A lot has to go right for any team to win the Super Bowl, but for a 20-1 longshot like the Indianapolis Colts with some pieces of the puzzle withering and others yet to blossom, it will require great health, luck, and leadership.
The Colts went a very pedestrian 8-8 last year despite splashy free agent signings and an all-in mentality. Sure, Luck was hurt for much of the season, but the Colts won more often without Luck than with him.
There aren’t many people talking about the Colts’ potential for making it to Houston in February. National media sees the Colts as a team in full flight from the three-peat of 11-5 seasons. An ESPN panel of NFL experts recently voted the Colts the 25th best team in the league as they project the next three years.
A Super Bowl favorite, the Colts are not. That doesn’t mean they can’t get there.
Here are the nine things that need to happen for the Colts to make a surprise run to the big game.
9 – Jimmy Garoppolo needs to suck. Colts fans remember all to well what happens to the Colts in the playoffs when they play the New England Patriots in Foxborough. It’s never pretty. The Colts are 0-4 in road playoff games against the Patriots as they have been outscored 132-46. If the Patriots run aground during Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, maybe the Colts can host a playoff game when (if) the teams meet in January.
8 – Brock Osweiler needs to adjust poorly to the Texans offense. Most of what can vault the Colts into Super Bowl contention is in their hands, but the Texans have a chance to repeat as the division champs because of their defense and the acquisition of Osweiler as a franchise quarterback. If Osweiler plays as he appears to be capable, the Colts might have a tough time catching them.
7 – Frank Gore needs to be the 3rd 33-year-old running back ever to rush for 900 yards. Only two men in the history of professional football have run for 900+ yards after turning 33 – hall of famers Emmitt Smith and Marcus Allen. Gore needs to join them if the Colts offense is going to be balanced enough to be consistently productive.
6 – Ryan Kelly needs to replace Jeff Saturday. Since Saturday left Indy after 2011, the Colts have invested in Samson Satele, Khaled Holmes, A.Q. Shipley, Phil Costa, Jonotthan Harrison, and Shipley again as their next center of the future. Finally, tired of forcing Luck to adjust to a different o-line captain each week, the Colts drafted a center in the first round for the first time in franchise history. Kelly needs to be THE man, and so far there seems no reason to doubt he will be.
5 – Offensive line coach Joe Philbin needs to be as good as advertised. Philbin spent years as an o-line guru in college football before moving to the Green Bay Packers, where he spent a single year in that role in 2006. From there he was promoted to offensive coordinator of the Pack before behind hired as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Philbin needs to be the second coming of Howard Mudd for the Colts to keep Andrew Luck clean in the pocket.
4 – 2015 draft class needs to get – and remain – healthy. The first three players selected by the Colts in the 2015 NFL Draft missed half their games, First rounder Phillip Dorsett can’t stretch defenses with his blinding speed from the bench, where he spent five games last year. D’Joun Smith was taken in the third round to bring depth to the Colts defensive backfield, which he was healthy enough to do only in only four games in 2015. Henry Anderson looked like the guy who could save the class for the first nine games of the season, but a torn ACL ended his season. Dorsett is the key. If he can’t stay on the field, GM Ryan Grigson will have swung and missed on three straight first rounders.
3 – The AARP members of the roster need to stay healthy. Mike Adams is 35, D’Qwell Jackson will be 33, Trent Cole will be 34, Robert Mathis is 35, Frank Gore is 33, and Adam Vinatieri is 43. In life, these are young men with the majority of their lives ahead of them (except for Vinatieri, who statistics say has already made the turn onto life’s back nine), but in the NFL they are ready for Del Boca Vista. If any of these players goes down, the Colts are potentially in big trouble.
2 – Robert Mathis must defy father time. At the age of 35, Mathis has no business raising hell in offensive backfields for 16 games this season, but if he can’t, who will? Mathis is a longshot to bring a consistent disruptive presence to opposing quarterbacks because of his age and injuries, but he is the most likely Colt to do it. If Mathis can awaken the echoes and find one more tour of mayhem, the Colts defense can be a difference maker.
1 – Andrew Luck stays healthy and becomes great. He can make great plays and lead great comebacks, we know that. But can Andrew Luck become a great quarterback by maintaining the excellence while eliminating the brain farts and missed throws? If he can, the sky is the limit for the Colts. Luck is now the highest paid player in the NFL, and he needs to play like it for the Colts to win a championship as he moves into his prime.
Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-6p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.