Moving on with the AFC South in our continuing previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so), today it is the Indianapolis Colts, who won the division last season and made it as far as the conference championship game.
The Colts have gone 11-5 in each of the last three seasons and have advanced one round further into the playoffs each year, culminating in a blowout loss in last season’s AFC Championship game in the game that led to the infamous Deflategate controversy that has taken over the headlines throughout the offseason and into the preseason.
QB Andrew Luck not only had the best season of his career in 2014, but he had the third-best season in the league among quarterbacks. He threw for 4,761 yards and a league-best 40 touchdowns while throwing 16 interceptions. And he did it without having much of a running game; RB Trent Richardson — who is no longer with the team — led the Colts with 159 rushes for 519 yards and just three touchdowns in 15 games (12 starts) — just 34.6 yards per game. Those are not numbers you expect to see from a team’s leading rusher. But the Colts were able to overcome the poor running game thanks to Luck and his receiving core, led by WR T.Y. Hilton, who caught 82 of Luck’s passes for 1,345 yards and seven touchdowns — all career highs — in 15 games. The Colts were able to win 11 games thanks to their offensive attack able to make up for a defense that ranked 19th in the league.
The running game wasn’t good last season, but it should be improved in 2015 with veteran RB Frank Gore joining the team. Although his numbers have regressed in recent years as he has gotten older, Gore still totaled 1,106 rushing yards last season with four touchdowns. With an improved running game, Luck will have some of the pressure taken off of him. He is also getting a new weapon in the receiving game, as WR Andre Johnson also signed with the team in the offseason. The veteran pass-catcher played in 15 games for the Texans last season, nabbing 85 receptions for 936 yards — decent but a distinct drop from 1,407 yards in 2014 — and three touchdowns. He should be a strong No. 2 receiver behind Hilton.
The Colts schedule isn’t that tough overall — a byproduct of being in a mediocre division — but they do have some tough matchups scheduled, including seemingly annual contests with the Patriots and Broncos in weeks 6 and 9, respectively, both at home. The Colts also hit the road to play the Steelers in a prime-time game in week 13. The Colts end the regular season with a home tilt against the Titans. With the Arian Foster injury eliminating the Texans’ biggest offensive weapon for, perhaps, the first half of the season, should run away with the division title for the third straight season and, barring injury, have a pretty good shot at making it to Super Bowl 50.