Can the future be now? Please?
Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard will require time to rebuild a roster decimated by a string of failed drafts authored by his predecessor Ryan Grigson. The defense was a train wreck last season, and without franchise quarterback Andrew Luck likely for half the season, the odds of the Colts finding a way to the playoffs seemed scant prior to the opener.
Truth be told, the odds are still long. The defense is full of holes, and while Luck appears to be inching ever closer to playing, the date of his return has not yet been circled by team officials or Luck — at least not publicly.
But here the Colts are after five games, just a game back of the division-leading Jacksonville Jaguars, with a stretch of five games against AFC South competition in the next seven weeks.
Hope in the Colts winning the AFC South may be poorly invested, but that’s no reason to avoid embracing it. The list of five reasons to hope the Colts may win the AFC South isn’t entirely pie in the sky, because like the man who understands he needs only to outrun his slowest companion and not the bear, the Colts don’t need to be the best team in the NFL — just the best among a group which includes the Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, and Houston Texans.
Here are the five reasons hope isn’t futile for Colt fans:
5. Andrew Luck
Even if Luck doesn’t take a live snap until the Bengals game in Week 8, the Colts could become very competitive very quickly upon his return. Jacoby Brissett has been more good than bad as Luck’s understudy, but the real deal could be the difference if Brissett can help the Colts tread water as Luck finishes his recovery from shoulder surgery.
4. Run Defense
If you can’t defend the run, there’s no point in having a great pass defense. The Colts, minus the game against the Seahawks, have been stout against the run. If you deduct the 194 yards Seattle tallied from the total, the Colts have allowed an average of 80.8 yards per game — which would be good for eighth in the NFL. Yes, the Colts’ overall defensive ranking is 31st, but a deeper dig into the numbers shows improvement.
3. Blake Bortles
The starting quarterback of the division-leading Jaguars is Blake Bortles. That’s reason enough to suspect the Jags are going to eventually struggle despite their ranking as the NFL’s best in takeaway/giveaway differential (+10).
2. J.J. Watt & Whitney Mercilus out, and Marcus Mariota balky
Within minutes last Sunday, the Houston Texans lost their two most valuable defensive players for the season. Mariota’s hamstring might not keep him on the bench Monday night against the Colts, but it will limit mobility, his most dangerous asset. Couple those injuries with Bortles’ presence under center for the Jags, and the AFC South is even more mediocre than expected — and that’s saying something.
1. Chuck Pagano
I know. Pagano is almost certain to be slogging through his final season as the Colts’ coach, but he is at his best with his back against a wall, and the Colts are definitely against a wall. His clock management, inexplicable special teams gambits, and challenge usage boggle the mind, but somehow he managed to lead the Colts to 8-8 records in 2015 and 2016. This season, Pagano will find a way to keep the Colts motivated to play for something. If they hope — we hope! Pagano will keep the locker room full of hope.
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