Indianapolis Colts 2022 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The Colts thought they were set for the foreseeable future under center with former #1 overall pick Andrew Luck, who made three Pro Bowls in his first five seasons in the league from 2012-2016. However, Luck missed all of 2017 with injury and, while he returned in 2018 to make another Pro Bowl and win Comeback Player of the Year, Luck opted to retire after the 2018 season at the age of just 29, citing years of nagging injuries. That led to a quarterback carousel that has seen the Colts start a different quarterback week 1 every season, dating back to Luck’s missed season in 2017.

Luck was first replaced by backup Jacoby Brissett in 2019, but he proved to be a low upside option and was replaced by aging future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers, who played well enough in 2020 to make the post-season, but the Colts didn’t make any noise once they were there and Rivers hung them up after his lone season with Indianapolis. The Colts then traded a first and third round pick to the Eagles last off-season for Carson Wentz, a reclamation project who the Colts thought could discover his old form, reunited with former Eagles offensive coordinator and current Colts head coach Frank Reich.

Wentz was better in 2021 than he was in his final season in Philadelphia, when he finished as PFF’s 34th ranked quarterback out of 42 eligible, but Wentz still only finished 23rd out of 39 eligible quarterbacks and was a limiting factor that kept one of the best rushing teams in the league out of the post-season. The Colts also paid Wentz 21.3 million for 2021, in addition to giving up a first and third round draft pick, so they clearly overpaid for a year of middling at best quarterback play.

Fortunately, the Colts were able to play the quarterback market perfectly this off-season, taking advantage of unprecedented movement at the quarterback position. They traded Wentz at the very beginning of the off-season, getting back a pair of third round picks for him from Washington, who also took on the rest of his contract, and then they waited out the quarterback market to get Matt Ryan from the Falcons for just a single third round pick. 

Not only did the Colts secure an extra third round pick in the exchange, helping them recoup draft capital from their original trade for Wentz, but the Colts also got an upgrade at the quarterback position, at a salary lower monetary cost (28.3 million to due Wentz in 2022 vs. 24.7 million for Ryan). Ryan is quite a bit older, going into his age 37 season, and he’s shown some decline in recent years, but he has still been at least a solid starting quarterback.

Over the past three seasons, Ryan has completed 66.0% of his passes for an average of 7.22 YPA, 72 touchdowns, and 37 interceptions, while finishing 18th, 11th, and 16th among quarterbacks on PFF, which is solid play, but it’s also a pretty noticeable drop off for a quarterback who finished in the top-10 among quarterbacks on PFF in 9 of his first 11 seasons in the league prior to the last three seasons. It’s always possible his play completely falls off at his age, but he should have a good chance to remain at least a solid starter, similar to Rivers in 2020. The Colts did well to maneuver to get Ryan as a replacement for Wentz under center this off-season, picking up an extra third round pick in the process.

The Colts also added veteran backup Nick Foles, reuniting him with Frank Reich, with whom he won a Super Bowl in Philadelphia. Reuniting Wentz with Reich might not have saved his career or brought back his old form, but it did get better play out of him and it could conceivably do the same for Foles, who has completed 65.3% of his passes for an average of just 6.12 YPA, 14 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in 12 starts in three seasons since leaving the Eagles. Foles is now going into his age 33 season, but he does give the Colts some upside as a backup, given how well he’s played in certain stretches of his career. Ryan is rarely out of the lineup (3 games missed in 14 seasons in the league), but if he does miss time, Foles could perform well in his absence for a few games.

Grade: B+

Running Backs

As I mentioned, the Colts had a dominant running game last season, ranking second in the NFL with 5.09 YPC and second in the NFL with 2,540 total rushing yards. The vast majority of that production came from feature back Jonathan Taylor, who led the NFL with 1,811 rushing yards (Nick Chubb was 2nd with 1,259) and 18 rushing touchdowns (no one else had more than 15) on 332 carries (Najee Harris was 2nd with 307). 

Taylor’s 5.45 YPC average was among the best in the NFL and the advanced metrics loved his performance as well, as he ranked third with 3.83 yards per carry average contract, led the league with 66 broken tackles, and ranked 13th with a 56% carry success rate, while also leading the league with 23 carries of 15 yards per more. This comes after a rookie season where the 2020 2nd round pick rushed for 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns on 232 carries (5.04 YPC) and finished as PFF’s 6th ranked running back.

Unfortunately, Taylor plays a position where it’s very hard to dominate like that two years in a row. In fact, there is almost no history of a running back producing like Taylor did last season and then repeating it the following season. Of the 23 running backs ever to rush for more than 1,700 yards in a season, only 7 of them ever surpassed that total again in their career, only one of them repeated it a third time, only 3 surpassed that total again the following season, and only 2 improved their rushing total the following season.

In total those 23 running backs rushed for an average of 1,872 yards on 367 carries (5.10 YPC) and 15 touchdowns in 30 total seasons with more than 1,700 rushing yards, but the following season, they saw their YPC fall by 13.9%, their carries fall by 24.3%, their rushing yards fall by 35.0%, and their rushing touchdowns fall by a whopping 41.8%. Applying those percentages to Taylor’s 2021 production gets 1,178 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 251 carries (4.69 YPC), which are still good numbers, and Taylor’s youth, only going into his age 23 season and his third year in the league, gives him a better shot to exceed those numbers than if Taylor were in the middle of his career, but it would still be a surprise to see him be quite as good as he was last season again. He should remain one of the best running backs in the NFL, but if he’s only good, instead of incredible, that will have a noticeable effect on this offense.

Taylor is unspectacular in the passing game, with a 1.32 yards per route run average in his career, and Nyheim Hines frequently spells him in obvious passing situations, a role he has thrived in throughout his 4 seasons in the league, averaging a 52/378/2 slash line per 16 games and a 1.48 yards per route run average, including 1.69 yards per route run over the past two seasons combined. Hines also averages about 70.5 carries per season and should see a similar total in 2022, even though he’s been pretty ineffective overall, with a 4.15 YPC average.

