On Friday, we mentioned how Pro Football Focus predicts the Colts to go 6-10 in 2016, finishing third in the AFC South and 13th in the AFC while winding up with a top ten pick. That would undoubtedly be a disastrous season and an unexpected one, but it got me thinking: what's the worst-case scenario for the Colts this season?
We'll look at the flip side tomorrow as to the best-case scenario for the Colts in 2016 (hint: it ends with a Lombardi Trophy), but for now let's spend a moment thinking about what the (realistic) worst season for the Colts would be.
Last year, the worst-case scenario would have looked a lot like what happened. The Colts entered the year with Super Bowl expectations, and the worst-case would have been losing Andrew Luck and missing the playoffs - exactly what happened. This year, the expectations are tempered a little bit, so the worst-case scenario would likely be a bit worse as well.
Obviously, it all starts with Andrew Luck. It would be a disaster if Luck missed significant time due to injury again. The Colts are in a rebuilding mode of sorts and are once again counting on Luck to cover over a number of flaws, but if he's not playing he won't be able to do that. Matt Hasselbeck filled in admirably last year, but it's questionable whether Scott Tolzien would be able to do as well this year. In an improved AFC South, playing with Tolzien at quarterback instead of Luck likely would result in a below .500 record, perhaps even somewhere between four and six wins.
Just as bad - and perhaps even worse in the long run - would be Luck playing but struggling mightily like he did for extended stretches last year. If Luck turns the football over a ton and plays bad football, it might be an even worse scenario in the long run for the Colts than if he missed time. They still might be able to win more games than with Tolzien under center - because, like we saw last year, even when Luck is struggling he's capable of turning it on and playing well at any moment - but there would be more long-term concerns.
It's clear that any discussion of the worst-case scenario for the Colts begins (and ends) with Andrew Luck. He's the franchise quarterback, and the Colts need him on the field and playing well. If one or both of those don't happen, things probably won't go too well for the Colts next year. There's really no other single thing that could completely derail the team's season. There are certainly other injuries that would hurt - like Henry Anderson or Vontae Davis or T.Y. Hilton - and there's always the possibility that the offensive line doesn't improve or that the pass rush is nonexistent, any of which could hurt the Colts' chances.
So if we want to talk about the worst-case scenario for the Colts, it would include losing Andrew Luck to injury, missing the playoffs, and earning a high draft pick - in other words, a lot like what PFF predicted. Considering their prediction seemed to be heavily centered around Luck not playing well once again, that makes sense. If Luck is injured or doesn't play well, the Colts very well could miss the playoffs and end up with an even more disappointing season than in 2015. But again, that's the worst-case scenario. If everything goes wrong and Luck struggles or is injured, the Colts will likely miss the playoffs, could wind up with a top-ten pick in the 2017 Draft, and have even more question marks than they already do.