Every season in the NFL there is that talented team that brings in the veteran quarterback in hopes of finally getting to a Super Bowl.
It usually doesn’t happen, but never say never: It happened last year with the addition of Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams, who persuaded the Detroit Lions (who else?) to take the uninspiring Jared Goff off their hands. L.A. went on to win it all and that now goes down as one of the greatest trades in NFL history, at least for the Rams.
This year’s candidate is the Indianapolis Colts and Matt Ryan, traded by Atlanta after 14 seasons with the Falcons, including six playoff appearances and that Super Bowl they almost won before getting blitzed by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Let’s get to the ManoPicks:
Indianapolis Colts (10-7)
If you’re going to pick a surprise Super Bowl contender, that team is more likely coming out of the weaker NFC. But in the brutal AFC, the Colts have all the makings of a team that could get to the postseason and make a push: A talented veteran quarterback paired with an elite, multi-threat running back, a top 10 defense, a friendly schedule and a weak division. Indy opens the season with two road games – sounds tough until you see the opponents are the Texans and Jaguars. Based on 2022 win projections, Indianapolis has the third-easiest schedule in the league.
That’s part of the advantage: The Colts have four built-in wins with Jacksonville and Houston in the division. The Titans are still stout but perhaps teetering a bit, while the Colts added Ryan to boost the passing attack and take pressure off of superstar back Jonathan Taylor, who in his second season led the NFL in rushing with 1,811 yards and deserved to be an MVP candidate.
The time is now for Indianapolis and the 37-year-old Ryan and they’re going to play that way.
Tennessee Titans (9-8)
Back-to-back division champs who played in the AFC title game two years ago, the Titans do not look like a team that upgraded in the offseason. Star receiver A.J. Brown is gone to Philadelphia, and his talent will presumably be replaced by first-round draft pick Treylon Burks. Julio Jones is out at the other receiver spot, replaced by veteran Robert Woods, coming off knee surgery. No doubt Woods is a more reliable, and underappreciated player compared to Jones, but his durability will be a question mark.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill returns, hoping to bounce back from a subpar 2021, but the offense again will be carried by perennial Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry, who missed three months last year with a foot fracture, then returned for the Titans’ playoff loss to the Bengals.
The heart of this team is its run game and disruptive defense, led by one of the league’s elite defensive fronts – Jeffrey Simmons, Denico Autry, Bud Dupree and Harold Landry III. They’re capable of controlling games, allowing Tannehill to run their ball-control offense and frustrate opponents. It’s a formula that has worked well, but in the loaded AFC this team appears to have slipped a notch.
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-10)
Not having Urban Meyer around is probably worth three wins for the Jaguars. Figuring a veteran, Super Bowl-winning coach like Doug Pederson can get at least four more and there we are, seven wins.
It’s not far from the truth. Simply having a mature person coaching the team and second-year phenom Trevor Lawrence is going to change a lot in Jacksonville. This is not a team without talent and in the draft the Jags spent five of their seven picks on defense and landed two potential stars in end Travon Walker and linebacker Devin Lloyd.
Lawrence will be boosted by the return at running back of his old Clemson running mate Travis Etienne, who missed his entire rookie season with injury, while Jacksonville landed free agent receiver Christian Kirk from Arizona. Marvin Jones Jr. and Laviska Shenault are not big names, but there is receiving talent in Jacksonville. It’s almost been forgotten that Lawrence was the top player taken in the draft two years ago. He finally gets a legitimate chance to show why.
Houston Texans (4-13)
This could be a legendarily bad team. New coach Lovie Smith has been sort of an OK coach at numerous stops, and now he inherits a team that just said goodbye to DeShaun Watson. Trading Watson will yield returns in future seasons, but not this year and probably not with Davis Mills at quarterback. He’s not bad, he’s not great, but he’s not the answer and his future will depend on whether he can deliver the ball to playmakers such as Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins. Houston does have some talent on offense.
Rookie Derek Stingley will boost the secondary and has the makings of a star. But this team projects to win one game in its own division and have the lowest win total in the NFL. It’s going to be a few seasons, Texans fans.