I'm not picking the Colts to win on Sunday night in Denver. There's a lot going against them - they're going on the road against the league's best quarterback without their second most important player (their best defender, Robert Mathis). No, I won't be picking the Colts to win this weekend.
But you'd better believe they have a chance.
The Denver Post's Woody Paige wrote earlier this week that the Broncos will "rout" the Colts.
"The Broncos, who set their 53-man roster momentarily Saturday, are favored by a touchdown over the Colts, which is ludicrous.
"The Colts have no chance of staying within seven points, or 17. Guaranteed."
Mile High Report's Kyle Montgomery, commenting on Paige's prediction, wrote:
"Noting the Colts' absence of Robert Mathis, and the absence of owner Jim Irsay's comments getting in Peyton Manning's head (the owner is on a short leash), Woody Paige says the Colts are in for a "world of hurt" vs. the Broncos this week and predicts a 42-20 rout. It's hard to disagree. Just look at the current state of their offensive line."
Basically, what you've got is a whole lot of people not giving the Colts a chance. Most of them are Broncos fans. Maybe the Colts won't win. Maybe the Broncos will dominate. But you'd be foolish not to give the Colts a chance. This team is too talented for that, and they proved last year that they can go head-to-head against the league's best and come away with a win.
They traveled to San Francisco and dominated the 49ers with the run game and defense. They faced the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks and came from behind to beat them with the passing game. They hosted the AFC Champion Broncos and beat them with an impressive offensive performance and an impressive defensive performance (considering it was against Peyton Manning). And guess what? That team had offensive line issues too. That team had pass rush issues too. In fact, this year's team, though still with questions in areas, will be better overall than they were last year.
You might not consider Andrew Luck to be an elite quarterback right now, and that's fine (he's not yet, but he's close). This year, however, most expect him to get there. With perhaps the most talented receiving corps in the entire league in T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, and others, this passing game could be great. We've seen the worst of Trent Richardson, and the Colts now have a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw and cautious optimism for Dan Herron, too.
The defense will be improved too. The addition of Arthur Jones and the emergence of Josh Chapman along the defensive line will greatly strengthen the front seven, and the group of linebackers looks strong as well. The secondary has questions, but a lot of them have to do with whether guys can stay healthy. They'll be healthy week one, for sure. Vontae Davis played the best game of the year for a corner when he went up against
Tom Brady Peyton Manning and Darius Butler did a great job of defending in the slot. Greg Toler is a good second corner option when he's healthy, too.
But yes, as Broncos fans will be quick to point out, the Colts have two huge issues: the offensive line and the pass rush. Sure, the line is a mess. We still don't know who will be available for Sunday or who will start at center. But here's the thing - this line was terrible last year too. This year's version, while it won't be "good," won't be worse than last year. And in 2013, Andrew Luck made tremendous plays while under near constant pressure. He's a unique talent in the fact that he can take hits, break tackles, avoid pressure, and extend plays with his legs - all while focusing downfield to make the play through the air. Luck has played behind worse lines than this one in his first two years, and that didn't stop him from scoring points before. It won't this Sunday either. The only thing that will keep this offense from putting up points is their play-calling - will they actually let Luck throw it or will they stubbornly insist on running the football too much?
The much bigger concern (yes, even more than the offensive lien) the Colts have is the pass rush. They'll be playing without Robert Mathis, who last year played a huge role in the Colts' win over the Broncos. His absence is the biggest reason why I don't think the Colts will win Sunday. Without Mathis in there, the Colts will struggle to get pressure aside from blitzes, and we all know that blitzing Peyton Manning leads to disaster defensively. The Colts are going to need someone to step up and rush Manning, or else he will pick apart this secondary. It's filled with good players, sure, but when you give the guy who is perhaps the greatest of all time all the time in the world to throw, he's going to dominate.
With a bit of a pass rush, however, the Colts can beat these Broncos again. I'm sure you all remember the Super Bowl last year when the Seahawks just completely destroyed the Broncos. The Seahawks did it by pressuring Manning and by playing physical on his receivers. He's dependent so much on timing that if the defensive backs can throw the timing off with the receivers, they have a chance to stop Peyton. You're not going to throw him off, but if you can get to his receivers you can get to Peyton. While the Colts DBs aren't nearly as good as the Seahawks, they too play a physical game against receivers. They'll get some flags thrown on them Sunday night I'm sure, but if they can get some pass rush, these DBs can play.
I'm not picking the Colts to win Sunday. I've yet to see an analyst actually do so. But you'd better believe that they have a chance. You'd better believe that they'll be competitive. I mean, I guess if a good team like the Seahawks could dominate a good team like the Broncos something like that could happen again, but no one expected that one and no one should be expecting a domination this Sunday either.