The Colts took a flyer on veteran free agent Phillip Lindsay this off-season and he could also compete for carries. Undrafted in 2018, Lindsay burst onto the scene with back-to-back thousand year seasons with the Broncos to begin his career, totaling 2,048 yards and 16 touchdowns on 416 carries (4.92 YPC) combined across the two seasons, but he’s completely fallen off since, totaling just 751 yards and 2 touchdowns on 206 carries (3.65 YPC) as a member of three different teams over the past two seasons. 

Lindsay is somewhat young still, only in his age 28 season, but he’s undersized at 5-8 190 and has not shown the same burst over the past two seasons. He could prove to be a worthwhile flyer and compete to be the #2 back on this offense, but he could also just as easily end up off the final roster. He doesn’t show much in the passing game either, with a career 0.95 yards per route run average. This is a deep backfield and it’s also led by one of the top running backs in the league.

Grade: A

Offensive Line

Another thing that should hurt the Colts’ running game, and their offense as a whole, is their declining offensive line. From 2018-2020, the Colts had probably the best offensive line in the NFL and they had rare continuity, with the same starters in all three seasons and no significant injury absences. However, the cracks started to show last off-season when long-time left tackle Anthony Castonzo retired and, while he was replaced by veteran Eric Fisher, he was a downgrade and he is also now no longer with the team, with no clear replacement being added. Also gone now is right guard Mark Glowinski, who signed with the Giants this off-season and also was not replaced in any sort of meaningful way. The rest of the group remains, but the Colts have clear weak spots at left tackle and right guard now.

Career backup Matt Pryor will likely take over one starting spot. The 2018 6th round pick has made 15 career starts with the Eagles and Colts in four seasons in the league, 2 at left tackle, 7 at right guard, and 6 at right tackle and he has shown some promise, but he is a projection to a season long starting role and could easily struggle. The Colts signed veteran journeyman Dennis Kelly this off-season and he’s mostly been solid in his career when counted on to play, but he’s mostly played on the right side in his career, with 36 career starts at right tackle, 11 at left tackle, and 4 at right guard, and he’s going into his age 32 season, so he would be a shaky season-long starting option as well.

The Colts also used a 3rd round pick on Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann, a versatile offensive line prospect who could earn a starting role somewhere by the end of the season. Also in the mix for playing time are a pair of recent draftees, 2020 5th round pick Danny Pinter and 2021 7th round pick Will Fries. Pinter has shown some promise in two years in the league, but he is still very unproven with just 329 career snaps played and he’s mostly seen action at center, while Fries played just 22 snaps as a rookie and did nothing to suggest he profiles as a long-term starter. Whoever wins the starting left tackle and right guard jobs will likely be a liability for the Colts’ offensive line.

The good news for the Colts’ offensive line is they have a good chance to get better play from left guard Quenton Nelson and center Ryan Kelly, who both dealt with injuries for much of last season and, as a result, they struggled by their standards. Kelly only missed three games, but struggled when on the field, finishing 34th out of 41 eligible centers on PFF, after the 2016 1st round pick finished in the top-14 at his position of PFF in each of the previous three seasons. Going into his age 29 season, Kelly could bounce back, but durability has been a concern for him throughout his career, as he’s missed 17 games in 6 seasons and has been limited in several others.

Nelson, meanwhile, missed four games, but also did not look anywhere near his top form when on the field. He still finished 26th among guards on PFF, but that was a steep drop off for a player who finished 5th, 2nd, and 4th in the first three seasons of his career from 2018-2020. Nelson had never missed a game prior to last season and is only in his age 26 season, so he has obvious bounce back potential. Thus far in his career, only injuries have kept the 2018 6th overall pick from being one of the top offensive linemen in the entire NFL. 

Right tackle Braden Smith was also selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, 37th overall at the top of the second round, and he has also developed into one of the best players in the league at his position. Smith missed six games last season, but played at his top level when on the field, finishing 16th among offensive tackles on PFF, after finishing 29th, 9th, and 17th in the first three seasons of his career respectively. He hasn’t always been the most durable player, missing time in three of four seasons in the league, but he has a good chance to play more than the 11 games he played last season. The Colts will need Kelly, Nelson, and Smith to be at their healthiest and best to compensate for their weaknesses at left tackle and right guard.

Grade: B+

Receiving Corps

The Colts’ receiving corps was a weakness last season, with Michael Pittman topping 1000 yards receiving, but their 2nd leading receiver finishing with a 38/384/3 slash line and no other wide receivers averaging more than 1.50 yards per route run. Their second leading receiver was Zach Pascal, who averaged just 0.78 yards per route run. Pascal is no longer with the team, which should be addition by subtraction, and the Colts have also yet to retain TY Hilton, who still had a decent 1.48 yards per route run average last season, but missed 7 games with injury and now heads into his age 33 season.

The Colts could still opt to bring Hilton back for what would be his 11th season with the Colts, assuming he even wants to play, after reportedly flirting with retirement for much of the off-season, but, for now, the Colts are going with a youth movement at wide receiver. Pittman will return as the #1 receiver and the 2020 2nd round pick is still only in his 3rd season in the league, while 2nd round rookie Alec Pierce and inexperienced 2019 2nd round pick Parris Campbell are expected to be the other starters in three wide receiver sets. 

Pierce comes with a lot of upside, but could be overmatched in a large role in year one, while Campbell’s inexperience comes primarily as a result of injuries, which have limited him to just 436 snaps in 15 games in three seasons in the league, making him a complete wild card in terms of what he can contribute in his 4th season in the league. The Colts also lack depth at the position, with their top reserve options being Keke Coutee, Ashton Dulin, and Dezmon Patmon. 

Coutee has shown promise with 1.49 yards per route run in his career, but the 5-11 180 pounder is a slot only option and played just 33 snaps for the Colts last season after the Texans made him a final cut last off-season, following three injury plagued seasons in Houston (25 of a possible 48 games missed). Dulin and Patmon, meanwhile, have shown very little in limited action since joining the Colts as a 2019 undrafted free agent and a 2020 6th round pick respectively. 

