Overtime: Colts may struggle

BY BEN SIECK | ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

The Indianapolis Colts may disappoint fans hoping for a repeat of last year’s success, given this season’s prospective results.

Despite winning their opening game against the Oakland Raiders, the 2013 Colts will be hard-pressed for wins in the coming weeks.

The 2012 Colts, led by number one draft pick Andrew Luck and 2012 Coach of the Year Bruce Arians, completed one of the biggest single-season turnarounds in NFL history. The Colts posted an 11-5 regular season record and secured a wild card playoff berth, just one year removed from a dismal 2-14 campaign in 2011.

This year’s Colts team returns many key players from last season’s turnaround squad.

However, Arians, last year’s interim coach and offensive coordinator, left to take the head coaching job in Arizona.

Seven-time Pro Bowl selection Dwight Freeney is also gone, and Reggie Wayne, last season’s leading receiver, turns 35 in November.

These losses alone suggest a potential regression for this year’s Colts team, but the improbability of the Colts’ 11-5 record last year indicates an even bigger relapse could be in store.

After suffering through a season with the likes of Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky starting at quarterback, replacing those two with an average quarterback would have resulted in a few more wins.

However, adding an above-average quarterback like Luck last year alone won’t account for a nine-win turnaround.

Last year’s Colts took advantage of playing a fourth-place schedule, a schedule that Football Outsiders, a football analytics website, ranked the easiest in the NFL.

The Colts could be victims of their past success in terms of this year’s strength of schedule.

Due to their second-place finish in the AFC South, the Colts will be playing a second-place schedule this season.

Indianapolis benefits from a relatively weak division, however.

Playing both the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars and the middling Tennessee Titans twice this year should give the Colts three or four wins.

Indianapolis also outperformed its expected win total significantly last season.

The 2012 Colts were outscored by 30 points over the course of the season.

This is a typical spread that a 7-win team would have, not an 11-win team like the Colts, according to Football Outsiders.

The Colts’ uncanny ability to win close games was partially responsible for this discrepancy. Last season’s Colts team went 9-1 in games decided by seven points or less.

Only two of the Colts’ 11 wins from last season were by more than two scores.

The lack of convincing wins last season shows the Colts were far from a dominating team and benefited from more than their fair share of lucky bounces.

Although the Colts are a year more experienced, they are unlikely to repeat last season’s good fortune. If their record in close games holds up, head coach Chuck Pagano might want to invest in a lottery ticket or two.

One of the reasons the Colts weren’t able to pull away from inferior teams last year was due in large part to their 31st ranked defense, according to Football Outsiders.

The Colts lost their all-time franchise leader in sacks this offseason, letting Freeney walk in free agency.

The Colts will look to new defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois in the offseason to fill the hole left by Freeney.

However, Jean-Francois’ three career sacks suggest that Freeney will be sorely missed by an already weak defense.

The Colts did well to shore up their secondary in free agency this year, signing former top-10 draft pick LaRon Landry at safety. Indianapolis also added depth to the cornerback position with Greg Toler.

Despite some quality offseason signings, the Colts still lack a blue-chip player on defense, and the 2013 unit seems doomed to repeat last year’s forgettable campaign.

Offensively, the Colts were just below average last year. Football Outsiders ranked them as the 18th best unit.

Reggie Wayne isn’t getting any younger, but Indianapolis should still see improvement on the offensive side of the ball.

The Colts’ offense was extremely young last season.

This season, the team will look to rookie sensations Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, and Vick Ballard to carry their success into their sophomore seasons.

Luck set the rookie record for passing yards in a season in 2012, but he still threw 18 interceptions and only completed approximately 54 percent of his passes.

Luck is extremely talented, but he still has room to grow as a passer. His growth will be instrumental to the Colts’ offense.

The Colts should jump from a below-average to a borderline top-10 offense if they can offer a more balanced attack on offense, and Luck cuts down on his mistakes

The AFC as a whole will be down this year, and the Colts stand to benefit from that. It would not be surprising to see them end up in the playoffs again this year, but if they do get in, it will be as an 8-8 team, not an 11-5 one.

Indianapolis has a bright long-term future.

However, in the short term, the Colts will experience their fair share of disappointment before reaching the heights of the 2012 season again.

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