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NFL Network analyst says Colts won't even compete for AFC South title

NFL: Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The expectations for the Indianapolis Colts in 2016 vary depending on who you ask, as Colts fans seem to think the team should win around eleven-to-thirteen games while most others think the team should win around eight-to-ten games. One thing nearly everyone is in agreement upon, however, is that the Colts should once again compete in the AFC South.

That is, everyone except NFL Network's Heath Evans (yes, the former NFL fullback). Recently, Evans was asked whether the Houston Texans (who won the division last year) are still the team to beat in 2016, and Evans said that he doesn't really think it's close.

"Listen, I don’t see another team that can compete with them," he said. "And if there’s a second one, it would be Jacksonville, in my opinion, not the Colts. I think the Colts still have a lot of holes, people get excited about a draft full of offensive linemen [but] I don’t think that’s the answer."

Evans then went on to explain why the Texans are the easy favorite (his reasons: DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt, and Brock Osweiler being a clear upgrade at quarterback) before again adding, “I’m not sure it’s close in that division.”

While Heath Evans is certainly entitled to his opinion, it's a curious one. After all, the Texans won the AFC South last year by just one game over the Colts despite Indianapolis having to play without Andrew Luck for nine games. If Indy had won a miserable mid-December contest (they had plenty of chances), they probably would have won the AFC South. So the division was incredibly close last year, and that was with DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt playing. And even while Evans thinks Osweiler will be a big upgrade at quarterback over Brian Hoyer and company, it's impossible to look at that quarterback upgrade while ignoring the one happening in Indy. For as admirable of a job as Matt Hasselbeck did last year, Hasselbeck (or Charlie Whitehurst) to Andrew Luck is a bigger upgrade than Brian Hoyer (or Ryan Mallett) to Brock Osweiler. Period. End of story.

Sure, the Colts have plenty of holes. Their pass rush is still an issue, and depth all over the roster is still a concern. They addressed the offensive line (which was important), but that doesn't solve every issue. Despite that, the Colts have Andrew Luck returning, and he has masked roster flaws before. For his first three years in the league, the overall consensus among national media folks was that the Colts were a bad team carried by Luck. In other words, their flaws were masked by their quarterback. So while it's fair to mention all the flaws the Colts have (again, there are several), that must also be looked at in light of Luck's return.

I'm not arguing that the Colts absolutely will win the AFC South, nor am I neccessarily arguing that they should be the favorites right now. The Texans should be improved (at least somewhat), while the Jaguars certainly have an impressive roster and even the Titans are slowly turning things around (though they likely won't be contenders for the division in 2016). But with all of that said, the Colts lost the division by one game last year despite playing without their franchise quarterback for over half of the year - suggesting that suddenly they can't even compete in the division with Luck returning is laughable.