It’s natural to look at what the Indianapolis Colts accomplished last season and selfishly believe 11-5 is suddenly going to sprout an even better win-loss record.
Andrew Luck, Vick Ballard and T.Y. Hilton are a year older. No rookies in that sentence. Not after 16 regular-season games and the invaluable experience of playing a playoff game on the home field of the eventual Super Bowl champions.
Then there’s general manager Ryan Grigson, who has gone to great lengths over the past few months to improve both the overall roster and team depth. No longer a rookie, either.
Interlock the puzzle pieces and it certainly looks promising.
But as a certain former Indiana University football coach blurts a few hundred times each fall, “Not so fast, my friend.” And, no, it’s not Sam Wyche.
If it were up to me, the 2013 Colts would run the table, hammer every opponent by 20 or more points and be known as the NFL’s all-time greatest team. Then, remarkably, the 2014 Colts are even better.
But that’s not realistic. Not in a dynasty-proof era in which parity runs rampant and the fine lines separating good from great and marginal from good might be two waiver wire acquisitions.
There are other factors of concern. Mainly:
Arians in Arizona: Time will tell if Bruce Arians was simply an interim head coach or the glue binding players and his fellow coaches together. I’m suspecting both.
Arians in the wake of Chuck Pagano’s leukemia diagnosis parlayed his unbelievable penchant for crisis management into the head coaching job at Arizona. Deservedly so. But will the Colts be the same animal without him?
A more challenging schedule: Remove the customary divisional home-and-aways and Indianapolis welcomes Denver, Oakland, St. Louis, Seattle and Miami to Lucas Oil Stadium. Road dates are Kansas City, San Diego, Arizona, San Francisco and Cincinnati.
I see six games in these 10 alone where the Colts, if healthy, should be favored to win. Mix in potential sweeps of Tennessee and Jacksonville and right there are 10 victories.
Unlike 2012, though, Indy cannot and will not sneak up on anybody. Remember, this was a franchise that a year ago at this time was being projected to finish 2-14. Or worse.
The “Gipper’ factor: Thank heavens Pagano won his fight. Great guy who is both a heck of a motivator and wonderful in the community.
That said, will players run through the proverbial brick wall for their coach this season like they did in the weeks he lay in a hospital bed facing an uncertain future?
We can speculate and say “Yes.” After all, these are well-paid professionals who in many cases can be trimmed from the roster at a moment’s notice.
Truth is, we just don’t know.
It’s only April. Too, too early to predict a record. Indianapolis still has the NFL Draft later this month, organized team activities and, of course, training camp at Anderson University ahead of it.
Hopefully, the miracles floating about once upon a time haven’t pulled up stakes and left town. Just don’t be shocked if your favorite team finishes 9-7 or 8-8.
Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.