In anticipation of the NFL season starting in less than two months, Head & Heart Sports will feature each division for the next eight weeks and preview each team’s 2016 outlook. This week we take a look at the AFC South, continuing with the Indianapolis Colts today.
Recap of 2015: It might be hard to remember now, but it was possible to guess how the Colts’ 2015 season was going to go after consecutive losses to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets to begin the year. They then managed to crawl past the Titans, Jaguars, and Texas by a combined nine points to start 3-2. Shortly thereafter Indy fired offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, but could never really recover from the slow start, finishing 8-8. They ended the season by getting walloped by the Steelers to the tune of 45-10. That had to leave a bad taste in their mouths. More troubling was the health, or lack thereof, of franchise quarterback Andrew Luck who missed nine games, including every Sunday from Week 11 until the end of the season. And even when he did suit up, Luck was playing behind a porous offensive line that led to articles such as this. All in all, it was a season to forget for the Colts and one that almost cost head coach and folk hero Chuck Pagano his job. Thankfully, he saved his job by making an impassioned plea at the last minute.
Significant Additions: RB Robert Turbin, CB Patrick Robinson, OL Coach Joe Philbin, DB Coach Gregg Williams
Significant Subtractions: QB Matt Hasselbeck, WR Andre Johnson, TE Coby Fleener
Potential Impact Rookies: C Ryan Kelly, OL Le’Raven Clark, S TJ Green
Team Strengths: In Luck, the Colts have a quarterback who should be in the Top 5 year to year at his position, but they failed dismally at giving him protection last year. That should change, with a renewed focus on the offensive line by bringing in Philbin and drafting center Ryan Kelly out of Alabama. A highly rated prospect for a position of dire need, the Colts ought to start Kelly from Day 1 to protect their investment in Luck. Indianapolis should be a good to great offense in 2016.
Team Weaknesses: To take away a bit of the optimism, there will be a learning curve for Kelly and as he goes, so goes the offensive line. Early in the season, it may be a spot to watch. The Colts also have to figure out their defense, but playing in the AFC South gives them at least four practice games a year (sorry Jaguars/Titans).
Fantasy Players to Watch: Andrew Luck, obviously, as well as wideout T.Y. Hilton as the key beneficiary of Luck’s return to health. The Luck to Hilton connection should see a rebirth and the Colts can deploy bruising RB Frank Gore in short yardage situations. Both Luck and Hilton will go off the board early at their respective positions, while Gore may be an able late round running back to snag. Gore quietly finished as a top 15 fantasy running back last year despite his age and the struggles of the team around him. In an offense that will presumably find their way to the goalline often, any of those three would be solid additions.
2016 Outlook: Retaking the AFC South crown from the Texans should not be too difficult a task and with that, a return to the playoffs for Indianapolis. If Luck stays healthy, the Colts should have a great opportunity to make their second AFC Championship game in three seasons.
Record Prediction: As previously alluded to, any team would be lucky to play the Titans and Jaguars twice a season. The Texans are set with Osweiler at quarterback and while he showed some dependability with the Broncos, he is not going to put a lot of fear into the defense. The Colts should absolutely expect to at least win at home in that matchup. They also play the NFC North, where the Bears and Lions are likely to still be low-hanging fruit. Look for the Colts to go 11-5 this year.
Photo Credit: heavy.com