Five of us asked to pick the AFC South still have the Colts winning the division.
While Peyton Manning is the big story and his status can change things, once he’s back he will be surrounded by a team that has a lot of key pieces back and healthy. Don't fool yourself. This will be a very talented team.
Here’s my intelligence report on Indianapolis. You can find it along with the predictions, a draft element from Mel Kiper and a look inside the number from ESPN Stats & Information here.
Five things you need to know about the Colts:
1. Quarterback uncertainty: A lot of people are saying Peyton Manning will start the opener, no matter what. Really? No matter whether doctors advise against it? I don't think so. He's driven, for sure, but he's not putting himself at medical risk. I expect we may not know his status until 90 minutes before the Sept. 11 game in Houston kicks off. In the meantime, late addition Kerry Collins provides an upgrade at backup. He needs better protection and a better run game than Manning's been getting in recent years to have a chance at success.
2. Stopping the run is key: The Colts failed to stop Arian Foster in the opener a year ago. They'll face the same challenge at Reliant Stadium on Sept. 11, followed by Peyton Hillis, Rashard Mendenhall, LeGarrette Blount and Jamaal Charles. Is the front good enough to stop those types of runners? It needs to be, especially if the offense isn't primed to run out to the sort of leads that prompt opponents to stop running it. Additions like Drake Nevis, Jamaal Anderson and Tommie Harris may help the front be better overall.
3. Special teams, with benefits: The new kickoff rule won't make kickoffs obsolete the way many doomsayers are predicting, but it certainly will make them less important. This is a great thing for the Colts, who regularly underachieve on special teams. Pat McAfee will bury a high percentage of kickoffs in the end zone and the team's lack of a consistent return man won't matter as much. When Manning is in place, the offense will happily take the ball at the 20-yard line at the start of most drives in exchange for not suffering as it did on Antonio Cromartie's big return late in the playoff loss to the Jets. McAfee's used that big leg to become adequate at long-range field goals. Once they are out of Adam Vinatieri's range, they could try the punter in desperate situations.
4. Depth a concern: Indianapolis has unproven depth at both safety and corner, and injuries akin to last year's could really leave the Colts exposed. They let Kelvin Hayden go in a salary-cutting move. That leaves them with Jerraud Powers, Jacob Lacey and Justin Tryon as their top-three corners, with untested Kevin Thomas fourth. They re-signed Melvin Bullitt to play safety alongside Antoine Bethea, but all the options behind them are young and haven't done much. It could be an issue.
5. Short-yardage offense: Joseph Addai can be effective in all situations, but he'd likely benefit and be fresher later in the season if he played fewer snaps. When the Colts are moving the ball, they go no-huddle and trap opponents in personnel packages, unable to substitute. The thing is, they are also unable to substitute. The Colts might do well to pause a bit more often to get rookie Delone Carter on the field to give them their best cracks on third-and-short and near the goal line.