Given the state of the rest of the Colts wide receiver group, the Colts will once again rely heavily on Pittman, who ranked 16th in the NFL last season with 129 targets and took them for a 88/1082/6 slash line, while averaging 1.95 yards per route run and finishing as PFF’s 21st ranked wide receiver. Pittman was not an elite #1 receiver and is still a one-year wonder, after averaging just 1.37 yards per route run in a limited role as a rookie, but he also has the talent and the potential get better going forward and could easily develop into a #1 caliber wide receiver for years to come. The Colts will have to hope he can do so again this season, given their other options, and they are probably expecting him to take another step forward, with another year under his belt and a likely upgrade under center.

The Colts’ also didn’t get much out of their tight ends last season. Mo Alie-Cox led the way with a 24/316/4 slash line and a 1.28 yards per route run average, while splitting playing time with Jack Doyle, who finished with a 29/302/3 slash line and a 1.14 yards per route run average, Doyle retired this off-season, ahead of what would have been his age 32 season, and the Colts will turn to some young players to replace him. 

Kylen Granson played 227 snaps as the third tight end last season and, while he was underwhelming in his limited action, the 2021 4th round pick still has the upside to be better going forward. The Colts also used 3rd and 6th round picks on tight ends in this year’s draft, first taking Virginia’s Jelani Woods and then taking Youngstown State’s Andrew Ogletree. They’ll likely open the season as the 3rd and 4th tight ends, but they have the potential to carve out a role by the end of the season, with Woods being the more likely of the two to develop, due to his higher draft status.

With young, inexperienced players behind him on the depth chart, Mo Alie-Cox will continue to have a big role. Undrafted in 2017, Alie-Cox showed potential early in his career, averaging 1.88 yards per route run through the 2020 season, albeit in limited action. He couldn’t continue that into a larger role in 2021, but he wasn’t bad as a receiver and he had his best year as a blocker. Now going into his age 29 season, he probably doesn’t have any untapped upside, but has a good chance to be at least a capable starter. This looks like an underwhelming receiving corps again, one that will be very reliant on Michael Pittman again, but they at least have some young players with some upside and it wouldn’t be hard for this group to be better than a year ago, at least by default.

Grade: C+

Edge Defenders

The Colts made a rare player-for-player trade with no draft compensation involved this off-season, swapping cornerback Rock Ya-Sin for Raiders edge defender Yannick Ngakoue. Ya-Sin was a promising young cornerback, earning an above average grade from PFF on 592 snaps in 13 games last season, and was set to make just 2.54 million for his age 26 season in 2022, the final year of his rookie deal, while Ngakoue is set to make a considerable amount more, owed 13 million in the final year of a 2-year, 26 million dollar deal he signed with the Raiders last off-season, so he’ll have to make significantly more impact than Ya-Sin would have and I’m not sure he will.

Ngakoue is still relatively young, in his age 27 season, and has fared well as a pass rusher in recent years, totaling 47.5 sacks, 68 hits, and a 11.8% pressure rate in 79 games over the past five seasons combined, but his run defense is horrendous and it’s concerning that he’s now on his 5th team (Jaguars, Vikings, Ravens, Raiders, and Colts) in three years, moving for the third time by trade. Last season was his worst season against the run, when he finished dead last among edge defenders on PFF in run grade, likely a big part of the reason why the Raiders moved on from him for the more well-rounded Chandler Jones, who wasn’t even that much more expensive (51 million over 3 years).

Ngakoue should remain an effective pass rusher, but his run defense will hurt the Colts and he’s not nearly as good of a value as Ya-Sin would have been in the final year of his rookie deal. The Colts also have already committed a lot of draft capital to the edge defender position in recent years, most recently using their first two draft picks in 2021 on Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo, so adding someone like Ngakoue at a high salary didn’t seem necessary. 

Odeyingbo didn’t make his debut until week 8 because he was coming off of a torn achilles, but he could have been a first round pick if he was healthy during the draft and, even though he only was about average on 173 snaps as a rookie, he has the upside to be a lot better in year two, now another year removed from his injury. Paye, meanwhile, played 638 snaps as a rookie and held up pretty well, finishing in the 68th percentile among edge defenders on PFF. Like Odeyingbo, he also has a good chance to take a step forward in year two. Odeyingbo is the bigger of the two edge defenders and somewhat frequently lined up on the interior in passing situations, something he could continue to do in 2022. 

The Colts also brought back 2018 2nd round pick Tyquan Lewis on a 1-year, 2.545 million dollar deal and he also has played a hybrid edge/interior role in the past for the Colts. Lewis hasn’t shown much overall since being drafted high, never topping 415 snaps in a season and totaling just a 8.9% pressure rate for his career, which is why he had to settle for a cheap one-year deal back with the Colts as a free agent, but he was in the middle of the best year of his career last season before a knee injury ended it after 311 snaps in 8 games, with 2.5 sacks, 3 hits, and a 10.4% pressure rate, while playing well against the run. 

There’s no guarantee Lewis can keep that up over a full season, but he probably won’t have as big of a role with Ngakoue coming in and Odeyingbo expected to be healthy, and he has a good chance to be a useful rotational player. Lewis’ injury last season more or less coincided with Odeyingbo’s return, so the Colts didn’t have both available at the same time much last season. Both could continue seeing action on the interior in passing situations in 2022, as the Colts are not as deep at that position as they are on the edge. 

The Colts also have 2019 2nd round pick Ben Banogu as an option on the edge, but he hasn’t shown much of anything in three years in the league and is competing for a roster spot more than anything, after playing just 440 snaps in 3 seasons in the league and averaging just a 8.9% pressure rate, while struggling as a run defender as well. Even if he makes the final roster, he’s unlikely to see much action in a deep position group, albeit one that lacks an established every down player, with Ngakoue being a huge liability against the run and Paye and Odeyingbo only being in their second years in the league and yet to break out.

