Today, the USA Today's Nate Davis made early 2014 season predictions, and he predicted the Indianapolis Colts to finish 13-3, win the AFC South, earn the AFC's number one seed, and defeat the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game to advance to the Super Bowl, losing to the Seattle Seahawks. Wrote Davis:
"Colts 13-3 (1): Return of Reggie Wayne, favorable schedule give them great shot at third AFC title in nine years."
Many people probably think Davis is a bit crazy for picking the Colts to win the AFC. Many people reading this site probably think Davis is crazy for picking them. But I don't think Davis' prediction is far-fetched, and I think it's very possible it will happen.
I understand that on this site we spend a lot of time talking about where the Colts need to improve. Not only is that what people like to discuss the most, it's also because those are the areas we have questions about and, as the saying goes, a team is only as strong as it's weakest link. I'm not apologizing for the coverage of the areas the Colts need to get better, but I do feel that we've lost sight of the reality of where this team could go, and for that I'm sorry.
Because understand this: the expectations for the Indianapolis Colts in 2014 are to win the Super Bowl. Period.
Newly signed linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who in eight seasons in the NFL has yet to make the playoffs, understands the attitude and atmosphere around West 56th Street these days as the Colts participate in OTAs:
"When I initially signed, my first thought was, ‘You know what? I'm on a playoff team.' Just hearing coach
(Chuck) Pagano's talk every day and his message every day, it's about Super Bowls. So that dream of mine, the desire I have to get to the playoffs, that's a given. We're going to get there. So I've got to wrap my brain around ‘You know what? This is about Super Bowls here.' This is about winning the Super Bowl, playing in Arizona. I understood that at first, but now, the more we talk about it, it's like ‘You know what? I want to get to the big dance. I want to get to the big show.' It's amazing, you think you have it figured out for so many years and you get in the right place, right time and things start to take off for you."
General manager Ryan Grigson has stated before that their eyes are "fixed on Super Bowl XLIX" and head coach Chuck Pagano and the players have made it clear as well that the team's goal is the Super Bowl.
We're entering year three of the Ryan Grigson era, year three of the Chuck Pagano era, and year three of the Andrew Luck era. The rebuild is complete, and it was an expedited process that saw the Colts make the playoffs two years in a row after a disastrous 2011 season that saw the Colts go 2-14 and tear the team's core apart, most notably releasing quarterback Peyton Manning. In 2012, the Colts came out of nowhere and made the playoffs as a wild card team, and in 2013 the Colts won the AFC South and won a playoff game, a come-from-behind thriller at Lucas Oil Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs. There are big expectations for year three, and those expectations are the Super Bowl - expectations that aren't that far-fetched, either.
The AFC isn't nearly as strong as the NFC. I feel very confident in saying that it's mainly a race between the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots, and the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC title this year - though there might be a surprise team, I would be shocked if one of those three teams isn't representing the AFC in the Super Bowl next year.
Furthermore, the core of the Colts team looks very good. Of course, we can't start anywhere other than quarterback Andrew Luck, who had a tremendous 2013 season and who figures to be even better in 2014. Beyond Luck, the team has a very deep receiver position headlined by guys like T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, and Hakeem Nicks. The tight end duo of Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener should be dangerous, and between Trent Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Vick Ballard the Colts should (hopefully) have enough weapons out of the backfield. The offensive line, while still likely not great, should be improved and should give Andrew Luck a bit more time and the running backs a bit more holes.
Defensively, Jerrell Freeman, Robert Mathis, Vontae Davis, and Cory Redding lead the unit and should provide a good core. Arthur Jones was a great free agent addition who should help the defensive line a lot, and with Greg Toler coming back healthy the defense will get a bit of a boost in the secondary as well. The defense certainly isn't as strong or as deep as the offense is, but they have enough pieces in place that it's fair to expect them to play well enough to be able to make the Super Bowl. They don't have to carry the team, but they have to play well enough not to lose games, which they have talent to be able to do.
Ultimately, this team will likely go as far as Andrew Luck and the offense take them. The Colts have the personnel to be one of the league's best and most dangerous passing attacks in 2014, but that's if they embrace the role. I know that Jim Irsay, Ryan Grigson, Chuck Pagano, Pep Hamilton, and Greg Manusky are all unified in that they are absolutely, definitely going for the Super Bowl. If they realize that the best way to do so is to open up the passing offense, they'll have a real chance at making it. That's not to say the Colts abandon the run or de-emphasise the defense, it's just to suggest that the strength of the team is clearly in the passing game and the Colts need to play to their strength. Andrew Luck is good enough to make and win a Super Bowl, and he's good enough to lead the Colts there, despite the team's flaws.
I don't know if the Colts can go 13-3 in 2014 and I think 12-4 is much more probable, but one thing is certain: I think the Colts can make the Super Bowl in 2014, and the expectations are exactly that. We're entering year three of the new era, and the expectations for the Colts aren't just big - they're Super.