According to ESPN Analytics’ Seth Walder, the Indianapolis Colts are projected to have more than a coin flip’s chance to make the NFL Playoffs with a 58% chance—and are also this upcoming season’s frontrunner to win the AFC South (at 40%) per ESPN’s ‘Football Power Index’ (FPI) prediction model—coming in at #14 overall:
14. Indianapolis Colts
Projected wins: 8.6
Chance to reach playoffs: 58%
Certainly contributing to the Colts playing meaningful football long into next winter is that the franchise is fortunate enough to have one of the NFL’s easiest schedules for 2020:
Though FPI is heavily reliant on preseason win totals, it teases out team ratings and therefore can calculate schedule strength without really running into any of those problems. And it says the Denver Broncos have the toughest schedule in the league, while the Colts have the easiest. The Broncos have five games against top-10 FPI teams: two against the Chiefs, one against the Bucs, one on the road at the Patriots and one against the Saints. The Colts have only one such game, at home against the Ravens in Week 9.
Now, that doesn’t mean the Colts can get cocky—after all, many projected offseason darlings flame out, while bottom feeders can surprise, and the team still has to earn it on the field through the entirety of a 16 game regular season schedule.
However, the franchise’s big offseason additions of veteran starting quarterback Philip Rivers, All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, and two top offensive rookies: wideout Michael Pittman Jr. and running back Jonathan Taylor were potentially seismic-shifting in the AFC among the Colts other moves.
Last year’s 7-9 Colts team upset the reigning Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs on the road last season and split the season series with the AFC runner-up Tennessee Titans.
So this year’s Colts squad may not be too far off from contending in the AFC—especially if they can upgrade their starting quarterback play (Rivers), get some much needed interior pass rush (Buckner), and shore up their overall kicking game (Chase McLaughlin/Rodrigo Blankenship)—as longtime kicker Adam Vinatieri arguably cost the Colts at least a handful of games with his season long struggles (battling injuries).
Given their recent moves, the Colts have been a popular and trendy offseason pick to rise among the AFC rankings—having been projected to be as high as the 3rd best team in their conference.
That being said, ‘paper offseason champions’ means essentially nothing (i.e., the 2015 Colts), and Indianapolis still has to prove it on the field in 2020—but there’s some real reason for cautious optimism.