I'll evaluate the strength and weaknesses on both teams, and write a brief description about how I think the games will turn out. Just keep in mind all of these predictions are made from pure speculation, and teams can get better or worse. Remember, The 2011 Colts were the favorites from the AFC to go to the Superbowl, until they were decimated by injuries. Anything can happen on any given Sunday. With that in mind, lets get right into it, hopefully I won't be TOO biased. This is part 1 of a 5 section series.
Week 1: Indianapolis Colts vs Houston Texans @ Reliant Field The Colts are 15-2 against the Houston Texans, but these Texans aren't the same team once led by David Carr. These Texans are a top 5 offense, with one of the best front 7s in the NFL. Now with the addition of Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning, and under the guidance of defensive genius Wade Phillips, they have the potential to become one of the top teams in the NFL. However, with the lack of OTAs due to the lockout, they are currently a mess at defense, trying to teach 6 months worth of OTAs in a matter of weeks. This means that Wade Phillips hasn't had enough time to work his magic on the 32nd ranked pass defense of the 2010 season. On offense, Peyton Manning must exploit this unprepared secondary in order to win. On defense, the key will be shutting down the running game, and getting a lead in order to make the Texans focus on passing. The Texans had over 250 yards on the ground last season opener, and it chewed up too much game clock, and the offense ran out of time to make a comeback. Once that's done, 'all' they have to worry about is Andre Johnson (oh, you know hes only the top receiver in the NFL) and Owen Daniels. The Colts typically struggle when asked to cover tight ends, and since Daniels is Clark 2.0, winning this match up will be key. Expect the Texans and the Lions being THE team to beat within the next few seasons. Result: Colts 27 - Texans 21 Overall Record: 1-0
2: Indianapolis Colts vs Cleveland Browns @ Lucas Oil Stadium The Cleveland Browns haven't been known to be consistent winners. They beat the New England Patriots one week, and then lose to the Bengals the next. They have an unproven quarterback, a running back who will be subject to the Madden Curse, and virtually no receivers. On defense, they have just converted from Eric Mangini's 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense, and due to the lockout, like the Texans, haven't had time to fully install the system into their personnel and players. The Browns have a decent secondary, with Sheldon Brown, Joe Haden, and TJ Ward being solid players. Their other safety position is questionable at this point with Usama Young being the projected starter. They have a decent line backing core in D'qwell Jackson, Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong, but their defensive line is consisted of 2 unproven rookies and unspectacular veterans. In essence, they have no pass rush. When playing against Peyton Manning, while having no pass rush, and an average secondary, you can expect that a lot of points will be scored against you. Also, the Browns run a West Coast Offense that relies on running and quick passes. The Colts can neutralize this by pressing their receivers (double covering Josh Cribbs) and blitzing their linebackers to stop the run. By stopping the run, they will force Colt McCoy to throw to no-name receivers while the vaunted pass rush pressures him, which will not lead to good results. Result: Colts 32 - Browns 13 Overall Record: 2-0
Week 3: Indianapolis Colts vs Pittsburgh Steelers @ Lucas Oil Stadium Thank god this game is at home. The Steelers feature a heavy power-running game, which the Colts are completely vulnerable too. They also have reliable receivers such as Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders on the outside and 'silent killer' Hines Ward in the slot. They also have a Pro-Bowl caliber QB in Ben Roethlisberger (who I think is overrated, but whatever). They also led the league in sacks, have 2 former DPOTYs on the team and are one of the the hardest teams to run on. The Steelers are typically top 5 in run defense, because of their solid defensive line led by Casey Hampton, Brett Kiesel and Aaron Smith and their linebackers led by James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons on the inside with sackmasters James Harrison and Lamaar Woodley on the outside. They have the current DPOTY in Troy Polamalu, a decent player at FS in Ryan Clark, and two average corners in Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor. Luckily, their offense line is borderline 'horrible' and 'garbage', which will really give the Colts pass-rush a time to shine. Also, their secondary CAN be exploited (see Aaron Rodgers, Superbowl). Expect them to run it for the majority of the game, which will result in about 5 yards a carry. Also, expect them to pick on our #2 corner (whomever that may be) and whoever is guarding their TE (Heath Miller) when they pass. While running may chew up the clock, they will get stopped by a heavy pass-rush during passing downs which will only lead to a small amount of points. The key for the Steelers will be great pass rush and decent coverage while the key for the Colts will be stopping the run and pressuring Roethlisberger. Once again, thank god this game is at home. "I asked Ben Roethlisberger to break a dollar for me, and he only gave me three quarters. I guess he didn't have the fourth quarter." Result: Colts 20- Steelers 17 Overall Record: 3-0
Week 4: Indianapolis Colts vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Raymond James Stadium The Tampa-Bay Buccaneers barely missed the playoffs last year. The reason for that was not because of a lack of talent, it was because they're in a division featuring the Saints AND the Falcons. They were the youngest team in the league as well, which means they should have a bright future ahead of them. Their QB, Josh Freeman is a good leader and quarterback while they have a good, young running back in LeGarrett Blount. They however don't have a great receiving corps outside of Kellen Winslow Jr. and Mike Williams. Their offensive line has a solid right side, but their left tackle and guard spots are average at best. Average will not be good enough when playing the Colts defensive line. The Bucs found their defensive tackles in last years' draft, and they found their defensive ends in this years' draft. They have the makings of a 2009 vikings or a 2006 Colts defensive line, just waiting to happen. However, their secondary is questionable with Aqib Talib (who is facing legal charges) and Ronde Barber (whos due for a rapid decline anytime soon) and no safeties worth mentioning. This isn't a good recipe for success when facing Manning. You can expect their secondary to get burned this week. The keys to this game will be shutting down the run. Once you do that, then the only two reliable receivers they have is Kellen Winslow and Mike Williams. Then double team Winslow (or use robber coverage) and let Powers single Williams. The pass rush will eventually cause Freeman to make a mistake, which Manning will capitalize on, eventually winning the game. Result: Colts 27- Buccaneers 14 Overall Record: 4-0
This is part 1 of the 5 part series, which featured weeks 1-4. I hope I wasn't too biased with it, and you can expect part 2 (weeks 5-8) within the next few days. Go Colts.