Tempering Expectations For The 2015 Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts have become a popular pick to represent the AFC in this season's Super Bowl. Surprisingly, many fans, commentators and even Vegas have deemed the Colts as the favorite.

So how did the Colts pass the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots this offseason? Well, the reasons are typical when a Super Bowl favorite is crowned:

  • Making a lot of noise in free agency

  • Fielding an emerging quarterback

  • Coming a game shy of appearing in the Super Bowl in the prior season

However, there is one thing disregarded from the Colts being favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl; the talent on their roster is quite underwhelming when compared to the other top teams in the AFC. While it's hard to argue that they could field one of the best offenses in the NFL, with Andrew Luck under center and an inflated group of talented receiving weapons, there are still glaring holes present along their roster.

Despite Luck being one of the most abused quarterbacks in the NFL, this offensive line will welcome back four starters from last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Luck was pressured on 36.2% of his passes last season, which was good for eighth-highest in the NFL. Having a quality quarterback is an important indicator of success, but even a great quarterback can be held down by the incompetence of his offensive line.  

Although the Colts' offensive line problem is well documented, is still falls short of being the most pressing issue when analyzing their roster. While Vontae Davis is one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the NFL, the rest of their defense has major flaws.  

When assessing that the next two best players on this defense are 32-year-old free agent addition Trent Cole and 34-year-old Robert Mathis, coming off an ACL injury, it's hard to be confident in this defense's ability to get the Colts to the next level. 

Although there were upgrades to be made at all levels of their defense, the unit will remain pretty much unchanged from last season.

With all these holes at offensive line and along their defense, it's hard not to question why more of an effort wasn't made in the offseason to bolster these units.  

The Colts' offseason additions were defined by signing big name players past their primes.

Colts Notable Free Agent Additions
NameAge2015 Cap Hit 
(millions)
Positional Ranking by
 2015 Cap Hit 
2014 Pro Football
Focus 
Grade

Positional Ranking
 by 2014 Pro Football Focus Grade
Frank Gore32$4.59th-0.826th
Andre Johnson
33$7.514th   1.340th
Trent
 Cole
32$6.9510th  6.519th


The addition of 32-year-old running back Frank Gore should help a running back group that averaged 3.9 yards per carry last season, but it's hard to argue that a trio of Vick Ballard, Dan Heron and a running back drafted in a deep running back class couldn't produce serviceable results. 

Gore will produce a $4.5 million cap hit for the Colts this season; that cap hit could have been used more effectively to sign a run-stuffing tackle like Terrance Knighton, who was signed to a one-year deal worth $4 million with the Redskins.

The addition of the soon to be 34-year-old Andre Johnson gives Luck another big receiving option that he needed, but at this point in his career Johnson won't be the No. 1 receiving option on the Colts, let alone the majority of the other 31 teams in the NFL.

Signing Cole in free agency gave the Colts another pass rusher that they badly needed, but they are paying him nearly $7 million this season at the twilight of his career.

The biggest issue with the Colts' free agent additions is not that they didn't fill needs, but there's a compelling argument that they could have used their cap space more efficiently.

USA TODAY Sports

Adding big name players in free agency will get fans to book their flight to next season's Super Bowl in March, but just falling a game short of the Super Bowl in the prior season will have fans thinking that last season was just a stepping stone for their favorite team.  

When applying this same assessment to the Colts it's hard to take too much stock in their projected performance this season. 

Playing the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the playoffs was a very appealing scenario for this team; the most talented teams don't always make the playoffs and based on the Bengals' play last season this was a classic example.

Their second round opponent looked like a daunting task for this Colts team, until the game started and Peyton Manning was playing less like himself and more like the Colts' first round quarterbacking opponent.

When the time came for the Colts to face the Patriots, in the AFC Championship game, they were unable to keep up with the talent the eventual Super Bowl Champions boasted, and were blown out by 35 points.

This same theme against the Patriots is one that was well established last regular season; the Colts faltered when faced against top tier teams.  

This is proven by their record against teams with a winning record (4-5).  It is also important to point out that three of those wins came against teams with question marks at quarterback.



Beating Andy Dalton and a hobbled Manning shouldn't be that much of an accomplishment, but since this was the NFL Playoffs this accomplishment was magnified in those minds now deeming the Colts the favorites to come out of the AFC.

AP

Even with all of their deficiencies, the Colts could be the team that represents the AFC in Super Bowl 50. As long as the they have Luck under center, they'll always have the opportunity to go deep in the playoffs.

However, more often than not, talent and favorable match-ups is what wins in the NFL Playoffs, and this team falters in the talent regard. That's why the Colts should fall short of being called the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.


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