With the 2011 NFL Preseason well underway, I thought it would be fun to skip ahead a couple chapters and orchestrate an early comprehensive preview of the 2011 NFL regular season with record predictions for all 32 teams. I’m going way beyond your typical predictions.
While most that cover this engaging and highly-debatable topic possess extensive knowledge and realistic expectations for the entire league, they don’t actually objectively gauge every single game on the schedule and come up with the correct win-loss ratio for the NFL—256-256.
Additional Ingredients: Game-By-Game predictions for all 32 teams, and it wouldn’t be complete without bold surprises. Some might make you laugh, scream, perhaps throw up, or even cause you to high-five every person you see for the rest of the day. You might not want to eat as you’re reading this, though. I’d hate to be responsible for that third thing.
Here’s part 14 of the 32-part series (in alphabetical order) on the Indianapolis Colts.
PK: Sports Illustrated NFL Senior Writer Peter King (one of my biggest inspirations) projects the Colts to finish 10-6 in his annual predictions released on August 30, 2011. It should be noted that I broke down each game before knowing anything about PK’s predictions… because we have 15 teams with the same record. It’s either a “great minds think alike scenario” or a very predictable season due to the lockout. I’m going to guess it’s somewhere in between. Nevertheless, that was before the heart-wrenching updates were released on Peyton Manning.
Overview: The Colts have an excellent receiving corps led by wide outs Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, Blair White, Anthony Gonzalez and tight end Dallas Clark. Indianapolis is also equipped with star bookend defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, linebacker Gary Brackett, cornerback Jacob Lacey and safeties Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt.
Nonetheless, without Peyton Manning, this is not a good team at all. Many analysts like ESPN’s Mark Schlereth have said Indianapolis is a 3-13 franchise without its face of the franchise. I won’t necessarily go that far—but no NFL team depends more and values one individual player more than the Colts do with Manning.
Run Game: The ground game has been one of the worst in the league the past two seasons. Granted, Peyton has always looked to the air first, this is a major problem, especially if it doesn’t significantly improve, much less if it persists. Rookie DeLone Carter might be able to help turn things around this season with Donald Brown and Joseph Addai.
O-Line: Peyton doesn’t take many sacks, but it’s not because of his protection—rather his amazing ability to strike on a dime and force the defense to become dazed and confused before the snap. Center Jeff Saturday is the pick of the litter and certainly has a broadcasting career ahead of him after football. Nonetheless, guards Ryan Diem and Joe Reitz and young tackles in second-year pro Jeffrey Linkenbach and rookies Anthony Castonzo (no relation to the Seinfeld character) and Ben Ijalana will have their hands full in an offseason plagued by the lockout. You can say the same for unretired veteran signal-caller Kerry Collins, who has had very little time to learn a new playbook with a below-average offensive line in front of him.
Peyton’s Presence: Albeit Wayne is an elite wide out, the rest of the receivers are made better by Manning’s presence—just like Deion Branch and Julian Edelman in New England. That’s not to say Gonzalez, Collie, Garcon and White aren’t good receivers, but their level of performance is elevated with Manning. Likewise, the team’s confidence and adversity is decreased without Peyton—the man who consoles his team without even having to utter a word—to the point where the rest of the team knows it’s okay when things don’t go their way because they have Manning and he will get them out of the mess and excel as well.
Defense: Things aren’t looking so great on defense, either. Sure, Mathis and Freeney are superb and Jamaal Anderson, Tyler Brayton and Jerry Hughes provide a terrific crop of defensive ends. But defensive tackle is still a major weakness. Second-year outside linebackers Kavell Conner and Pat Angerer have very nice potential and Ernie Sims and Phillip Wheeler provide good depth at the position. But Clint Session, now with Jacksonville, will be sorely missed. Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers have another year under their belt, but the departure of Kelvin Hayden will have a bigger impact than expected because of his veteran leadership. Antoine Bethea is a very solid free safety. Analogous to Bob Sanders, starting strong safety Melvin Bullitt’s problem is also staying healthy.
If all of that wasn’t enough, there’s the schedule which makes things even worse.
Week 1 at Houston (Sun, Sept. 11 – 1:00pm) L
The Texans look to blow the doors down in the season opener in Reliant Stadium. Arian Foster looks to start and Kerry Collins will line up under center. The former retiree is operating in a brand new offense with an out-of-sync offensive line and facing a much-improved defense that will stack the box frequently and deliver non-stop pressure. Furthermore, the Colts’ run defense probably couldn’t defend me running up to the middle, much less Derrick Ward, Ben Tate (who chalked up over 200 yards in his first preseason action since the 2010 preseason) and possibly Arian Foster, last year’s NFL leading rusher. The Texans try to make a huge statement.
