Season prediction: How far will Colts go?

The 2014 NFL journey begins in Denver with Mile High expectations. Can the Colts make the playoffs again and take that next step? Here's a game-by-game prediction.

Sports writers are supposed to have a crystal ball, although so many of us are wrong more than we are right when it comes to season predictions.

The NFL season is impossible to predict. One injury to a key player can change the landscape in an instant.

Because season predictions are part of the business, here’s a quick run-through on what could happen to the Indianapolis Colts in 2014. But don’t hold the prognosticator to it, especially after last year, when an 11-5 prediction was spot on, as was a second-round playoff exit guess.

How often does a scribe get it right two years in a row? Probably never.

Sept. 7, at Denver — The NFL doesn’t miss a trick, thrusting rising Colts star Andrew Luck into the national primetime spotlight against former Colts legend Peyton Manning. The Colts have a lot to work on, be it the offensive line or the cohesiveness of the defense. The latter will be of interest to Manning, who should find enough holes to exploit, especially with NFL reigning sack champion Robert Mathis suspended. Broncos 31, Colts 17.

Sept. 15, Philadelphia — The Colts stay in primetime for “Monday Night Football” and this time they are in the comfy confines of Lucas Oil Stadium. After a rough start in the Mile High City, head coach Chuck Pagano’s team bounces back in an entertaining offensive game. Adam Vinatieri adds to his Hall of Fame resume with a last-minute, game-winning field goal. Colts 34, Eagles 31.

Sept. 21, at Jacksonville — While the Jaguars are a work in progress, they always seem to get up for this game against their AFC South rivals. The Colts have owned this series 18-8, 9-4 home and away. They’ve won the last three meetings by an average of 23.6 points, two in the Sunshine State. After getting asked about allowing 31 points in each of the previous two games, defenders come out salty and stingy. Colts 27, Jaguars 13.

Sept. 28, Tennessee — A second straight division foe will keep the Colts honest. While oddsmakers probably have this one installed as a large margin, the Titans prove to be pesky in hanging around until the Colts pull away in the final quarter. And the Colts actually show some life in the run game for a change, although the hunch is it will be rushing by committee and not just Trent Richardson. Colts 30, Titans 17.

Oct. 5, Baltimore — Pagano’s previous employer is looking for a bounce-back season from 8-8 and roll into town unbeaten. But they don’t leave that way as the Colts welcome Mathis back from his suspension and he makes up for lost time with a monster game. The Ravens struggle to run the ball and Joe Flacco is frustrated into throwing interceptions. The Colts open some eyes by pulling away in a rout. Colts 30, Ravens 16.

Oct. 9, at Houston — Just when it seems as if the Colts are on a serious roll, the Texans pull off a primetime upset in a short week as Arian Foster runs wild and the visitors can’t block J.J. Watt. Houston isn’t going to reclaim the AFC South just yet, but pulling out a hard-fought victory against the Colts serves notice that the reigning champs won’t cruise to another division title just yet. Texans 26, Colts 23.

Oct. 19, Cincinnati — It’s been 10 days since the stinging loss in the Lone Star State, plenty of time for the Colts to rest up and rebound at home. The Bengals hit on some big plays with dynamic wide receiver A.J. Green to make this interesting, but Andrew Luck throws four TD passes and the Colts are able to get the key defensive stops in the final quarter to preserve the victory. Colts 37, Bengals 27.

Oct. 26, at Pittsburgh — While it doesn’t make much sense based on the standings at this point, the Steelers desperately need a win and have enjoyed a history of success against the Colts with a 19-6 series edge, which includes 5-0 in the playoffs and 9-2 at home. The last time these teams met at Heinz Field, the Colts rallied to a 24-20 victory in 2008. Not this time. The Colts’ comeback falls short. Steelers 27, Colts 23.

Nov. 3, at N.Y. Giants — The New Jersey implosion of Tom Coughlin’s Giants has media and fans calling for Tom Coughlin’s job, again. The Colts have already played three games in primetime, so they’re ready for a strong “Monday Night Football” showing. The stadium will empty somewhat quickly as Luck and the offense build a big early lead. The defense hounds Eli Manning, just like in preseason. Colts 38, Giants 16.

Nov. 16, New England — A rematch of last January’s AFC Divisional playoff game in Foxborough, Mass., has all the makings of a primetime shootout. Patriots nemesis Tom Brady shows he’s still got plenty of zip in his passes. Luck responds throughout to remind the young gun is a fierce competitor. The last team with the football wins. This time, the Colts are subjected to a last-second, game-winning field goal. Patriots 33, Colts 30.

Nov. 23, Jacksonville — Wrong place, wrong time, Jaguars. As much as the previous meeting gave the upstarts a chance to show some progress, the Colts show up with purpose after losing to the Patriots. The late-season push toward the playoffs begins with the Colts’ best showing of the season, on offense and defense. Pagano is able to rest his starters in the fourth quarter. And nobody cares. Colts 41, Jaguars 9.

Nov. 30, WashingtonRobert Griffin III vs. Luck for the first time in the regular season. The Redskins quarterback can dazzle with his legs, but the Colts get after him when it’s time to pass and administer a painful dose of punishment. The Colts offense runs the ball well for a second consecutive week and Luck just needs to manage the game, a nice change from needing him to throw for scores. Colts 30, Redskins 19.

Dec. 7, at Cleveland — While the eventual winner never seems in doubt after an early Colts TD, the Browns can be a pain at home when it’s cold. The home team’s determined defense keeps a sputtering offense in it, but the Colts come up with key turnovers to eventually pile up enough points. Colts inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson enjoys a spirited return to his former stomping grounds. Colts 26, Browns 16.

Dec. 14, Houston — Despite a strong recovery from last season’s 2-14 implosion, the Texans still have a ways to go to reclaim the AFC South. They’ve come close before at Lucas Oil Stadium, but they’ve never won in Indianapolis in 12 trips. Make that 13, although the first half proves to be a bit of a tussle. The Colts finally accept they must double team Watt on every play, and the defense crowds the box to limit Foster. Colts 24, Texans 13.

Dec. 21, at Dallas — The Cowboys can score, but the same recent-year trend of being unable to prevent opponents from doing the same is most evident. Tony Romo scrambles to avoid the pass rush and makes several big plays early. The Colts, inexplicably, are sloppy in the first half, but respond after a harsh locker-room chat at halftime. Luck throws a game-winning TD pass in the final quarter. Colts 30, Cowboys 23.

Dec. 28, at Tennessee — As much as fans hate it, a game with no impact on the final standings means resting players. The Colts sit many of their starters because a win won’t secure them a first-round bye. Matt Hasselbeck plays well in his return to where he last started. The Titans, with nothing to play for, give an inspired effort and come up with a key turnover late to pull off an upset, well, sort of. TItans 23, Colts 20.

Playoffs — Another 11-5 finish means playing at home in the wild-card round. The Colts don’t need a miracle comeback this time as they pull out to an early lead and weather a Bengals’ comeback bid to prevail. Colts 30, Bengals 17.

AFC Divisional round — The season ends where it began in the Mile High City against Manning and the Broncos. The Colts are better in this rematch and lead early, but Peyton works his magic with a late TD pass. Broncos 27, Colts 24.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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