In nine of the past thirteen seasons, the Indianapolis Colts have won the AFC South. It is a remarkable run of dominance against division opponents, and the team had a 16-game win streak against division opponents that ran from 2012-2015. They won back-to-back division titles in 2013 and 2014 before faltering down the stretch without Andrew Luck in 2015.
Now, the team's franchise quarterback is back and looking to return to form in 2016, and with Luck's return comes the high expectations for the Colts once again. The Colts are tied for the ninth-best odds to win the Super Bowl at 22/1, the best odds of any of the AFC South teams. They are also tied for the best odds to win the division with the Houston Texans at 3/2, and they have the highest projected win total of any of the division teams. In other words, with Luck's return the oddsmakers are expecting a return to the top of the division for the Colts after finishing second last year.
The Colts, however, don't consider themselves to be the favorites.
"As we know, our division continues to improve immensely and it's an obvious thing," owner Jim Irsay said last Saturday. "You guys can track how high our division foes have been picking in drafts over the last five to eight years and that is going to accumulate talent. But I do feel that with a healthy Andrew Luck hitting his stride in his prime with the coaching changes we've made, with some of the veteran leadership we still have on this football team really which is in all areas of our football team to go (along) with the youth. You have to prove, again, I can't call us the team to beat in the division because Houston won the division, they're the team to beat. You have to give them that respect. Yes, we had injuries and you could say oh what could've been if we didn't and you see what happened in the Denver game and unfortunately Henry Anderson and Andrew (Luck) being taken out for the season, arguably our two best players. That's tough but it's reality. Houston won the division fair and square and they're the team to beat and certainly Jacksonville took it to us when we were down there in a big way and that sticks in our mind as well."
"Look, we have a lot to prove," Irsay said. "This team has guys on it. Coaches, players that have won a lot of games, that have played in a lot of big games, that have won playoff games. Yeah, we feel like we can get right back into that mix and be a January, February team but we have to prove it. There's no doubt about it. I think the perception with the Colts is that, hey they have Andrew Luck and that he is going to be coming back healthy so they should lead right off where they were before the injury. But again, I think we have a lot to prove. We've made a lot of changes, particularly on the coaching staff. Ones that I think will really benefit us. We have a lot to prove, a lot to earn and starting with that home opener here in Indy, we got to get off to a good start and we know the division is going to be tough and guys have gotten a lot better."
There's good reason for the talk about the Colts in connection to the AFC South's best, as with a healthy Andrew Luck they should be very much in the competition for the division title in 2016. But the Colts aren't placing that target on their back, instead viewing the Texans as the favorites because of their victory last year. They are instead embracing the role of the chaser, though most other people don't see them as such with the return of Andrew Luck. It's a drastic change from last year when the talk was all about the Super Bowl, but perhaps that will be a good thing for the team. Instead of looking forward to that point, they are first focused on winning the division. With Andrew Luck coming back, they should have a good chance at achieving that goal.