Grade: B+

Interior Defenders

As I mentioned, the Colts are thin at the interior defender position and they’ll be even thinner with key reserve Taylor Stallworth (331 snaps in 2021) now in Kansas City. The Colts used 5th and 6th round picks on Cincinnati’s Curtis Brooks and Missouri State’s Eric Johnson and it’s possible one or both have to play significant roles in year one, but both would likely be overmatched if they did. The Colts signed RJ McIntosh this off-season, but the 2018 5th round pick hasn’t played a snap in two seasons, after playing 179 nondescript snaps across the first two seasons in the league in 2018-2019. 

Without established depth on the interior, it’s not hard to see how the Colts could use Dayo Odeyingbo and Tyquan Lewis on the interior regularly. DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart both return as the starters and both will likely have to play big snap counts again, after playing 843 snaps (7th in the NFL among interior defenders) and 643 snaps respectively last season. Both played well on those big snap counts too, finishing 23rd and 20th respectively among interior defenders on PFF. 

For Buckner, last year’s performance was nothing new and, in fact, was something of a down year by his standards, as he finished with his worst grade from PFF since his rookie season in 2016. Still in the prime of his career in his age 28 season, Buckner was PFF’s 4th ranked interior defender as recently as 2020, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was closer to that level in 2022, as compared to his 23rd ranked finish in 2021. Also a talented run defender, Buckner has totaled 45 sacks, 81 hits, and a 9.8% pressure rate as almost exclusively an interior defender in 95 games in his career, while missing just two games total and averaging 54.0 snaps per game.

Stewart, on the other hand, had a career best season in 2021. The 2017 4th round pick was also solid on snap counts of 627 and 581 respectively in 2019 and 2020 and has essentially gotten better in every season of his career. The 6-4 333 entered the league as purely a situational run stuffer and he’s still at his best against the run, but has developed into a capable pass rusher as well, with a 6.3% pressure rate over the past three seasons. He might not repeat the best season of his career in 2022, but he’s still only in his age 29 season and I see no reason he wouldn’t at least be a solid starter, while playing a similar snap count to the past three seasons. He and Buckner remain as a talented starting duo at a position with questionable depth.

Grade: B+

Linebackers

Along with DeForest Buckner, the Colts’ other top defensive player is off ball linebacker Darius Leonard, who has been one of the best players in the league at his position since he entered the league as a 2nd round pick in 2018, finishing in the top-10 among off ball linebackers on PFF in all four seasons, while playing 58 of 65 games and averaging 62.2 snaps per game as a true every down linebacker. The Colts locked him up on a 5-year, 98.5 million dollar extension last off-season ahead of what would have been the final year of his rookie deal, making him the highest paid off ball linebacker in the league, and he’s still worth every penny, even at that place. Only in his age 27 season, without a serious injury history, there’s no reason to expect any drop off from Leonard any time soon.

Bobby Okereke also played an every down role in this linebacking corps last season, playing the 7th most snaps in the NFL by an off ball linebacker with 1,072, and, while he obviously wasn’t as good as Leonard, he held up pretty well in his big role, finishing in the 57th percentile among off ball linebackers on PFF. A 3rd round pick in 2019, Okereke has only been an every down player for one season, but he flashed in limited action as a part-time player in the first two seasons of his career and he could easily remain a solid player in 2022 and beyond, still only in his age 26 season.

EJ Speed, a 2019 5th round pick, and Zaire Franklin, a 2018 7th round pick, return to reserve roles, after playing 146 snaps and 201 snaps respectively last season. Both players are very inexperienced and would be a big question mark if forced into larger roles, as last season’s small snap totals were actually the highest of their careers for a single season. Leonard and Okereke are one of the better linebacker duos in the league, but the Colts’ depth is questionable.

Grade: A-

Secondary

The Colts opted not to retain cornerback Xavier Rhodes this off-season, which was understandable, as he was going into his age 32 season and coming off of a season in which he was mediocre in 13 starts. Rock Ya-Sin would have been an obvious candidate to take on a larger role in Rhodes’ absence, but he was sent to the Raiders in the Ngakoue trade, so the Colts had to give out a big contract in free agency to add a cornerback, giving Stephon Gilmore a 2-year, 20 million dollar deal, in addition to having to pay significant money for Ngakoue himself. That is money that could have been spent on other parts of the roster.

Gilmore is also heading into his age 32 season, but he’s coming off of a much better season than Rhodes and has a much higher ceiling. Gilmore was probably the best cornerback in the NFL from 2018-2019, finishing 1st and 6th among cornerbacks on PFF in those two seasons respectively, winning a Super Bowl and a Defensive Player of the Year award with the Patriots, and he still showed a high level of ability last season, when he finished as PFF’s 14th ranked cornerback with the Panthers. However, he played just 304 snaps and, in total, injuries have cost him 14 of a possible 33 games over the past two seasons. Given his age and recent injury history, it’s likely his best days are behind him and he could easily decline further or miss more time with injury in 2022. He comes with a lot of upside, but significant downside as well.

Gilmore will be the Colts’ top outside cornerback, while Kenny Moore will remain their top slot cornerback. Moore had a down year by his standards in 2021, but still earned a slightly above average grade from PFF, his 4th straight season as a starter in which he’s earned an above average grade from PFF (56 starts in 59 games), with his best year coming when he finished as PFF’s 15th ranked cornerback, just two seasons ago in 2020. Not only a slot cornerback, Moore can also hold up outside, despite being just 5-9 190. Still only going into his age 27 season, Moore should remain an above average cornerback again in 2022, playing both outside in base packages and on the slot in sub packages.

Isaiah Rodgers will likely be the third cornerback, playing outside opposite Gilmore in sub packages when Moore moves to the slot. A 6th round pick in 2020, Rodgers has shown a lot of promise in 576 snaps in two seasons in the league and could easily have a solid season in a larger role in 2022. His primary competition will come from reserve backup Brandon Facyson, who has made just 13 starts in 4 seasons in the league and has never been more than a mediocre cornerback, including a 2021 season in which he finished 120th among 134 eligible cornerbacks on PFF on 602 snaps (9 starts) with the Raiders. The free agent acquisition is likely to remain a reserve and would likely struggle if forced into extended action.

