Today's absurd prediction:
Despite having the worst defense in the conference, the Colts still win the division without any trouble.
The worst, you say? Well, all four defenses who finished lower than the Colts in yards last year added key pieces through the draft and free agency. Indy's #11 (in the AFC) unit lost a few starters. Ah, but they'll have Bob Sanders back, you say. That only makes up for one loss, and besides, he's only played 24 games in the past 3 years. You really think he'll stay healthy? I don't have to tell you how unimpressive the starting lineup at LB is: Gary Brackett, Rob Morris, Freddy Keiaho.
Here's the breakdown for the Indianapolis Colts:
Coaching Changes: N/A
HC Tony Dungy, OC Tom Moore, and DC Ron Meeks return for a sixth season together. That kind of continuity you can't put a price on.
It seems a little ridiculous that the Colts would use their top two picks on offense. In round 1 they took WR Anthony Gonzalez. In round 2 they moved up to nab OT Tony Ugoh, which turned out to be a brilliant decision given the sudden retirement of Tarik Glenn. And while Gonzalez is a good fit, and I think he'll get along with Peyton Manning very well, they desperately needed some help on defense and didn't get it. Later they picked up three DBs, a DT, a DE, and an OLB, but none of them will be ready to start anytime soon. CB Daymeion Hughes is the most promising, but he's staggeringly slow for a corner. Considering the trouble the Colts had getting burned deep, I can't imagine Hughes will fix the problems.
Player Movement: F
Glenn's retirement was just another blow to a Super Bowl team that has found itself quite depleted. Dominic Rhodes was most likely expendable, assuming Joseph Addai is able to step up and handle a full workload. Considering that he got himself suspended for four games after the move, the Colts look like geniuses once again. But beyond Rhodes, the other losses will be problematic. CB Nick Harper has gone to a division rival in Tennessee, a double blow. LB Cato June is gone, leaving the Colts with the aforementioned weak LB corps. S Mike Doss has left, which isn't great, but the Colts already got a taste of life without him last year when he missed 10 games. DT Montae Reagor was also injured most of last year, and now he's gone completely. Same story for WR Brandon Stokely. Now Booger McFarland is out for the season with a knee injury, and I can't imagine how Indy expects to stop the run. And in the midst of all these losses, it's quite possible that their best acquisition was G Rick DeMulling. Doesn't exactly offset the departure of six starters and two key offensive X-factors (Stokely and Rhodes).
They draw Baltimore and New England, thanks to being at the top of the division. They play the AFC West and NFC South, which means facing a number of talented teams, including the season opener vs. New Orleans. However, the arrangement of their schedule is pretty friendly. The worst two-game stretch is hosting New England in week 9 followed by traveling to San Diego. But Norv Turner is the coach now in SD, which means they're not as formidable as they sound. And they have a couple of short weeks due to Monday or Thursday night games, but one of them is between Jacksonville and Carolina matchups, and the other is between Kansas City and Atlanta. Not perfect, but not too bad.
The guy who's been protecting Manning's weak side for forever, Tarik Glenn is now retired. This can't be understated. This means that unless they make a move for another OT, either Ryan Diem or rookie Ugoh will have to move over to the left side. What happens if Manning suddenly starts getting sacked? This provides a worst-case scenario in which Manning gets shaken up a time or two, doesn't play like himself, and the Colts lose the division for the first time in years. And again, with McFarland out, teams will be able to run against them all day long, and their only hope is to create turnovers and have the offense match every score the defense allows.
The Record: 11-5
The Colts need 12 wins this season to reach .500 overall since moving to Indianapolis. This is a testament to GM Bill Polian's excellence, since before he took over as team president and drafted Manning, the Colts were 90-138. Sadly, they'll fall just short.
I had to drop the Colts a couple of wins with the loss of McFarland. I originally had them at 13-3, but there's just no way they take the conference now. The extra two wins go to Denver and New England, who will now earn first-round byes.