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Are the Colts poised for a return to the playoffs in 2017?

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, there are at least a couple of teams that make the playoffs after missing it the year before. It helps display some of the parity in the NFL, and since it’s something that happens every year, each offseason people try to figure out which teams it might be in the upcoming season.

That was a question that ESPN posed to six of their NFL analysts as part of their early 2017 predictions, and Matt Bowen listed the Colts as his pick for the non-playoff team from 2016 to make the postseason in 2017.

The Indianapolis Colts play in a very winnable division, and new general manager Chris Ballard spent the offseason upgrading the Indianapolis defense. After adding young, ball-hawking talent to the secondary (Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson) and veterans along the defensive front, the Colts should be in a position to make a run in the AFC South.

The Colts were one of four teams mentioned, as two people listed the Rams, two people listed the Buccaneers, and one listed the Titans, in addition to Bowen listing the Colts.

As we’ve talked about before, the Colts do make a lot of sense as a pick for the team that will return to the playoffs in 2017 after missing it last year, and there are mainly three reasons for that.

Firstly, the Colts have Andrew Luck. He’s a legitimate franchise quarterback and played as good as ever in 2016, throwing for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns while playing like a true top-five quarterback. As we’ve learned so often in the NFL, if you have a special quarterback you always have a chance, and that was on display for the Colts in the first three years of the Luck era (and not to mention the decade before that, too). The Colts consistently have risen above their talent level in large part due to the play of their quarterback.

Secondly, the Colts have a very favorable schedule. In 2016, the Colts were bad enough that not even the great play of Andrew Luck could save them, as they finished third in the AFC South after an 8-8 season. So the good news for Indy is that in addition to Luck they also have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, regardless of whether you measure it by 2016 standings or 2017 projections. It also helps considerably that they play in an easier division.

And thirdly, the Colts almost certainly won’t be as bad as they were a year ago. Their defense was absolutely atrocious in 2016, and while expecting massive leaps forward might not be realistic, it’s almost guaranteed that it won’t/can’t be worse than it was last year. So at the very least, the Colts shouldn’t be as bad as they were in ‘16, which added to the previous two points is encouraging.

So to think the Colts can return to the playoffs in 2017 is very realistic, and it shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone if it happens. The Colts might still be a year or two away from legitimately competing with the top-tier teams in the AFC, but a return to the playoffs in 2017 is certainly possible.