Week 2 Cleveland (Sun, Sept. 18 – 1:00pm) W
Colt McCoy and the up-and-coming Cleveland Browns will be a daunting mid-September challenge for Collins and the Colts. Home-field advantage, a must-win ambiance and a dose of luck plays a pivotal role as Indianapolis sneaks out a low-scoring, highly-contested victory.
Week 3 Pittsburgh (Sun, Sept. 25 – 8:20pm) L
Those three components mentioned above won’t be nearly enough to knock off Big Ben and the Steel Curtain in this early season Sunday evening showdown. The Steelers dominate here.
Week 4 at Tampa Bay (Mon, Oct. 3 – 8:30pm) L
Josh Freeman and the Buccaneers (1-2) begin to hit on all cylinders in primetime in front of the home crowd on Monday Night Football. Tampa Bay pulls away late in the final quarter.
Week 5 Kansas City (Sun, Oct. 9 – 1:00pm) L
This contest has huge implications for both teams, as Kansas City (2-2) faces a chance to go above or below .500 heading into a Week 6 bye and Indianapolis (1-3) is running out of time to right the ship and change the momentum to positive. Matt Cassel and the Chiefs prevail in an extremely entertaining Week 5 matchup down to the wire.
Week 6 at Cincinnati (Sun, Oct. 16 – 1:00pm) W
Raise your hand if you thought the Bengals and Colts mid-October battle would be between two one-win franchises back in the preseason. Keep your hand up if you believe Andy Dalton and Cincy will trigger the upset over Indy. If your hand is still raised, let me know why.
Week 7 at New Orleans (Sun, Oct. 23 – 8:20pm) L
A little mojo is far from making up for the drawback of playing on the road against an energized and superior Saints team. Drew Brees and New Orleans advance comfortably.
Week 8 at Tennessee (Sun, Nov. 30 – 1:00pm) L
Two two-win foes clash for the second spot in the division. Matt Hasselbeck and Chris Johnson start to get things moving and take down Indianapolis in yet another competitive rivalry game.
Week 9 Atlanta (Sun, Nov. 6 – 1:00pm) L
Even if Manning is already back under center, his presence won’t be enough to bridge the gap between the dependability of the two defensive units on the field. Matty Ice and the Hotlanta Falcons (5-2) get the win in a mildly surprising highly-competitive showdown.
Week 10 Jacksonville (Sun, Nov. 13 – 1:00pm) W
Depending on the Colts quarterback quandary, the biggest storyline in this division duel could be Clint Session in a Jaguars uniform or David Garrard in a Colts jersey. In either case, Indianapolis outlasts Jacksonville in a tough battle with home-field advantage.
Week 11 Bye (Sun, Nov. 20)
Four games behind the Texans (7-3), the Colts (3-7) enjoy a week off and media start to turn up the notch on speculation regarding the Andrew Luck sweepstakes….unless Peyton returns.
Week 12 Carolina (Sun, Nov. 27 – 1:00pm) W
Regardless of who’s managing the game, the Colts defeat these Cats in an entertaining, non-marquee matchup in late November.
Week 13 at New England (Sun, Dec. 4 – 8:20pm) L
Unless Peyton is ruled out for the season sometime between now and December 4th, even a really rusty Manning will make this game incredibly fun-to-watch as he meets head-to-head with Tom Brady yet again. The Pats (9-2) prevail in a great game on Sunday Night Football.
Week 14 at Baltimore (Sun, Dec. 11 – 1:00pm) L
Joe Flacco and co. host the Colts and put everything on the line to maintain the narrow gap over Pittsburgh in the AFC North. I like the Ravens to take advantage of an oft-injured Indy D.
Week 15 Tennessee (Sun, Dec. 18 – 1:00pm) W
Throw playoff implications out the window. This game is almost all about bragging rights. The Colts pull out a solid win at home with their fifth on the season against the Tennessee Titans.
Week 16 Houston (Thurs, Dec. 22 – 8:20pm) L
Houston has never swept Indianapolis. The Colts also have never played a game without Peyton Manning since 1998. Eventually trends end and history changes. That happens here.
Week 17 at Jacksonville (Sun, Jan. 1 – 1:00pm) W
Splitting with Tennessee and getting swept by Houston… the only thing worse is to end the season on a negative note and fail to sweep Jacksonville. Indy ends with a win at 6-10.
2011 Indianapolis Colts Record Prediction: 6-10 (3rd in AFC South)
Verse of This Piece: “Listen, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. So be as clever as snakes and as innocent as doves.”—Matthew 10:16
If you want to find out how all of the dust settles with the record predictions for every team, stay tuned and follow Michael’s prediction series, here. You can also follow Michael and Gridiron Grit on Twitter!