Go time for the Colts – a team that is an enigma wrapped in a riddle and encased in a mystery

When asked before each season how many games I believe the Colts will win, I have always had an answer.  This year, I have no idea.

It could be 12, seven, or anywhere in between.  There are so many questions about this edition of the Colts that pretending to know seems absurd.  In the Peyton Manning era, there was enough certainty and pedigree to indulge in an annual guess of 12-14 wins.  We were right a lot back then.

Last year, it seemed like 11 wins was a good bet.  I laughed when national media types predicted the Colts would win seven or eight games.  This year, I laugh at no one – every prediction can be argued for this group.

The 2021 Colts appear to be a strange team completely bereft of any semblance of certainty.  It could be special, dismal, or anywhere in between.

The answers to the questions that will determine whether the Colts are good enough to punch their ticket to the playoffs are 17, 2017, yes, healthy, healed quickly, and vaccinated.  The questions are pretty obvious, and there are many questions that require an answer of yes.

There is no more important position in football than quarterback, and it is no surprise Carson Wentz is the subject of many of the questions – like “How many games does Wentz will start?” and “Which Wentz did the Colts trade for – the MVP caliber QB of 2017 or the benched disgrace of 2020?”  As to whether Wentz’s skill set and demeanor fit this team, who knows?  He’s yet to take a competitive snap with his new teammates.  In addition to being injury prone, Wentz’s availability could be affected at any moment by NFL Covid-19 protocols, as is also true for the 12 or so other Colts who have decided not to get the shot(s).

Minus Justin Houston and Denico Autry, someone is going to have to help DeForest Buckner disrupt Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and the next 16 quarterbacks who try to take advantage of a group of mostly mediocre Colts corners.  It appears rookie Kwity Paye is capable of being that guy.  The 21st overall pick in this year’s draft was excellent in the preseason, but the regular season is a different beast.  Will he be ready Sunday?

T.Y. Hilton is injured, so there is a vacancy in the dynamic big play wide receiver position.  Is Michael Pittman ready to take that next step?  He needs to stay healthy, as does Parris Campbell, for this offense to really click and give Wentz the targets he needs to return to the previous version of his best self.

The Colts went out on a limb in signing free agent left tackle Eric Fisher as a replacement for Anthony Castonzo.  He suffered a torn Achilles in the AFC Championship Game, and needs to be on the field for the Colts to find offensive rhythm.  Will he be good to go next week against the Rams?  Let’s hope his likely absence in the opener is not as obvious a problem as some fear it will be.

Can cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie get (and stay) healthy enough to keep Rock Ya-Sin from allowing opponents to gash the Colts defense at their whim?  Ya-Sin’s inability to jam receivers combined with a lack of explosive speed cost the Colts dearly last season.  Minus a total renovation of his level of play, this defense requires his absence for consistent success.

Will kicker Rodrigo Blankenship stop whacking crucial field goals into the uprights?  The miss from 33-yards against the Bills last January played a significant role in ending the Colts season in Buffalo.  “Rec Specs” doesn’t need to be perfect, but he needs to hit kicks in the many close games the Colts will likely play this season or it will end before they get to Inglewood.

Sunday, the Colts will embark on an 18-week adventure that might expand all the way out to February 13th if all of the above questions are answered in the affirmative.  The Colts also need to rely upon the continued good health and high quality play of the other 80% of its excellent offensive line, running backs Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines, Buckner, Darius Leonard, Julian Blackmon, and the emergence of mike linebacker Bobby Okereke.

That’s a LOT of question marks for a team that covets playoff football that extends beyond wild card weekend.  Remember how tough it was for the Colts with Peyton Manning, Bob Sanders, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Jeff Saturday, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Adam Vinatieri, Tarik Glenn, Gary Brackett, and Dallas Clark to win one Super Bowl?  Lot of sure things on that team compared to this group!

This might not wind up being among the best all-time Indianapolis Colts teams, but it is sure to be among the most intriguing.

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