Jason La Canfora has already crowned the Patriots (surprised?) as AFC Champions (weakest schedule in the NFL) and Peyton Manning's Broncos will chase the Lombardi with the league's second toughest schedule, including five prime-time games.
But, what about our Colts? Well, on paper, the Colts strength of schedule lies in the middle of the pack and that's kind of a good thing. Yes, we know the 2012 season won't be all puppy dogs and ice cream. However, 2012 should be pretty fun. Andrew Luck and the Colts might disagree when all is said and done though.
Here are some match-ups to look out for in 2012:
. Soldier Field. Week One.
While Luck will have the entire offseason to grab the reins of the horseshoe and get a firm grip, adjusting to life in the NFL won't be easy and Week One is a prime example of such. As he takes his first official snap in the NFL, Luck will be looking into the eyes of a linebacker core that could make Chuck Norris quiver. He'll also get familiar with the freak athlete that is Julius Peppers, very quickly. The rook will certainly have some jitters, but Luck could be forced into some immediate pressure situations that could really show us what he's made of. Will he maintain composure and shine? Will the Colts offensive line get him killed?
If the Colts come out on top in this game, it will obviously say a lot about this team and what they are prepared to do in 2012. If they tank, some will immediately believe that we're in for a long, long season. Call me crazy or optimistic (or both), but I expect this match-up to be a real ball game.
What are you laughing at, Jay Cutler?
How the Colts react in Week Two at home will serve as a measuring stick for 2012.
Chuck Pagano seems to be a man with a strong philosophical spirit. After all, he did hand out "Build The Monster" t-shirts during the first day of mini-camp. Confidence is definitely welcomed (Jim Caldwell's face disagrees), but confidence will only get you so far. If the Colts come out and lay a huge egg against Chicago, they'll get a shot to prove that 2012 isn't going to be a disaster in Week Two at the Luke.
This could be the ultimate rebound game against an inexperienced Christian Ponder. Will Adrian Peterson be ready? Will he be healthy? Is Pagano just a cool philosopher or a real head coach? We shall see.
Chuck Pagano gets a crack at one of the league's elite offenses andreturns.
After opening up the season with a bruiser, the Colts will meet one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Once again, if Pagano has this ship pointed somewhere close to the right direction, we should be able to at least catch a glimpse of a real defense (secondary included) that we aren't embarrassed to even acknowledge. While this game has the makings to be a 30+ point smashing, Robert Mathis could show his ability to be an absolute terror as an OLB in Pagano's scheme. If Rodgers is pressured consistently, he'll struggle. Will Pagano let the dogs out against one of the league's best?
We'll also get to see one of our former, beloved Colts, Jeff Saturday in a new uniform. Boos or cheers expected? Will the Colts give the Pack a game or will Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings set new franchise records?
The Colts get their first and only prime-time showdown in Jacksonville.
Luck will be in Week Ten of his rookie season and we should be well aware of what the guy's actually made of. Will he be ready to show his prime-time chops though? I say yes. The Jaguars could be in the midst of a quarterback carousel that features Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, and Dan LeFevour. On paper, all of us (Jaguars fans included) would take Luck in this match-up. However, the Jaguars defense was one of the league's best in 2011 and Maurice Jones-Drew can quickly make you forget about how terrible his quarterback is playing.
If 2012 is going to be considered a success, these are games the Colts must win. They'll be close, but no one ever said it was going to be easy sans the GOAT.
Andrew Luck vs.begins...
This is a game that Colts and Patriots fans have cherished for many years. It was arguably the best rivalry in sports, but that certainly ended with a whimper in 2011. With the Colts fielding a completely different team, from top to bottom, a new rivalry will have to be established. This is one of those games that kind of scares you, but your inner homer that sits on your shoulder still tells you, "We're going to win!"
A win to set the meter to 1-0 in the Luck era would be truly astonishing, but don't get your hopes up. Hot off of a Super Bowl defeat (again), the Patriots have somehow managed to get a little better on offense. They lost the trusty hands of The Law Firm, but after signing Brandon Lloyd, Brady has a new, dependable vertical threat. Despite this year's outcome, this game should symbolize the beginning of something new and special for us to cherish.
Oh, and we get to enjoy staring at our TV sets with pure hatred every time the camera shows Mr. Anthony "I'm Made of Glass And I Rooted For The Patriots" Gonzalez. Traitor.
The Texans are the new big brother of the AFC South. I guess Clint Session was sorta right. Even with the loss of Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans, Wade Phillips will likely find a way to field one of the league's better defenses. Furthermore, Matt Schaub will be returning in 2012, so the Texans won't need to work miracles on defense. To put it bluntly, their offensive firepower is something to envy. I can't believe I just said that... However, with the Jaguars remaining in constant QB limbo and the Titans failing to reel in #18, the Colts can remain competitive. Winning the division will be nothing short of a miracle, but this season is marked for improvement. We all want to win, but you have to crawl before you walk and these Colts need to some crawling, folks.
The schedule is somewhat favorable and in my honest opinion, I see eight very winnable games (Chiefs, Vikings, Browns, Jaguars etc.). However, there's absolutely no reason to think that any of these games should be penciled in as a W. If last season has taught us anything, it's that getting close means absolutely nada. Winning cures everything and through a slew of close games in 2011, the Colts only won two a.k.a. no cures.
But don't hang your head. These Colts will give us something to cheer for (per usual) and I believe we could surprise ourselves when all is said and done.
Here's to 2012. Let's build that monster.