Over the last decade, hopes have usually been high for fans of the Indianapolis Colts. For ten seasons in a row, the Colts won ten or more regular season games, making the playoffs in each. For a whole generation of Colts fans, victory was expected, and a Super Bowl title was always within reach. For the first time since last century, there is a split mix of high hopes and lowered expectations for this franchise.
Even after the news came down that Peyton Manning was going to miss significant time last season, many still expected the Colts to continue their success. Even after bringing Kerry Collins (how pathetic does that sound in hindsight?) out of retirement, it was expected that this team would roll on and hold down the fort until Manning came back. Well, Manning didn’t come back, Collins lost a game for every million that he was paid, and the Colts literally dropped from the top to the bottom of the NFL like no team in recent history.
Without Manning, the Colts were exposed for holes in the defense, a suspect running game, and a few years of big whiffs on draft picks. The whole organization was gutted, coaches and general managers were fired, and players like Joseph Adai and Gary Brackett couldn’t find another team to play on. This franchise needed a cleansing, and needed to be reloaded.
Enter former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, and new general manager Ryan Grigson. With his first head coaching job, Pagano brings a new defensive scheme and a fire that the Indianapolis Colts have never had before. Grigson quickly began working on bringing in pieces here and there to fill up the thin skill positions like defensive tackle and cornerback.
The Colts also used last April’s draft to reload heavily on the offense. Quarterback Andrew Luck was brought in to replace Manning, and several other picks were used on tight ends, running backs, and wide outs. A much-needed youth movement was under way in Indianapolis, and that was a good thing, but it might not be a good thing right away.
It’s easy to be swayed and to swoon over how Andrew Luck has looked on and off the field. He’s played with poise and precision, but he hasn’t played much. The expectations went through the roof when the Colts blew out the St. Louis Rams 38-3 in the first game of the preseason. It was easily ignored that the Rams have had the worst five-year winning percentage in NFL history. The truth is, the Colts didn’t look too well as a first-team offense or defense during the rest of the preseason. Injuries and the implementation of a whole new playbook kept this team struggling with protections and placement.
The Colts do play in a weak division. Winning games against the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars is totally possible, and the Houston Texans may already have the division wrapped up when they play the Colts in weeks 15 and 17. The Colts also play the lowly Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns in winnable games at home. The improvement could be massive compared to last season, especially for a young team with a rookie quarterback and a first-year head coach, but that’s not saying much.
The truth is, the Colts are a long shot, with a lot of promise. They’re not going to be as bad as they were last season, but they’re most likely not going to take the league by storm, either. There are going to be some bumps in the road and lots of lumps for the young quarterback as this team learns their new identity. If this team wins half of their games in 2012, then it will be a major step towards victory in the future.