INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts are coming off of two straight 8-8 campaigns.
By all measures, 2015 and 2016 just weren't good enough for those in an organization in which double-digit-winning seasons and deep playoff runs are the annual expectation.
On the bright side, in both of the previous two seasons, the Colts were literally just a play or two away from being on the winning end of several games, and in the AFC South Division, it could've meant the difference between making the playoffs or watching them from home. But, as we all know, the saying "close but no cigar" applies to many teams on a yearly basis in the NFL, which prides itself on its competitive balance.
So, with all that being said, there's a belief among many that the Colts are coming back in 2017 with 8-8 as its basement expectation. For a multitude of reasons — particularly the team's offense, as well as its "strength of schedule" — it wouldn't be a surprise to see Indianapolis back where it belongs by the end of the regular season, and that's atop the division standings.
Well, Colts fans, USA TODAY is here to rain on your parade.
The newspaper's Nate Davis recently took a stab at 2017 NFL record projections, and has the Colts not winning eight games, or seven … or six.
That's right: USA TODAY predicts Indianapolis will be a five-win team in 2017.
Here's what Davis had to write to back up his claim:
Indianapolis Colts (5-11): How healthy, really, is Andrew Luck coming off major shoulder surgery? How much protection can he realistically expect from what's been a suspect line, not to mention a running back (Frank Gore) who just turned 34? And that defense ... oy vey. Making two West Coast trips in the first month to face rude defenses (Rams, Seahawks) could be telling.
• First off, Davis makes a fair point about Luck's health coming off his January shoulder surgery. The team has been extremely cautious in advancing him through the rehab process, and Luck has just started throwing for the first time in recent days, as we learned today.
But the other side of that argument is this fact: Luck and that shoulder last season simply wasn't healthy pretty much the entire year. And despite that fact — as well as the fact he was pressured and hit so often, especially in the first half of the season — Luck turned in arguably his best-overall individual season, throwing for 4,240 yards with 31 touchdowns to 13 interceptions.
Does Luck need time and reps to get back into the groove following his surgery? Sure. But what evidence is there out there to ever bet against this guy, let alone the fact he has most of his major offensive weapons returning in 2017.
• Want to talk about the Colts' offensive line? OK — it wasn't good the first half of 2016; in fact, it was horrid. The second half, however, the unit was among the Top 10 in the NFL when it came to sacks allowed, showing an ability to gel, even when some moving pieces came into play due to injuries.
With coach Joe Philbin leading the troops once again, the Colts expect nothing but improvement from their offensive line. Give 'em a chance.
• Yes, Frank Gore just turned 34. But he's coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season playing behind that offensive line Davis obviously isn't too fond of. Luck and the Colts don't need Gore to be among the league leaders in rushing to be effective; as long as the threat of the run is there, Luck will do the rest.
• It's fair to point at the Colts' defense as its major unknown heading into the season. After all, new general manager Chris Ballard spent most of the offseason rebuilding the entire unit, almost from top to bottom. But one might imagine Davis is basing his projection off last year's Indianapolis defense; can anyone really say 'Oy vey' about a unit that will feature at least six or seven new starters and is yet to play a down?
As for the rest of the AFC South, USA TODAY projects the Titans will be the cream of the crop with a 12-4 overall record, while Davis believes the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars will each finish with 8-8 records. That would represent a five-win turnaround for Jacksonville from 2016 to 2017.
The analysis from those producing content on Colts.com does not necessarily represent the thoughts of the Indianapolis Colts organization. Any conjecture, analysis or opinions formed by Colts.com content creators is not based on inside knowledge gained from team officials, players or staff.