Last year, things went about as bad as could have been imagined for the Indianapolis Colts. They lost franchise quarterback Andrew Luck for nine games, and he struggled through injuries and poor play for most of the time he was on the field. A team with Super Bowl hopes fell flat on their way to an 8-8 record as they missed the playoffs.
This year, the Colts took a different approach to building their team, as they are looking toward the future more than a win-now mindset, but the fact that they are getting a healthy Luck back means that they figure to be right in the midst of the AFC South race and a return to the playoffs is very possible. At the very least, most people seem to think that the Colts won't be worse than they were last year.
Pro Football Focus disagrees with that assessment, however, and predicts the Colts to finish with a 6-10 record in 2016, 13th in the AFC and third in the AFC South (they have both the Texans and Jaguars finishing 8-8). The 6-10 mark is tied for the ninth-lowest projected mark in the NFL next year, meaning the Colts would have a top ten pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Here's what PFF's Nathan Jahnke wrote:
Indianapolis managed an 8-8 season in 2015, despite missing Andrew Luck for part of the year. However, due to their division, they were still in the mix near the end of the regular season. In reality, the Colts were probably worse than their record reflected. For this offseason, they lost more talent than they brought in. Their biggest addition was cornerback Patrick Robinson, who surrendered just 0.78 yards per coverage snap last year, sixth-best for cornerbacks. That doesn’t make up for the losses of Jerrell Freeman, Coby Fleener, and Dwight Lowery, though. While they get Luck back, he started 2015 with six straight games with a below-average PFF passer rating. They will again rely on Frank Gore at running back, who had his lowest yards per carry of his career in 2015, at 3.7. If Luck can be the player everyone expects him to be, the Colts can make a run at getting into the playoffs, but if he plays anywhere close to how he did in 2015, they don’t have the talent to make up for it.
PFF's prediction seems to be built mainly around one thing: their expectation that Andrew Luck will again have a bad season. That's based on their grades from last year and the fact that Luck wasn't very good in 2015, so it seems PFF just automatically thinks Luck won't improve. They don't come out and directly say that, but considering that Jahnke wrote that if Luck plays well the Colts could make a run at the playoffs yet still predicts them finishing 6-10, it seems pretty clear he doesn't expect Luck to play well. That begs the question of how much weight to put into an injury-plagued, shortened season when his first three years in the NFL were pretty good. Was last year just an aberration or is it a sign of bigger concerns? We won't know for sure until Luck proves it on the field, but I think most people not going by a limited grading system will tell you that the clear expectation is that Luck will get back on track.
If that happens, he should be good enough to cover a lot of the team's flaws just like he did in his first three years. Luck has played on a sub-par team before and has elevated it, and so it's possible he can do that again. With an improved offensive line, both Luck and Frank Gore should see improvement. There are some question marks on defense (such as at pass rush) and about some depth (like wide receiver, running back, and tight end), but getting Andrew Luck back will be a huge boost.
None of this is to say that the Colts will immediately become Super Bowl contenders just by getting Andrew Luck back, nor is it to say that the Colts will obviously win the division. But I have a hard time imagining the Colts having a worse season than last year if Luck plays every game. Maybe in an improved AFC South they won't be good enough to win it, but a 6-10 campaign would be an absolute shocker.