The Indianapolis Colts finally win a Super Bowl, giving Peyton Manning a chance to throw that damn monkey off his back -- not kill it, Michael Vick -- and all anyone has to say in six months that follow is this:
|Predicted Order of Finish|
|1. Colts||2008 standings: 12-4|
|2. Titans||2008 standings: 13-3|
|3. Texans||2008 standings: 8-8|
|4. Jaguars||2008 standings: 5-11|
There's no way in hell the Colts can be as good as they were in 2006. Too many losses, the experts say.
That thinking is wrong.
The Colts will be a better team in 2007. They might not win the Super Bowl, but they will be better.
Those starting corners they lost will be replaced by better players. The left tackle that retired will be replaced ably by a quality rookie with some help in protection. The starting linebacker who left will be replaced by a more physical player.
Yeah, the Colts lost some players. But the biggest and most important loss is that of the pressure they no longer feel to win a Super Bowl behind Manning.
And word out of Indianapolis is that Manning and the Colts offense has never looked better. As long as he is throwing passes to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne and that gang, the Colts are still one of the teams to beat in the NFL.
Plus, let's not forget this is a team that finished the 2006 season ranked 32nd against the run. It was in December of last year when the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team that could push them in the division, ran through the Colts for 375 yards in a 44-17 victory. Two weeks after that, they lost at Houston to the Texans.
In fact, the Colts went 0-3 on the road in the division in 2006.
Yet somehow they found a way to get hot at the right time and make a playoff run. But this year's Colts don't really have a long way to go to be better –- at least during the regular season. The defense should be improved and the offense, especially with the addition of receiver Anthony Gonzalez, will be better.
The Colts played most of last season without slot receiver Brandon Stokley, and that left a huge void in the offense. Stokley is in Denver now, so Gonzalez will step in and fill that role. It will also help the offense that Joseph Addai will get the brunt of the carries now that Dominic Rhodes is gone.
The Jaguars have the defense to match up with the Colts, but they have to improve their passing game if they are to overtake the Colts in the AFC South. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will open things up, but it's up to Byron Leftwich to make it work.
If it does, the Jaguars can be a playoff team –- and maybe even win the division.
"That's our main goal," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "We have to find a way to win the division and get playoff games at home. It won't be easy because we have the Super Bowl champs in our division, so we know it's a big challenge."
The Texans and Titans will fight for the third spot, with both teams a year or two away. However both those teams caused trouble for Jacksonville and Indianapolis last year. The Texans split with the Colts and swept the Jaguars, while the Titans split with both of them.
If the Jaguars are to push the Colts, they can't get swept by the Texans. If the Colts are to get back to the Super Bowl, they can't go 0-3 in the division on the road.
That won't happen again, and the reason is this Colts team is better than the one that played the regular season in 2006. If they get hot again in January, maybe Manning will be talking about back-to-back Super Bowl rings.
Significant additions: WR Anthony Gonzalez, T Tony Ugoh, DT Ed Johnson, DT Quinn Pitcock.
|Anthony Gonzalez should be a fine replacement for Brandon Stokley. (AP)|
Biggest off-season move: Changing their corners. They allowed David and Harper to leave via free agency, but feel confident that Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson are ready to take over. It was the right decision, but we'll see how it plays out.
Will go to the playoffs if ... the replacements for the departed starters can fill the holes adequately. The key one is whether rookie left tackle Ugoh can fill in for Glenn.
Rookie to watch: Gonzalez. The Colts played without a true slot receiver for most of last year, but this guy is perfect for that role in their offense.
Overview: As long as Peyton Manning is running the offense, they are a Super Bowl threat every time out. The difference this year is that they go into the season with a target on their backs. That means every game will be a war. They've lost some key people, including the retirement of tackle Glenn, but don't expect too much of a fall for this team. They still have that explosive offense led by Manning.
Significant additions: T Tony Pashos, WR Dennis Northcutt, S Reggie Nelson, WR Mike Walker, LB Justin Durant.
Significant subtractions: TE Kyle Brady, S Donovin Darius, S Deon Grant.
Biggest off-season move: Hiring Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator. He will liven up the passing game. This won't be a predictable unit anymore.
Will go to the playoffs if ... The passing game moves from a ranking of 24th to the low teens or better.
Rookie to watch: Nelson. He will be an opening-day starter if his ankle injury is healed enough, which the team expects. His range and speed add a lot to a defense that already had plenty of both.
Overview: They finished second in total defense last year, and that was without three of their starters for most of the year. This unit should be even better. It's much faster. That puts it all on the offense. If the passing game can go to the next level, and the running game stays strong with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, this team can be a deep playoff team. If the passing game struggles, look for a new quarterback in 2008 with Byron Leftwich gone.
Significant additions: CB Nick Harper, WR Eric Moulds, CB Michael Griffin, RB Chris Henry.
Significant subtractions: WR Drew Bennett, RB Travis Henry, DB Adam "Pacman" Jones.
Biggest off-season move: Deciding not to bring back Travis Henry. That puts a lot of pressure on LenDale White to emerge as the top runner.
Will go to the playoffs if ...Vince Young learns to throw the ball better and the defense holds up without Jones.
Rookie to watch: Griffin. He's already earned a spot as a starter at corner. His cover skills are solid and he's a good tackler, being a former safety.
Overview: Most people have this team as a potential playoff team. I don't see it. They are still young and they need many young players to step up to have a chance at .500. Young also needs to make big strides as a passer before they are a real playoff threat. Look for White to have a nice year, but there isn't enough talent on defense yet. They're one more off-season away from being a playoff team.
|Jacoby Jones could be a big sparkplug for the Texans. (AP)|
Significant subtractions: QB David Carr, LB Antwan Peek, CB Lewis Sanders, WR Eric Moulds.
Biggest off-season move: Making the trade to get Schaub. They view him as their long-term answer at quarterback. While he's played well as a reserve for the Falcons, time will tell if that's indeed the case.
Will go to the playoffs if ... Schaub is Dan Marino. Other than that, this is a work in progress.
Rookie to watch: Jones. This small-school star from Lane College had an impressive preseason. He has the speed to help take pressure off Andre Johnson and he has big-play return ability.
Overview: There are still too many holes for this to be a playoff contender. But they're moving in that direction. If Schaub plays well, they can be a .500 team. If he doesn't, the franchise will be questioned again. This is a time in its growth that this team should be competing for a playoff spot. Something says they're not there yet.
|Aug. 27||AFC East|
|Aug. 28||NFC East|
|Aug. 29||AFC South|
|Aug. 30||NFC South|
|Sept. 3||AFC North|
|Sept. 4||NFC North|
|Sept. 5||AFC West|
|Sept. 6||NFC West|