We’re still several months away from the start of the 2017 NFL season, and the draft hasn’t even happened yet this year. But free agency can change quite a few things about teams, so Football Outsiders today released their early projections for the 2017 season.
When it comes to the AFC South, it’s safe to say that FO expects the division to once again not be that great. They have the Titans winning the division with an 8-8 record and the Jaguars also at 8-8 right behind them. The Colts, then, come in third with a 7-9 record, while the Texans surprisingly are in fourth with a 6-10 record.
The projection has the Colts with 6.6 mean wins and the 28th-hardest strength of schedule in the NFL. The write-up for the AFC South included just one sentence about the Colts: “Meanwhile, the Colts continue to experiment with just how much a bad defense can fritter away the prime years of a good quarterback.”
There are a couple of things to note from the projection. First of all, yes, this is absolutely very early and there will be plenty of things that change around the NFL before even one meaningful game is played next year.
Secondly, the Colts don’t fare too well in this projection because they’re not a very good team. It’s as simple as that. Their defense is terrible, and while their offense had a good year last season, they still only went 8-8. It’s hard to imagine the Colts being worse than they were a year ago on defense, but a one-loss difference this year wouldn’t neccessarily mean they got worse, just that they didn’t get much better.
Thirdly, the Colts are in a rebuilding mode, so we shouldn’t expect to see the Colts at or near the top of rankings like these. It’s tough for Chuck Pagano, who’s trying to save his job this year, but the Colts are taking a longer approach to rebuilding than a one-year magical fix.
Fourth, the Colts’ strength of schedule in FO’s rankings is just 28th, meaning they have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. That will certainly help their cause as they seek to win the AFC South, but it should be noted that the Titans (29th) and Jaguars (30th) also have easy schedules (the Texans, however, rank 10th).
And fifth, the Colts have Andrew Luck. For all the statistical projections, the Colts still have a tendency to overachieve because of their quarterback. Talent-wise, they were a worse team than their 8-8 record last year, but they had Andrew Luck. So he’s the wild card in all of this, and while FO seems to try to take that into account, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Colts overachieve once again because of their quarterback. And if the division really does wind up as close as these projections, it’s conceivable to think that with their franchise quarterback playing well the Colts could still contend in the AFC South.
So all-in-all, a very-early 7-9 projection for the Colts doesn’t seem like a terrible prediction, and I bet we’ll be seeing more like it in the coming months. The most interesting parts of the AFC South predictions is the Texans in fourth and the Jaguars at 8-8... both of which are quite strange projections.