Safety was a position of weakness for the Colts in 2021, as they had four safeties play at least 376 snaps, but none of them earned even an average grade from PFF. Khari Willis and Julian Blackmon were the Colts’ week one starters at the position, but they were limited to 11 games and 6 games respectively, with Blackmon suffering a torn Achilles in week 6, and neither were particularly effective, even when on the field. 

Willis was PFF’s 36th ranked safety on 620 snaps in 2019 and the 17th ranked safety on 842 snaps in 2020 though, so the 2019 4th round pick has obvious bounce back potential, now in his 4th season in the league. Blackmon, meanwhile, was a middling player at best in 14 starts as a 3rd round rookie in 2020 and now his future is clouded by a serious injury, but he still has a good chance to remain the starter and, even coming off of an injury, he could have the upside to take a step forward in his third season in the league.

The Colts added competition at the position this off-season by drafting Nick Cross in the 3rd round and signing veteran Rodney McLeod from the Eagles. Both would be best as backups though, as Cross could be overmatched in a big role in year one, while McLeod is a long-time starter (123 starts in nine seasons since 2013) who has mostly earned average or better grades from PFF, but who is now going into his age 32 season and who is coming off of his lowest graded season from PFF since 2013. The Colts have a good chance to be better at safety by default this season, while their cornerback group should benefit from Gilmore being an upgrade on Xavier Rhodes and a possible bounce back year from Kenny Moore.

Grade: B+

Special Teams

The Colts finished last season slightly above average with a 14th ranked special teams DVOA. Kicker Michael Badgely and punter Rigoberto Sanchez were both middling players and their kickoff and punt return teams were both mediocre, but they did have five core special teams players who all finished in the top-50 special teamers on PFF. George Odum and Matthew Adams are gone from that group, signing with the 49ers and Bears respectively this off-season, but EJ Speed, Ashton Dulin, and Zaire Franklin all remain, with Armani Watts being signed from the Chiefs to give them a 4th top-50 player from a year ago. On top of that, the Colts will get kicker Rodrigo Blakenship back from injury, which should be a slight upgrade. They’ll likely continue struggling in the return game, but this should still be a solid special teams unit overall.

Grade: B

Conclusion

The Colts upgraded the quarterback position this off-season, which should help a team that almost made the post-season a year ago, but they also probably won’t get quite the same level of production from Jonathan Taylor, their receiving corps is still very questionable, and their offensive line is continuing to shed talent. Their offense should still be solid and their defense has a good chance to be a solid unit as well, but they don’t stack up with the other top teams in the AFC and, while they should be considered the favorites to win the AFC South, the weakest division in the AFC, they’re unlikely to go on a long playoff run once they get there and if they slip up in the division, it’s going to be tough for them to get a wild card spot. I will have a final prediction at the end of the off-season when all previews are completed.

Prediction: TBD, TBD in AFC South

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (9-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)

The Jaguars have the league’s worst record at 2-14 and are coming off of an embarrassing blowout defeat in New England last week, losing by a score of 50-10 in a game that was never competitive. However, there is reason to expect a lot better effort from the Jaguars this week. For one, they figure to be at least somewhat healthier, getting back starting right guard Ben Bartch, top cornerback Shaq Griffin, and starting edge defender Dawaune Smoot from COVID protocols, with starting left tackle Cam Robinson, stud starting center Brandon Linder, and starting safety Andrew Wingard possibly joining them.

Teams tend to bounce back well after a blowout loss anyway, as teams cover at a 56.3% rate all-time after a loss by 35 points or more. That is because teams tend to be highly motivated to bounce back from embarrassment, while opponents overlook them and oddsmakers and the public undervalue them based off of an overreaction to one big loss. That last part certainly seems to be the case here as the Jaguars have moved from being 8.5-point home underdogs on the early line last week to now being 15.5 point home underdogs, even with the Colts disappointing last week in a loss as big home favorites against the Raiders.

The Jaguars are inarguably one of the worst teams in the league, but the Colts are not a good enough team to be favored by this many points on the road against anyone. The Colts have a better point differential (+101) than their 9-7 record suggests, but they have also benefited from an easy schedule and a +16 turnover margin, which is not a predictive metric, while ranking just 12th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which is based on more predictive metrics like yards per play and first down rate. 

There is some uncertainty in this game with the Jaguars having the three aforementioned key players in the COVID protocols, while stud Colts’ interior defender DeForest Buckner is highly questionable after not practicing all week, but even in the best case scenario for the Colts, my calculated line is just Indianapolis -10.5, while my calculated line in the best case for the Jaguars is Indianapolis -9, so we’re getting significant line value with the Jaguars either way. Because of that, I want to lock this in now and it’s possible I increase this bet later this weekend depending on who plays and where the line settles.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 13

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +15.5

Confidence: Medium

Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) at Indianapolis Colts (9-6)

The Colts have two key questionable players for this game, with starting quarterback Carson Wentz and stud right tackle Braden Smith still yet to clear COVID protocols. This line favors the Colts by 7.5, suggesting the oddsmakers expect at least Wentz to play in this game, as this line would likely drop significantly if he were ruled out and backup Sam Ehlinger had to start. I think we are getting line value with the Raiders at that number even if Wentz and Smith play though, as my calculated line with Wentz and Smith favors the Colts by just 4.5 points (3 points with only Wentz). 

At first glance, a 7.5-point spread seems fair, given that the Raiders have a +71 point differential and the Colts have a +104 point differential, but these two teams are much more even than that suggests. While the Colts have faced a relatively easy schedule and have benefited significantly from a +14 turnover margin, which is not a predictive metric, the Raiders have faced a tougher schedule and have a -9 turnover margin. The Raiders also have largely underperformed on third and fourth downs relative to their early down performance, which tends to even out in the long run. 

The Raiders rank 14th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 7th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, but are just 26th and 14th respectively in third and fourth down conversion percentage and just 24th and 31st respectively in both third and fourth down conversion percentage allowed. In terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the Raiders rank 11th overall, actually slightly ahead of the 12th ranked Colts.

The Raiders haven’t been as good on offense since losing top wide receiver Henry Ruggs and stud tight end Darren Waller, but they haven’t been bad on offense either and still have an above average defense, while the Colts will at least be without left tackle Eric Fisher this week. I want to lock this in right now because it sounds like the Raiders will get their key COVID questionables (Casey Hayward, KJ Wright, Darius Philon, Denzel Perryman, and Cory Littleton) back today, while Wentz and Smith are truly questionable, so I don’t expect this line to get any higher. Unless the Raiders don’t get those players back, the highest my calculated line would go is 4.5 and, if Wentz and Smith are both out, I would have the Raiders favored by 1.5 points. This is a high confidence pick and a Pick of the Week candidate.

Update: Wentz and Smith are playing for the Colts, but I don’t have any regrets about making this a high confidence pick, as the Raiders will have all of their COVID questionables available for this game.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Las Vegas Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: Las Vegas +7.5

Confidence: High

Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (8-6) at Arizona Cardinals (10-4)

The Cardinals started the season 7-0 and survived a 3-game stretch without quarterback Kyler Murray in which they went 2-1, but since Murray has returned from injury, I have thought the Cardinals are an overrated team. The Cardinals may have gone 2-1 without Murray, but they managed just an even point differential against a relatively easy schedule and seemed to be missing top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and top interior defender JJ Watt arguably even more than they were missing Murray, whose replacement Colt McCoy was largely a steady hand for the 3-game stretch. 

Murray returned from his injury three games ago, but Watt and Hopkins have remained out indefinitely, which makes them significantly less talented than they were during their hot start to the season. The Cardinals have also benefited significantly from winning the turnover margin, ranking 4th in the NFL with a +10 turnover margin, which is not a predictive metric week-to-week. Yards per play and first down rate differential are much more predictive and in terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, the Cardinals have never been as impressive as their record, currently ranking 9th in the NFL overall, while ranking 10th, 19th, and 12th respectively on offense, defense, and special teams.

The Cardinals being overrated after Murray’s return has proven to be the case, as they have covered in just one of three games since his return and that was an 11-point win as 7.5-point favorites over the Bears, in a game in which they won the turnover battle by 4 and likely would not have covered if one or two of those turnovers did not happen. The Cardinals’ recent rough patch culminated in an embarrassing double digit loss to the previously 1-win Lions last week, losing 30-12 as 12.5-point favorites.

That result will likely prove to be more of a fluke than anything though and, in the wake of that loss, the Cardinals may actually be a little underrated now. A week ago on the early line, the Cardinals were favored by 5 points in this matchup with the Colts, but the line has since shifted all the way down to 1.5 points. Teams tend to cover after a big upset loss like that, covering at a 57.4% rate after a loss as favorites of 10 points or more, as teams tend to be much more focused as a result of the embarrassment and also tend to be undervalued. The latter is definitely true for the Cardinals this week, while the former is likely to be true as well.

The Colts did have an impressive victory over the Patriots last week, but that was a game in which they lost the first down rate and yards per play battle despite being slightly favored, so that should not have triggered that big of a line shift, especially since the Colts have since lost both of their talented starting guards to COVID protocols, meaning they will be down three of five starters on an offensive line that normally would be the strength of this roster. Even though I don’t think the Cardinals are quite as good as their record, my calculated line still has them favored by a field goal over the short-handed Colts, so we are getting line value with the Cardinals at -1.5. It’s not enough to bet on them, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Update: Unfortunately for the Colts, stud linebacker Darius Leonard tested positive before the game and won’t be able to play. This is obviously a huge loss and pushes my calculated line up to Arizona -5.5, but the line has also shifted to Arizona -3 and I don’t think there’s enough line value for this to be worth betting. I may reconsider before gametime, especially if the line drops back down under 3, but for now I’m keeping this as low confidence.

Arizona Cardinals 26 Indianapolis Colts 20

Pick against the spread: Arizona -3

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (9-4) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

The Patriots are not only on a seven game winning streak right now, but they also have covered in all seven games by at least a touchdown, a significant feat that has not happened in at least three decades, which shows they have been consistently underrated. I think that remains the case as the Patriots, who lead the league in point differential at +150 and could easily be 11-2 or 12-1 right now if their offensive line was healthy at the beginning of the season, are 2.5-point underdogs in Indianapolis against the Colts, suggesting these two teams are seen as about even.

The Colts are also better than their record at 7-6, also in large part due to their offensive line getting healthy. They started 0-3 with two multi-score losses, but since then they are 7-3 with all three losses coming by one score to likely playoff qualifiers and six of their seven wins coming by double digits, leading to them having a point differential of +88 that ranks 7th in the NFL. However, they have played an easier schedule overall than the Patriots and are just 2-4 against teams with a winning record, while the Patriots are 4-2 and possess a significant edge in point differential even with a tougher schedule. In terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the Patriots rank 3rd, while the Colts rank 12th, with about five points separating the two. 

My calculated line has the Patriots favored by a field goal, so we’re getting significant line value with the Patriots as 2.5-point underdogs. In most weeks, this wouldn’t be my Pick of the Week, but, in looking at the rest of the games this week, I don’t expect to like a side more than New England, given all of the COVID uncertainty. The Eagles and Raiders were sides I liked earlier in the week, but it’s tough to know what to make of those games now, with their opponents missing half their roster, the games being rescheduled, and the lines getting taken off the board. 

I will do my picks as normal tomorrow, but I don’t anticipate locking in many, if any other bets before Sunday morning, due to the likelihood of gametime COVID absences, and even then I don’t see myself liking many sides enough to bet on them. The only reason I am locking this one in now is because it’s my Pick of the Week and because, thus far, both teams have been minimally affected by COVID absences this week and are unlikely to have a significant gameday outbreak tomorrow for this Saturday Night Football game. 

