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FanPulse: AFC South fans agree, Colts are clear favorites to win division in 2019

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

At no time from 2002 to 2014 did the Colts fail to win an AFC Championship for a period lasting longer than two seasons. During that stretch, Indianapolis won eight AFC South championships and had a streak of five in a row from 2003 to 2007. The current four-year drought is the worst stretch over the last 17 years and has seen the Houston Texans establish themselves as the team to beat in the AFC South.

It is fair to note that the Texans benefited from injuries to Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning during some of those seasons but every team deals with injuries, and Indianapolis didn’t have a strong enough roster to overcome the loss of their franchise quarterbacks for any extended period of time. Current general manager Chris Ballard has set out on a mission to become a strong football team all over the roster and help soften the blow of losing one player. While every NFL general manager wants a well-rounded football team, few are able to so masterfully navigate the draft and free agency to have that level of success.

The two franchises who come to mind over the last decade for succeeding in that effort are the Philadelphia Eagles with Nick Foles magic and the New England Patriots with Matt Cassell, Jimmy Garoppolo and others who have been able to keep the season on track even without Tom Brady.

Has Chris Ballard already done enough to put the Colts in that company? Would Jacoby Brissett perform at a higher level under the new coaching staff now that he has had full offseasons to prepare and familiarize himself with the system?

Hopefully the team won’t have to find out but when SB Nation ran a poll of AFC South fans to select who is the favorite to win the division in 2019, Indianapolis dominated the results.

The short-lived underdog story may be coming to an abrupt end. This team is no longer under the radar and a strong finish in 2018 has earned the attention of fans around the league — none more so than an AFC South fan base that watched the Colts dismantle the best teams in the division to finish the season and advance in the playoffs. Chris Ballard has had two seasons of suppressed expectations in what many expected to be a three-year rebuild. The coaching staff and schematic changes a season ago could have arguably pushed that window back a year.

It hasn’t.

There will be loftier expectations for the Indianapolis Colts in 2019. Andrew Luck is back to full health and put together an impressive season with his surgically repaired shoulder. Two rookies earned first-team All-Pro honors and both are expected to improve in their second seasons. Indianapolis has one of the youngest rosters in the NFL (perhaps the youngest without Adam Vinatieri throwing off the curve) and had the best draft in the league in 2018.

The team entered free agency with the biggest bank account in the NFL, added an established veteran pass rusher to bolster the defense and a young veteran wide receiver to improve one of the team’s primary weaknesses on offense. They will exit the 2019 free agency period with the biggest bank account in the NFL and an incredible amount of flexibility for how to address the team’s needs in the future.

Ballard has made quick work of Indy’s turnaround. He has set the bar for himself mercilessly high. Colts fans aren’t the only ones who have noticed.