The Indianapolis Colts underwent as much change as any team in the NFL this offseason, hiring a new general manager and bringing in a ton of new players in veteran free agency, rookie free agency, and the draft.
Long-term, it looks like they’re doing things right as they attempt a methodical rebuild. But short-term, the state of the team has prompted mixed expectations.
Pro Football Focus, in fact, projects them to finish with a losing record in 2017. In a recent article about the AFC projections, PFF’s Nathan Jahnke has the Colts finishing ninth overall in the conference with a 7-9 record:
After three straight years of making the playoffs to begin Andrew Luck’s career, Indianapolis has failed to have a winning record the last two seasons in part due to an aging defense. This offseason, Indianapolis made massive changes to the defense, using six picks in the first five rounds on various defensive players as well as signing a few under-the-radar free agents. For example, outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard has graded above-average in both run defense and pass-rushing in each of the last four seasons. Andrew Luck took a huge step forward for his career in 2016, but it will take yet another step for them to be in the playoff hunt.
Even at 7-9, however, PFF expects the Colts to be competitive within the AFC South, as they would be second in the division behind the Titans (9-7) and ahead of the Texans (6-10) and Jaguars (6-10). So clearly, the expectations aren’t very high for the division once again this year.
The Titans are the hot pick this year in the AFC South after an impressive season a year ago, but Tennessee is well aware that if they hope to win the division this year they’ll need to beat the Colts and Andrew Luck. And we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the Colts when discussing the 2017 and the playoffs.
The Colts went 8-8 the last two years with a worse roster than the one they have now, and the 2015 one in particular still managed eight wins despite Andrew Luck missing over half of the games. We can’t make a simple linear statement like “the Colts are better so therefore they’ll win more games” because that doesn’t take into account how other teams improved or the strength of schedule... but the Colts figure to have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL in 2017. So the Colts figure to have an improved team (particularly on defense, since it’d be hard for it to get worse) and they figure to have a relatively easy schedule (thanks in part to the division they play in). That’s favorable, and then of course they have a franchise quarterback who is coming off of a terrific 2016 campaign too. When you add all of that together, I think it becomes clear that the Colts shouldn’t be overlooked when discussing 2017 predictions and playoff possibilities.
Is a losing record possible? Sure, and it wouldn’t be shocking. But it seems like a winning record and return to the playoffs is just as possible, and perhaps more so, entering 2017 for the Colts. Time will tell, but we shouldn’t write them off just yet.