Colts fans are no different. It’s easy to list reasons why the Colts will continue to live inside the bulging middle of the NFL and outside the successful edge among those teams likely to play deep into January. But what the hell fun is that? We invest plenty of time and energy during the season to talk about reality.
I would much rather write about the arguments that justify a some optimism the Colts will be back on the NFL’s biggest stage in early February.
In that spirit, here are the five arguments that the Colts have a shot to take down the Chiefs as the beasts of the AFC:
5 – Tom Brady has moved to the NFC. Brady has represented the AFC as a starting quarterback in an astounding nine Super Bowls in 19 seasons. There is some doubt as to whether he was a more important component to the Patriots success than Bill Belichick, but Brady being gone cannot be a bad things when his replacement will likely be an unproved guy named Jarrett Stidham.
4 – Drafting Jonathan Taylor. I know Terrell Davis was the last running back to be named Super Bowl MVP 22 years ago, and that the running back position has lost its luster over the years, but Taylor has the size and speed (226 lbs./4.39 40-yard dash) to be a dynamic offensive weapon behind a road-grating offensive line. Taylor and Marlon Mack should be a unique one-punch punch for an offensive that wants and needs to run the football.
3 – Addition of DeForest Buckner. Since the retirement of Robert Mathis, the Colts have had a tough time putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With the addition of Buckner as a three-technique, opposing offensive will have to dedicate more than one blocker to stopping him. That should open lanes for Justin Houston, Ben Banogu, and Kemoko Turay. More pressure on opposing QBs means more bad throws that might be caught by Colts DBs.
2 – Improved kicking game. I hate kicking Adam Vinatieri while he’s down, but his injury-plagued 2019 was costly for the Colts. His work directly cost the Colts three wins against the Chargers, Steelers, and Titans. No kicker is perfect, and perfection should not be expected – even of Vinatieri – but a typical season from the GOAT would have lifted the Colts from 7-9 to 10-6. It remains to be seen whether a healthy Vinatieri, the return of Chase McLaughlin, or rookie Rodrigo Blankenship will kick for the Colts, but if production from that position improves, results will too.
1 – Philip Rivers is an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett. Brissett doesn’t throw a lot of interceptions, but he doesn’t make a lot of plays either. It didn’t take long for defenses to adjust to Brissett’s proclivity for throwing short passes. Brissett’s yards per completion (6.7) ranked 30th among starters between Daniel Jones and Mason Rudolph. Rivers ranked 11th between Drew Brees and Deshaun Watson. Brissett’s safety first decision making pulled defenses tighter to the line of scrimmage and kept the Colts from running the football as well as they might have if he popped it deep more often. Rivers makes plays – good and bad. Brissett avoided both.
Bonus – One of the NFL’s easiest schedules. This is a little bit nutty as it assumes facts not yet in evidence. No one knows how good, bad, or mediocre any of the teams in the NFL will be on May 20, 2020, so projecting schedule difficulty is a fool’s errand. The Colts get to play the Jaguars and Texans twice each – that’s good. They also play the AFC and NFC North, which means an opportunity to compete with the Bengals, Browns, Steelers, Bears, and Lions. There are winnable games against the Jets and Raiders. Unless my math skills have degraded, that should tally to 11 games in which the Colts should be favored. Sadly, the Titans are on the schedule twice along with games against the Ravens, Vikings, and Packers.
The Colts will need great health for any of this to mean a damn thing. If T.Y. Hilton, Anthony Castonzo, or Quenton Nelson gets hurt, all hope for a special season will fade very quickly, and I will deny any and all responsibility for the existence of this post.
The Colts look like a team with a basement of a 7-9 repeat of 2019, and a ceiling of 10-6, but maybe, if everything goes right, they can find their way into a groove that leads to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa for Super Bowl LV.