The lovely worldwide leader, ESPN, recently ran an insider piece by Aaron Schatz about the teams most likely to go from first to worst in their respective division. Of course, this narrows it down to just eight candidates out of thirty-two teams, as only eight teams win a division every year. Those teams last year (and thus eligible for this list) were the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Green Bay Packers.
Schatz ranked all eight of those teams from the most likely to go from first to worst in their division to the least likely, and he ranked the Colts the second most likely. Yeah, seriously. Here's what he wrote about the Colts (remember, it's an insider piece):
2. Indianapolis Colts, 17.9 percent
The problem here is pretty clear. As my colleague Rivers McCown pointed out last week, the Colts have done a terrible job of putting other good young players around Andrew Luck and an even worse job of putting good young players on the defense that is supposed to keep opponents from outscoring Luck. This is a big part of why Luck has to keep coming back from such large deficits. But although Luck might truly be better than other quarterbacks when it comes to performing when down in the fourth quarter, there's no way he can maintain his current phenomenal numbers in late and close situations.
Meanwhile, the team is heavily counting on two aging veterans: Reggie Wayne, who is coming off an ACL tear, and Robert Mathis, whose 2013 numbers stand out like a sore thumb when you look at his career progression. Oh, and he'll miss the first four games of the season with a suspension.
On the other hand ... Andrew Luck, you know? Plus, in the AFC South more than any other division, the chances of a team going 6-10 or worse aren't really the same as its chances of finishing in last place. The last-place team in this division will almost assuredly be 4-12 or worse, and it's hard to imagine the Colts being that team if Luck is healthy.
Basically, it's the same thing people have been saying all offseason - that the Colts aren't a great team apart from Andrew Luck. And guess what? That's accurate. The Colts offensive line still has question marks and the defense has even bigger ones. I don't have much of a problem with the assumption that the Colts aren't that good besides for Luck, because I think it's accurate. But when using that argument, it's very easy to go too far the other way and forget that the Colts still have Andrew Luck. And as long as the Colts have Luck, they're going to have a baseline of wins, much like the Colts did when they had Peyton Manning. In only two years of his thirteen year playing career with the Colts did the Colts win less than ten games - his rookie season and then the season in which the Colts lost Edgerrin James for the year. That's it. With Manning, the baseline for the Colts was ten wins. While Luck isn't quite there yet, he does give them a baseline of 8-9 wins, and as long as he's playing the Colts aren't going to fall beneath it, barring serious injuries to key players (like in 2013, when the Colts went 11-5).
Plus, keep in mind ESPN's article wasn't just about the chances of the Colts not winning the division. Their article was about the chances of the Colts finishing last in the division - chances which were placed at 17.9%. The discussion of whether the Colts will win the division or not is one that I could entertain, but the discussion of whether the Colts will finish last in the division is one that's just ridiculous. So of course, ESPN ran an article about that discussion and said the Colts have the second best chance of going from first to worst. In the AFC South.
The AFC South last year was easily the worst division in football. They'll be improved this year, I am confident of that. The Houston Texans, who finished worst in the entire league last year, are a talented team who got even better this offseason. For them, it comes down to their quarterback situation - which right now looks like it'll be manned by Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Tennessee Titans finished a respectable 7-9 last year, and it looks like they'll be an average team again this year in make or break year for Jake Locker. And then the Jacksonville Jaguars have pieces in place and are clearly heading in the right direction (seriously, they're doing a great job), but it looks like they're a year or two away. The AFC South will be improved - but suggesting that the Colts aren't the runaway favorite entering the season is silly, and suggesting that the Colts might finish fourth in that division is even sillier. It's not all about quarterbacks, sure, but that's the most important position on the field, and you're telling me that a team quarterbacked by Andrew Luck is going to finish behind teams quarterbacked by Ryan Fitzpatrick Jake Locker, and Chad Henne / Blake Bortles?
If you want to talk about the Colts finishing second in the division, sure, let's talk - even though that still seems unlikely. But the Colts finishing last? Unless ESPN knows something we all don't in that Andrew Luck will miss significant time this year, the Colts aren't finishing last in the division. Instead, they're the clear favorite to win the division. But of course, most of us already knew that.