When I previewed the Colts' road schedule for the coming season back at the start of June, the team hadn't locked up star quarterback Andrew Luck to a new extension yet, but I wrote that he would be the highest-paid player in league history by the time the team reported to camp. And that happened at the end of last month as Luck got a whopping six-year, $140 million deal. In reality, NFL contracts aren't worth the total value released. It's all about guaranteed money, and Luck got $87 million, by far the most in league history. The mark had been $65 million, but then Broncos linebacker Von Miller got $70 million guaranteed earlier this month to top all defensive players.
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I guess Luck is worth it, although he's coming off a very serious injury -- a lacerated kidney -- suffered in Week 9 of last season against Denver that ended his season. Luck really wasn't playing that well in 2015 when healthy, completing just 55.3 percent of his passes with 15 TDs, 12 picks and a rating of 74.9. Maybe that's who Luck will always be: a lower-completion, high-risk, high-reward gunslinger somewhat like Brett Favre.
Luck rarely has gotten a ton of help from GM Ryan Grigson in Luck's four seasons in the NFL. His offensive line has always been below-average and probably will be again this year. The Colts' running game has been terrible the past four years. In Luck's 61 starts (including playoffs), the Colts have produced one 100-yard rusher (Vick Ballard in 2012). Shoot, there were three games in which the Colts failed to rush for 5 yards, and Luck has finished four games as the Colts' leading rusher. I don't really see much improving there, either, as Indy is still counting on past-his-prime Frank Gore.
In free agency, the Colts lost tight end Coby Fleener and arguably their best overall linebacker in Jerrell Freeman. There were really no big free-agent additions unless you count former Packers backup QB Scott Tolzien. He will now serve as Luck's backup with Matt Hasselbeck retiring after serving capably in the role in 2015. The team took Alabama center Ryan Kelly with its first-round pick, and he's set to start from Day 1. The Colts drafted four offensive linemen overall. Many NFL experts believe this team will return to the playoffs, despite the glaring holes (defense also isn't very good), as long as Luck plays all 16 games again. I disagree.
Indianapolis was 4-4 at home last season (same as road record), 4-4 against the spread and 3-5 "over/under." The Colts host three 2015 playoff teams this year. I project a 5-3 record. The road schedule is much tougher. Indy has a wins total of 9.5on BetOnline, with the under a -130 favorite. This looks like an 8-8 team to me again. Overall, the Colts' 2016 schedule ranks as the 22nd-toughest with an opponents' combined 2015 winning percentage of .477. Odds listed below for the home team.
Sept. 11 vs. Lions (-5, 49): At least the Colts don't have to deal with Detroit retired receiver Calvin Johnson barring a sudden change of heart. Lions coach Jim Caldwell faces his former team for the first time since being fired by the Colts following their 2-14 season in 2011. Indy won 35-33 in Detroit in December 2012 in the most recent meeting in Luck's rookie year. He had a huge day with 394 yards and four scores. Key trend: Colts 3-3 ATS at home vs. NFC North teams.
Sept. 25 vs. Chargers (-5.5): Indy off a trip to Denver in Week 2. San Diego is home to Jacksonville the previous Sunday. The Colts have lost the past three meetings, most recently 19-9 in San Diego in October 2013. Key trend: Colts 1-9 ATS in past 10 at home in series.
Oct. 9 vs. Bears (-3.5): Indianapolis is off a game against Jacksonville in London in Week 4 as the team opted not to take its bye week after the trip overseas as is usually the case. Apparently the Colts didn't want their bye so early in the season. This is also Indy's first 1 p.m. ET start of the year. Chicago is home to Detroit the previous Sunday. The last meeting was Luck's NFL debut in Week 1 of the 2012 season, a Bears 41-21 home win. Key trend: Colts 6-4 ATS in past 10 as an October home favorite of at least 3.5 points.
Oct. 30 vs. Chiefs (-1): Indy off a Week 7 trip to Nashville. Kansas City hosts New Orleans the previous Sunday. The Colts have won three straight in the series, most recently that epic wild-card game in Indianapolis following the 2013 season when Luck led the Colts back from a 28-point second half deficit in their 45-44 victory. Key trend: Colts 5-5 ATS in past 10 at home vs. AFC West.
Nov. 20 vs. Titans (-8): Indianapolis comes off its bye week. Tennessee is home to Green Bay the previous Sunday. The Colts have won eight straight over the Titans in Indianapolis. Last year it was 30-24 in Week 17. The Colts needed a win in that game and basically a miracle to get into the playoffs, but it didn't happen. Indy's QBs that day were the laughable Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley. The Titans' QBs? Alex Tanney and Zach Mettenberger. So basically it was like an Arena League game. Key trend: Colts 3-2 ATS in series as a home favorite of at least 7 points.
Nov. 24 vs. Steelers (+3): Thanksgiving night game. Pittsburgh is off a Week 11 trip to Cleveland. I'm already calling this one of the highest-scoring games of 2016 assuming the two QBs are healthy. That's because the past two meetings have been offensive shootouts won easily by the Steelers. Last year it was 45-10 Steelers at home in Week 13. Hasselbeck threw for 169 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions before leaving in the fourth quarter due to injury. The Colts had 240 total yards of offense. Key trend: Colts a pretty incredible 10-0 ATS in their past 10 as a home dog against anyone.
Dec. 11 vs. Texans (-4): Short week for the Colts as they are at the Jets on Monday in Week 13. Houston is in Green Bay the previous Sunday. The Texans got their first victory in Indianapolis in 14 tries last season, 16-10 in Week 15. Hasselbeck was 17 of 30 with 147 yards, one touchdown and one interception as Indy's six-game winning streak overall in the series ended. Had the Colts won that game and then their final two of the season as they did, they would have won the division. Key trend: Colts 5-4-1 ATS in past 10 in series as home favorite.
Jan. 1 vs. Jaguars (TBA): Again, no Week 17 lines ahead of time with too many intangibles on the final Sunday. Indy off a Christmas Eve game at the Raiders. Jacksonville is home to Tennessee on Dec. 24. Normally the Colts would be thrilled to close with the Jags, but that's no longer the case. Indy did beat the visiting Jags 16-13 in OT in Week 4 last year. Luck missed his first NFL game in that one. Hasselbeck led the Colts on a 53-yard drive in overtime, and Adam Vinatieri finished it with a 27-yard field goal. Key trend: Colts 4-6 ATS in past 10 at home in series.
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