years to come.

The defense should be improved greatly with the additions in the offseason of Arthur Jones and D’Qwell Jackson respectively in their part of the defense. Both were brought in to shore up the run defense. Jones coming from Baltimore knows the system Chuck and Greg Manusky have been trying to successfully implement in Indianapolis. Jones was targeted early for his abilities to play on the defensive line and possibly stop the run and create pressure for the rest of the defense. The team up to this point has struggled to do either consistently, and Jones along with Chapman, Hughes, RJF, Redding hopefully will finally have the personnel to match the system that Pagano and Grigson feel is necessary to be Super Bowl contenders. With the improvements that defensive line has made over the last few years, the linebacker core seems to be a strength as well. D’Qwell coming over from a good Cleveland defense should really be an asset to the team. He was one of the leaders on the Browns, and should retain the same respect with his new team. Freeman and Jackson should be a good combination. The questions that remain at safety with Bethea’s departure and Mathis’ four game suspension will be the biggest issues for the defense to play at the elite level that they flashed from time-to-time last season.

The experts have weighed in and are expressing their favor of this team. USA Today recently pegged the team to win 13 games and be the top seed overall in the AFC. The Broncos followed closely by the Patriots are also expected to win their divisions and be elite with the Colts. There is reason to believe that Colts can be contenders not just in the AFC, but in the entire league. Yes, we know that the team isn’t perfect, but this team has many of the pieces needed to make the run that can ultimately lead to the Vince Lombardy Trophy. It also helps having number 12 as your quarterback!

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