INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (4-12-1)
EXPECTATIONS: Indianapolis starts over with another opening day starting quarterback, rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson. The Colts think he can stop Indy's streak of seven straight different opening day starters — in 2024 — and that he'll be at least as successful as the past two first-round picks Indy used on quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. The concern is he completed less than 55 percent of his college throws, going just 6-7 as a starter at Florida. There are even bigger questions, too. Jonathan Taylor, the 2021 NFL rushing champ, missed all of training camp following offseason ankle surgery while mired in an ugly contract dispute. He's currently trying to find a trade partner. The Colts made no key changes to the offensive line, banking on it reverting to the pre-2022 form after allowing 60 sacks last season. Defensively, there are concerns about a consistent pass rush, an unproven secondary and the health of three-time All-Pro LB Shaquille Leonard. If they find solutions, a favorable schedule could help new coach Shane Steichen orchestrate another quick turnaround.
ANALYSIS: Indy went into the offseason with many needs, stability at quarterback being the most glaring. Can Richardson be the solution? Indy is betting he can. GM Chris Ballard said he was impressed with Richardson even before the incredible workout at the NFL's annual scouting combine and team owner Jim Irsay suggested he might have taken Richardson even with the No. 1 overall pick. But Richardson's progression might be even more important than wins. Richardson must show he can be consistently accurate and master the offense. His legs and size should help, and if Taylor returns to the form of his first two NFL seasons, the offense could really click. But if the secondary doesn't improve markedly from the preseason, it's going to be another long season in Indy.
NEW FACES: Steichen, Richardson, QB Gardner Minshew, K Matt Gay, WR Josh Downs, DT Taven Bryan, DE Samson Ebukam, CB JuJu Brents, CB Darius Rush, DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, S Ronnie Harrison Jr.
KEY LOSSES: Coach Frank Reich, QB Matt Ryan, QB Nick Foles, DE Yannick Ngakoue, CB Stephon Gilmore, LB Bobby Okereke, WR Parris Campbell, S Rodney McLeod, CB Isaiah Rodgers Jr., DE Ben Banogu.
STRENGTHS: Interior defensive line. Two-time Pro Bowl DT DeForest Buckner has anchored this position group since he was acquired in a 2020 trade with San Francisco. His presence has helped DT Grover Stewart improve, too, emerging as an annual Pro Bowl candidate. Veteran rotational players Tyquan Lewis and Dayo Odeyingbo have played inside and outside, and free agent signee Taven Bryan hopes to round into the form that made him Jacksonville's 2018 first-round draft pick.
WEAKNESSES: Secondary. Sure, there are many areas of concern, especially if Taylor's situation languishes. But the most glaring problem is the secondary. Indy traded CB Stephon Gilmore to Dallas and released another potential starter, Rodgers Jr., after the NFL suspended him indefinitely for violating the NFL's gambling policy. So the Colts are regrouping. One-time Pro Bowl CB Kenny Moore is trying to rebound from a sub-par 2022 as, safety Julian Blackmon returns from injury and second-year safeties Rodney Thomas II and Nick Cross try to make bigger impacts. The rest of the CB rotation includes rookies JuJu Brents, Darius Rush and Jaylon Jones; 26-year-old Dallis Flowers, an undrafted rookie who made the team in 2022; and Darrell Baker Jr., who spent last year on the practice squad.
CAMP DEVELOPMENT: Indy wanted to see if Richardson could earn the starting job and he didn't disappoint. Despite having up-and-down workouts and games, as rookie quarterbacks are prone to, Richardson showed a mastery of the offensive system and the natural tools to end the competition after one preseason game.
FANTASY PLAYER TO WATCH: Taylor would be the natural pick — if healthy and happy. But with Taylor's status in doubt, the safest bet might be Michael Pittman Jr. The fourth-year receiver is big, rangy and naturally competitive and is likely to become Richardson's favorite target as long as he's healthy. WRs Alec Pierce and Josh Downs may be more explosive, but Pittman almost certainly will draw more targets over 17 games.
FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK SAYS: Win Super Bowl: 100-1. Over/under wins: 6 1/2.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl