It wasn’t that long ago the Indianapolis Colts were on the verge of being a legit Super Bowl contender. A big reason for that was the team had made the playoffs in each of the first three seasons after taking Andrew Luck with the No.1 overall pick in the 2012 draft. They posted a record of 33-15 during this 3-year run, making it as far as the AFC Championship Game in 2014.

In the 3 years since that run ended, Luck has played in just 22 games. The Colts have gone just 20-28 during this stretch, including a mere 4-12 record last year with Luck sidelined the entire season.

It’s hard to blame the head coach for a bad season when your franchise quarterback misses the entire year, especially one of Luck’s caliber, but head coach Chuck Pagano was let go after the 2017 campaign.

It appeared as if the Colts had landed Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to replace Pagano, but McDaniels backed out of the job last minute. The team instead with with Frank Reich, who spent the past two seasons as the offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles. It will be Reich’s first shot as a head coach after spending the past 9 years as an assistant for numerous teams, including the Colts, who he worked for from 2008-2010.

Whether or not Reich has any chance of getting Indianapolis back to the postseason will hinge heavily on the surgically repaired right shoulder of Luck. At this time, Luck is on track to be ready to start the Week 1 opener against the Bengals, but will he be the same guy that he was before the injury.

If he is, the Colts might be the biggest sleeper in the NFL. In Luck’s last 38 NFL games, he’s thrown an impressive 86 touchdowns, which is about 2.3 TD’s/game (Tom Brady is averaging 2.0 TD’s game over the last 3 seasons).

A big reason Luck has struggled with injuries in recent years, is the lack of resources used on the offensive line. This year the Colts finally got it right, using their 1st round pick (No. 6 overall) on Notre Dame guard Quentin Nelson, who won’t take long to become one of the top left guards in the entire league.

Nelson will be sandwiched around a couple of former 1st round picks in left tackle Anthony Castonzo and center Ryan Kelly. They team also used a 2nd round pick on Auburn guard Braden Smith, who will compete with Joe Haeg, Jack Mewort and veteran Matt Slauson at right guard. The Colts also signed veteran right tackle Austin Howard to compete with Le’Raven Clark and Denzelle Good for the starting spot.

An improved offensive line won’t just help keep Luck upright, but it should also give a boost to a running game that ranked just 22nd in the NFL last year at 103.8 ypg. The ageless veteran Frank Gore wasn’t brought back, leaving a trio of youngsters to compete for carries. The favorite to start is 2nd-year back Marlon Mack, but he will need to beat out a couple of talented rookies in Ole Miss’ Jordan Wilkins and NC State’s Nyheim Hines. Robert Turbin and Christian Michael are two others in the mix.

No unit will benefit more from the return of Luck than the receiving corps. Most notably speedy wide out T.Y. Hilton, who had his streak of 4 straight 1,000 yard seasons snapped last year. Hilton is the only sure thing at wide receiver, but the team is high on free agent pickup Ryan Grant and really likes their tight end duo of Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron.

There’s no doubt that the offense will be improved if Luck is healthy, the big question is whether or not the defense will be good enough for it to matter. Last year the Colts ranked 30th in both yards allowed (367.1 ypg) and scoring defense (25.2 ppg). They were also 31st in sacks with just 25.

The first step in improving the stop unit will be learning the scheme of new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, whose only previous coaching experience at the pro level is as a linebackers coach for the Browns and most recently the Cowboys. Eberflus will be transitioning the defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3.

Up front it’s going to battle between veteran Al Woods and youngsters Hassan Ridgeway, Grover Stewart and Caraun Reid for the starting two defensive tackle spots, though all four figure to see action. Rookie 2nd round pick Tyquan Lewis could also be used at defensive tackle. The big question is who is going to provide the pass rush at the two defensive end spots. Marcus Hunt figures to get a shot, ┬ábut could be pushed to a reserve role behind last year’s outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and John Simon. 2nd round pick Kemoko Turay could also be in the mix.

At linebacker, 3rd-year backer Atonio Morrison figures to start in the middle alongside free agent pickup Najee Goode and 2nd round pick Darius Leonard out of South Carolina State.

As far as the secondary is concerned, it’s got a lot of young guys that a lot of people likely haven’t heard of. The big name that most will recognize is free safety Malik Hooker, who was last year’s 1st round pick. The three corners expected to play significant roles are Pierre Desir, Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston, all of which have been in the league for 2 years or less. The old guy in the defensive backfield will be 4th-year safety Clayton Geathers, who missed most of last season with an injury.

2018 Colts Schedule & Projected Odds

Below you will find the early odds released by Vegas for Weeks 1-16, as well as my projected number for Week 17. Using the lines we are able to give a game-by-game win probability, which we used to come up an expected win total.

WeekOpponentEst. OddsWins
1Bengals-10.51
2at Redskins+30.41
3at Eagles+100.16
4Texans+30.41
5at Patriots TNF+10.50.14
6at Jets+1.50.48
7Bills-20.54
8at Raiders+60.29
9BYEBYEBYE
10Jaguars+40.34
11Titans+10.49
12Dolphins-2.50.55
13at Jaguars+7.50.22
14at Texans+7.50.22
15Cowboys+30.41
16GiantsPK0.50
17at Titans+4.50.33

Projected Wins: 5.98

Over/Under Wins Prediction: OVER 6.5

I would have to lean towards the OVER with the Colts win total of 6.5. As you likely guessed, I’m making this prediction with the expectation that Luck is going to not just be in the lineup Week 1, but also playing at or near the same level we last saw him in 2016.

I’m actually a bit shocked that there’s not a bigger buzz around this Colts team going into the 2018 season. I think the big reason they aren’t is there’s still some uncertainty with Luck and so many people are high on the Texans and Jaguars out of the same division.

I’m not saying Indianapolis is going to be better than either of those teams, as I’m equally high on both Houston and Jacksonville. I just think there’s a really good chance that with Luck back in the mix the Colts can win at least 7 games.

What a lot of people overlook with last year’s 4-12 record is just how close this team was to finishing around .500. Indy had 6 losses by a touchdown or less, several of which they blew leads in the 4th quarter. Keep in mind that the Colts had won no fewer than 8 games in each of Luck’s first 5 seasons in the league.

Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +7000

If you are someone who is looking for a big pay day with one of the long shots to win the Super Bowl, I definitely think there’s some value to be had with the Colts at +7000. Considering Indy has already been within 1-game of the Super Bowl with Luck, it’s not out of the question that he could take them there in 2018.

A lot will have to go right for the Colts to win it all, but at this price they are basically being given the same chance of winning the title as the Bucs (+7000), Redskins (+7500) and Browns (+7500). The only teams with worse odds are the Cardinals, Bills, Bengals, Bears, Dolphins and Jets. You tell me of those teams who you would rather take a shot on.

Odds to Win the AFC: +2500

As is typically the case, when there’s value on a team to win the Super Bowl, there’s a good chance we are going to see similar value with them to win their conference. As of right now the Colts are sitting at +2500 to win the AFC, which is quite a bit higher than a team I think they are better than in their own division in Tennessee, who is sitting at +1500.

Odds to Win the AFC South: +500

If Luck stays healthy and returns to form, the offensive line takes a big step forward and the defense thrives in the new 4-3 scheme, the Colts definitely have a shot at winning the AFC South. With that said, it won’t be easy given how good both the Texans and Jaguars appear on paper. Not to mention the Titans were a playoff team a year ago.