New England Patriots 26 Indianapolis Colts 23 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: New England +2.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Houston Texans (2-9)

The Texans shockingly pulled the upset over the Titans in Tennessee two weeks ago, but that was a fluke win driven by a +5 turnover margin, which is not predictive. In more predictive metrics, the Titans won the first down rate and yards per play battle by significant amounts and likely would have won by multiple scores if not for all of the turnovers, despite the fact that the Titans are a middling team at best without Derrick Henry. The Texans’ only other win came against the lowly Jaguars, all the way back in week 1, when the Texans had a healthier offensive line. 

In all of their other games, the Texans have lost, in many cases by a wide margin. Six of their nine losses have come by double digits and they have an average margin of defeat of 17 points per game. That martin of defeat would be even higher if the Patriots weren’t missing most of their offensive line in their 3-point win, a game in which the Patriots still won the first down rate battle by 8.67%, and if the Texans hadn’t scored 22 meaningless garbage points against the Rams in a game in which they were down 38-0 going into the 4th quarter. In schedule adjusted efficiency, the Texans rank 32nd, 26th, and 22nd on offense, defense, and special teams respectively, with a mixed efficiency that not only ranks dead last in the lineup, but by six points behind the next worst team.

The Texans have been better since getting quarterback Tyrod Taylor back from injury, replacing raw rookie Davis Mills under center, and they have not lost by double digits with him in the lineup, but he’s only played four full games and the Colts are the toughest team he has faced thus far. The Colts are just 6-6, but their +57 point differential is much better than their record (7th best in the NFL) and they haven’t lost by more than one score since the first three weeks of the season, when they were dealing with significant injury issues, with their two best offensive linemen (Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith) and quarterback Carson Wentz playing at much less than 100%. All three are healthy now.

On top of that, all of the Colts losses since their injury plagued 0-3 start have been to teams likely to make the post-season and all three were winnable, while their easiest four games have all resulted in wins, by an average of 14.8 points per game. In schedule adjusted efficiency, the Colts rank 7th, 27th, and 4th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and, now healthier, they are an even better team than their 12th ranked mixed efficiency suggests. They should be able to win by multiple scores against the Texans, even in Houston, even with the Texans having Tyrod Taylor back.

Unfortunately, we have lost a lot of line value in the past week, with the Colts going from 7-point favorites on the early line to 10-point favorites this week. It’s not even really clear why, as the Texans lost to the Jets by one score as small favorites and the Colts lost to the Buccaneers by one score as small underdogs. It’s possible the odds makers and the public just realized that seven was a bad line and that the Texans’ win over the Titans was a complete fluke, but either way, we have lost significant line value. My calculated line has the Colts favored by 12.5, so we are still getting some line value, but I would need this line to drop back down below 10 to consider betting on the Colts. This should be a blowout, but I need a little bit better of a line to be confident betting on it.

Indianapolis Colts 30 Houston Texans 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -10

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) at Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

The Colts are getting some hype after last week’s upset win in Buffalo, a blowout victory on the road against a team that was previously seen by many as the best team in the AFC, and it’s not hard to understand why. In addition to last week’s big win, the Colts have also won six of their past eight games, since an injury plagued 0-3 start, with their two losses both coming in overtime against likely playoff teams in the Titans and Ravens. They also have another one-score loss against a likely playoff team from earlier in the season, when they lost to the Rams by a field goal, and overall, they haven’t lost by double digits since week one.

However, that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. For one, even with those aforementioned games against the Titans, Ravens, Rams, and Bills, the Colts have still faced one of the easiest schedules in the league, with four of their six wins coming against the Jets, Texans, Jaguars, and Dolphins, who are all among the worst teams in the league. They have also had unsustainable success in the turnover margin, leading the league by a wide margin at +15, in large part due to their easy schedule. 

Turnover margin is one of the least predictive metrics in the league and, in terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which are based on more predictive metrics like first down rate and turnover margin, the Colts rank 11th, 26th, 5th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and 15th in overall mixed efficiency. The Colts are better than that on offense with quarterback Carson Wentz over the early season injuries that limited him, their two best offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith back from injury, and starting wide receiver TY Hilton back as well, but they still aren’t quite the contender that the public seems to think they are.

The Colts schedule continues to be tougher this week with the Buccaneers coming to town and, even if turnover margins were somewhat predictive, it would be hard to see the Colts having the same sort of success in the turnover battle in this matchup against the Buccaneers as they did in matchups against the worst teams in the league. The Buccaneers have a +5 turnover margin on the year, but, more importantly, they also rank 2nd, 8th, 23rd, and 1st in offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively. The Buccaneers are also in a good spot, coming off of a Monday Night Football win by 20+ points, a spot in which teams cover at a 59.9% rate all-time, while the Colts could be a little flat after playing their best game of the season last week and winning in Buffalo in upset fashion.

I am going to be picking the Buccaneers for pick ‘em purposes regardless, but depending on the status of some of Tampa Bay’s questionable players, I may end up betting on them. The Buccaneers will be without guard Ali Marpet, one of the best players in the league at his position, which will be a big absence, but their defense could get defensive tackle Vita Vea back from a one-game absence and cornerback Carlton Davis back from a 6-game absence, which would more than offset the loss of Marpet on offense. For now, I am leaving this as a low confidence pick, but if there is good injury news and the line stays put, I will update this pick.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 Indianapolis Colts 24

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -3

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (5-5) at Buffalo Bills (6-3)

The Bills don’t have the best record in the league at 6-3, but they lead the league in point differential by a wide margin at +145, as all three of their losses have come by just one score, while their six wins have come by an average of 26.2 points per game, with none coming by fewer than 15 points. Normally, this would be a sign that the Bills will win at a higher rate going forward, as their record in close games starts to even out, but the Bills have also faced by far the easiest schedule in the league. Six of their nine games have come against teams with three wins or fewer and the Bills are just 1-2 in their other three games.

