"What if" scenarios are always played out by fans of almost every sport. It's fun to imagine what could have been, both from a positive and negative point of view.
I'll be taking a weekly look at various "What if" scenarios in Colts history. Each article will take a brief look at what did happen, and a broader look at what could have been. Again, this is just meant to be a fun off-season look at some scenarios that could have gone differently than they did for the Colts.
So for the first edition of the Weekly What If, we'll be looking at the end of the 2011 season and the 2012 draft.
What if the Colts had beaten the Jaguars in Week 17?
We all know the story. The Colts were on the fast track to gaining the first overall pick, until beating the Titans and Texans in consecutive weeks put that pick in danger. With a win, the Colts would drop to the third overall pick, since they would lose the tie-breaker with the Vikings.
Drafting third would essentially take the Colts out of play for both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. This means that the team probably rolls the dice on keeping Peyton Manning and the great purge of the off-season doesn't happen.
The Colts keep their core group of players, including Manning, Dallas Clark, and Gary Brackett. Joseph Addai, since he had major shoulder problems, is probably cut at this time anyway.
Furthermore, in order to not rock the boat for Manning's last few years, Jim Caldwell and the Polians stay put as well.
So let's jump into the draft because, let's face it, the Colts are probably quiet in free agency in this scenario, per the usual.
The Rams have quite the conundrum. On one hand, they have Sam Bradford, who is still dripping with potential. On the other, Andrew Luck is there for the taking. The Rams look to trade the pick, but their asking price is too high, so they end up drafting Luck. I'll get back to Bradford in a minute.
The Vikings, as crazy as it sounds, has the same conundrum. Griffin is there for the taking, but they had just taken Christian Ponder in the first round. Remember Ponder would quarterback the Vikings to the playoffs in 2012, with some help from Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings, though, are more than willing to trade with the team holding the fourth overall pick, and that wants a QB. The Redskins end up trading the house to the Vikings, instead of the Rams, and end up drafting Griffin anyway.
That brings us to the Colts. They really have two viable options at the third overall pick. The Colts could take Matt Kalil, but Bill Polian had already drafted his left tackle of the future in Anthony Castonzo.
Instead, for the fourth time in his tenure, Polian uses his first round pick on a running back, taking the "next Adrian Peterson" with the third overall pick. You guessed it, that would be Trent Richardson.
In the second round, Polian moves back a bit in order to get the second best tight end on his board: Dwayne Allen. The draft picks the Colts receive will subsequently be lower round picks of players who miss the team.
Now, we get to the third round. After a disaster in 2011, even the Colts brass has learned that it needs a serviceable back-up, in case Manning can't go. Since he has a penchant for drafting under-sized, athletic players, Polian does the same at the quarterback position and selects Russell Wilson early in the third round.
During the season, the Colts squeak into the playoffs, but again go one-and-done with Manning. Over in the NFC, the Seahawks miss the playoffs entirely, since Matt Flynn turns out to be a dreadful starter, but the NFC West still puts two teams into the playoffs as the Rams claim a Wild Card spot.
It's the Rams that go into Washington and win, but come up short in Atlanta the next week. The rest of the NFC playoffs unfold as they actually did.
In the AFC, the Ravens, after beating the Colts, go on the road to the AFC's second seed, the Houston Texans, and win. They proceed to beat the Patriots in the Championship Game, and win the Super Bowl again.
Oh, and in case you were wondering what happened to Sam Bradford? The Rams trade him to the Denver Broncos, who are still in the market for a real QB to replace Tim Tebow.
The 2013 season turns out to be Manning's last in the NFL, as he has taken a beating behind a dreadful Colts line. The Rams go on to face the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and come away with the victory, getting Luck a ring in year two.
And finally, in 2014, Wilson makes his debut as the Colts starter, leading them to the playoffs. However, he runs into the Ravens in the Divisional Round and falls short. The Ravens end up returning to the Super Bowl after beating the Patriots (Super Bowl hangover) in the playoffs. The Ravens squash the Rams attempt at back-to-back titles when Joe Flacco finds Steve Smith in the end zone with 30 seconds left in the game.
So there you have it, a brief look at what could have been in the NFL if the Colts had beaten Jacksonville in the last game of the 2011 season.
A few loose ends to tie up: Tebow is still traded to the Jets, and is still terrible. The Chiefs become the class of the AFC West, since Denver doesn't have a reliable QB. Wes Welker and Aqib Talib remain in New England, since Denver doesn't come calling. DeMarcus Ware ends up in Baltimore, who miss out on Elvis Dumervil, since he fax arrives in Denver on time.
Oh, and Trent Richardson is still terrible.