Last year the Arizona Cardinals proved that losing in the Super Bowl doesn't always mean falling apart the following season. After coming up short to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, the Colts will try to climb the proverbial mountain and attain success once again.
It shouldn't be difficult. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has five good receivers at his disposal for the first time in his career, and he's been preparing for the season with most of them (Reggie Wayne has stayed away from offseason practices). Work done this offseason should go a long way in making the team's passing offense difficult to stop. As for the run game, Donald Brown is healthy after playing with a shoulder injury for much of last season and Joseph Addai is motivated since he's in a contract year. The Colts' offensive line remains stable, so finding a weakness among this offense will be a tough chore for the defensive coordinators they face.
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Manning did have surgery for a pinched nerve in his neck this offseason, but it didn't keep him off the field. He was at all of the Colts' offseason practices and has spent plenty of time this spring getting ready for the upcoming season. With a second Lombardi Trophy just out of reach last season and a new contract due after this season, Manning has plenty to play for, which will in turn keep the Colts the offensive juggernaut we've come to know and love.
Sleeper ... Donald Brown, RB
If you glance over Brown's cumulative 2009 stats -- 78 carries for 281 yards and three touchdowns with 11 catches for 169 yards -- you're probably not impressed. But the amount of work he got through his first five-and-a-half games suggest that the Colts had a plan for him before he got hurt. In those games Brown totaled 46 carries for 212 yards and two scores with seven grabs for 138 yards. Even if you were to reel in projected receiving stats (since a 19.7 average is tough to maintain), he projects out to being a rock-solid Fantasy option. So one could easily argue that if not for shoulder and chest injuries derailing his rookie year Brown would have been a sensation in Indianapolis. Now that he's healthy, the case can be made that he'll be a quality option for the Colts this season. And with Joseph Addai potentially in his last season with the team, the Colts might start grooming him for a full-time role.
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Breakout ... Austin Collie, WR
Everyone knows how impactful Collie was last season for the Colts' offense, as he registered 60 catches for 676 yards and seven touchdowns. But not everyone realizes that save for the team's regular-season finale at Buffalo when starters were rested, Collie ended the season and barreled through the postseason with at least 66 yards and/or a touchdown in each game. Collie became a nightmare to defend starting last October, posting five games with six receptions and another two with seven or eight receptions (that includes the postseason). Plus, not everyone realizes that Collie has spent his offseason improving his game and working on his timing with Manning (the two originally got to know each other through Manning's offseason passing academy in Louisiana). With defenses forced to key in on studs like Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, they'll have to lay off coverage on Collie, making him -- no joke -- an 80-catch candidate in 2010. His relationship with Manning and his on-field track record for most of his rookie season should make him a lock to be a key player for the Colts in 2010. He's a must-own in leagues where receptions count (No. 2 receiver) and a strong No. 3 receiver in standard formats.
Bust ... Anthony Gonzalez, WR
If Collie is going to continue doing his thing, and if Pierre Garcon is going to keep getting his share of targets, and if Wayne and Clark keep garnering attention, there simply is no spot for Gonzalez to return to on a regular basis. Not without a teammate getting injured. Sure, the Colts will find ways to use him, but it's tough to expect Gonzalez to play a lot when they have all of these other established, talented and healthy receivers at their disposal. Lest we forget that even when Gonzalez played 16 games in 2008, he accounted for just 664 yards and four touchdowns -- and that's with 57 catches. There aren't many bust candidates on the Colts, but Gonzalez comes the closest.
Let's be honest, even if the Colts played the Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Cowboys and Packers six times a year each you'd still want most of these guys on your Fantasy team. The only thing people who draft Colts stars are concerned with is whether or not their players will sit toward the end of the year. For those people we bring good news: Indy's schedule is more difficult than last year, which suggests that a perfect season or an early clinching of the AFC South title will be hard for them to come by. That coupled with an easy slate to end 2010 makes the Colts' studs easier to draft than in past years.
Training camp topics
Frankly, everyone should know the key players in the Colts' parade of offensive athletes. Save for guys like Brown and Gonzalez vying for reps with the first-team offense, Fantasy owners might be relegated to checking out things like Adam Vinatieri's leg strength or how backup passer Curtis Painter is coming along.
The story is different defensively, though it's just as optimistic. The Colts are welcoming back hard-hitting safety Bob Sanders, who practiced through the offseason and seems about as well as he can be after so many injuries over his career. The team also extended the contract of fellow safety Antoine Bethea and drafted a potential third pass rusher in Jerry Hughes and run stopper in linebacker Pat Angerer.
For the first time in a while, the Colts might have something to crow about on defense.
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