There are still a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Bills, who rank 1st and 3rd respectively in defensive and special teams efficiency, even when schedule is taken into account, and are more talented on offense than their 12th place rank in efficiency suggests, but they face a much tougher test than they are used to this week, with the Colts coming to town. The Colts are just 5-5, but that still gives them the 4th best record of any of the Bills’ opponents this season and they are even better than their record suggests.

The Colts have also faced a relatively easy schedule, but they have still faced a tougher schedule than the Bills and they have a +38 point differential, 9th in the NFL, despite suffering through some early season injuries, including the extended absence of their two best offensive linemen Braden Smith and Quenton Nelson and an ankle injury that limited quarterback Carson Wentz for several weeks. The Colts average margin of victory has been 14.2 points per game, while their five losses have all come against 2020 playoff qualifiers, including a pair of overtime losses, a loss by a field goal, a 9-point loss in a game in which Wentz was far from 100%, and a 12-point loss in week one.

We’re not getting a ton of line value with the Colts at +7.5 and I’m hesitant to bet big against a team who has so many blowout victories on the season, but we’re still getting some line value with the Colts, who should be able to at least keep this game close like most of their games, while giving the Bills a much tougher test than most of the teams that have the Bills blown out. The Colts are also in a better spot, with the Bills having to play again in four days on Thursday Night Football, a situation in which favorites cover at just a 40.7% rate all-time. This isn’t a big play and I wouldn’t take the Colts at +7, but if you can find a good +7.5, they are worth a bet.

Buffalo Bills 23 Indianapolis Colts 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +7.5

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 10 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) at Indianapolis Colts (4-5)

The Jaguars shockingly pulled the 9-6 upset as 15-point home underdogs against the Bills last week. Normally, that would put them in a bad spot this week, as teams cover at just a 40.9% rate all-time after a win as home underdogs of 5 or more. However, that is because teams tend to be overvalued and/or flat in that spot and I don’t know if either of those will be the case this week. 

I was expecting the Jaguars’ win last week to shift this line significantly, but the Jaguars are still 10-point underdogs, a week after being underdogs of 10.5 points on the early line last week, so they’re not overvalued. On top of that, it’s possible they could still bring a high level of intensity and focus even after last week’s win because they are once again big underdogs and, this time around, facing a divisional opponent.

The Colts are also in a bad spot, as big home favorites before a much tougher game next week in Buffalo. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 43.7% rate before facing an opponent whose winning percentage is at least 40% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage and that applies to the Colts this week. With that in mind, I am actually taking the Jaguars this week, albeit for a low confidence pick. Even if both teams are in bad spots, I think we are getting a little bit of line value with the Jaguars, as I have them calculated as 8.5-point underdogs.

The Colts four wins have all come by double digits, their point differential (+32) suggests they’ve been better than their record, and they are healthier than they were early in the season, but they also have benefited from the 2nd best turnover margin in the league at +10, which is unlikely to continue, and they rank just 12th, 22nd, and 18th respectively in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency. The Jaguars rank 18th, 28th, and 25th, but have been a little better in recent weeks and are the better side for pick ’em purposes as underdogs of this many points.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +10

Confidence: Low

New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

New York Jets (2-4) at Indianapolis Colts (3-5)

Neither of these two teams are in a good spot this week. The Jets are coming off of a surprising upset victory over the Bengals as 11-point home underdogs, winning their first game with backup quarterback Mike White under center, but the Jets were in a great spot last week, embarrassed after a blowout in New England the week before, facing a Bengals team that was in a trap game spot between a big upset of the Ravens the previous week and another big divisional game against the Browns on deck, meaning they were likely to overlook a 1-win team starting a backup quarterback.

This week, the Colts will have more tape on Mike White than the Bengals did a week ago and the Jets win last week also puts them in a bad spot this week, as teams tend to be flat after a big home upset victory, covering at just a 41.1% rate all-time after a win as home underdogs of 5 points or more. The Jets had a similar situation earlier this year, pulling a home upset victory over the Titans as 6-point underdogs, only to be mostly uncompetitive against a mediocre at best Falcons team the following week.

Making matters worse, Mike White and the Jets will have to go on the road to face a solid Colts team on a short week. It tends to be very tough for a team to go on the road and face a superior team out of the division on a short week and, as a result, non-divisional road underdogs cover at just a 35.0% rate on a short week, with that percentage dropping to 27.5% as underdogs of 7 points or more. The Colts are just 3-5, but they are much better than their record, as all three of their wins have come by double digits, while three of their five losses have come by one score against teams that currently have two losses or fewer (Rams, Ravens, Titans). 

Of the Colts’ two losses by more than one score, one was a competitive 9-point loss, also against the Titans, in a game that could have been even more competitive had Colts quarterback Carson Wentz not been playing with two sprained ankles, which he has since healed from, while their other double digit defeat was back in week one. The Colts also were without their top two offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith for 4 games and 6 games respectively and have seen them return from those injuries in the past couple weeks, though Nelson remains at less than 100%. Despite the Colts’ underwhelming record, it will be tough for the Jets to come on the road and be competitive with them on a short week.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting any line value with the Colts, who are favored by 10.5 points, despite still missing some regular contributors on both sides of the ball. The Colts are also in a terrible spot because their loss to the Titans last week came in overtime, putting them in a near impossible spot on a short week, with teams historically covering just 6 times out of 34 on Thursday Night Football after an overtime contest the week before. 

As bad of a spot as the Jets are in, the Colts are in an even worse spot and, if anything, we’re actually getting some line value with the Jets, who I have calculated as 10-point underdogs. White is likely to struggle much more than he did a week ago, but he could still be the Jets’ best quarterback, so the Jets don’t like as bad of a bet as they did a few weeks ago. There are too many conflicting things going on in this game to bet on the Jets confidently, but they are the better side for pick ’em purposes as they are in the slightly better spot and are getting a little bit of line value.

Indianapolis Colts 24 New York Jets 16

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +10.5

Confidence: Low