Logical outcome: The last few years have been a song of Matty Ice and Fire. He’s either an MVP-caliber passer or he’s a borderline starter watching defenders react faster while he gets slower. For the first time in Ryan’s career, he’ll share the backfield with an All-Pro-caliber running back, which should benefit him in the Colts’ play-action heavy scheme. As defenses fixate on stopping Taylor, Ryan will operate against beneficial coverages. Michael Pittman is no Julio Jones, but he’ll do. Ryan doesn’t need to make splash plays to win 12 games in this division.
Ryan attracted all the attention, but the Colts have been building to this for years. The offense will also be buttressed by a sticky-fingered defensive unit that forced more turnovers than every team in the NFL last season except Dallas. They also added Stephon Gilmore in the offseason to a secondary that includes Rock Ya-Sin and an elite slot corner in Kenny Moore. Chris Ballard traded for Yannick Ngakoue to fix a pass rush that generated only 33 sacks, 25th in the NFL. 2021 first-round pick Kwity Paye makes the leap by putting heat on opposing quarterbacks. All-Pro stalwarts Deforest Buckner and linebacker Shaquille Leonard play up to their lofty standards as Indy boasts the NFL’s best defense. Not only do they win the division, but they earn a first-round bye courtesy of the NFL’s softest schedule.
Surprise Alternate Outcome: Indy benches Ryan and Foles leads the Colts to the postseason
Over in Tennessee, Derrick Henry begins to show signs of his accelerated running back aging. With nobody to throw to except for Robert Woods who is still recovering from an ACL injury, Tannehill nosedives, then gets benched for Malik Willis mid-season. Meanwhile, the Texans continue their descent into a cellar dweller franchise.
The Jacksonville Jaguars ranked 32nd in points last season and 28th in points allowed. This season, the talent coalesces and they turn into a middle-of-the-pack team on both sides of the ball. Jaguars acquisitions Evan Engram, Christian Kirk, and Brandon Scherff live up to the massive contracts they signed this spring and give Trevor Lawrence the weapons he needs to flourish. The two-headed dragon backfield of Travis Etienne and James Robinson start breathing fire mid-season. Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, Matt Ryan’s poor performances carry over from Atlanta to Indy. He’s so washed up in the first half of the season that the Colts turn to Nick Foles. And somehow it works. Foles sneaks Indy into the postseason through the backdoor as they limp to the division title in a weakened division.