INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – No sooner had the New England Patriots hoisted yet another Lombardi Trophy in the air – that’s six, for those keeping track at home – than eyes began turning from Atlanta to South Florida.
Which teams are considered the early – very early – favorites to reach and win Super Bowl LIV, which is Feb. 2, 2020 in Hard Rock Stadium?
The Indianapolis Colts aren’t at the top of the list, but aren’t too far down. The early perception is Chris Ballard and Frank Reich are overseeing a franchise on the rise.
Don’t take our word for it. We’ll let a couple of betting organizations offer input.
According to BetOnline.ag, the Colts and Chicago Bears have 14/1 odds to win Super Bowl LIV. Only four teams are above them: the Patriots (6/1), Kansas City Chiefs (7/1), Los Angeles Rams (8/1) and New Orleans Saints (9/1). Bovada is similarly bullish on Indy. The Colts and Saints are +1000, tied for the third-best odds behind the Rams and Patriots (+700) and Chargers and Chiefs (+800).
Clearly, these clearly are the early odds, but they provide some level of insight into how the Colts are viewed nationally.
The arrow is pointing up. Way up.
And perhaps history repeats itself. The Colts have been involved in the last two South Florida Super Bowls (after the 2006 and 2009 seasons), and all four of their Super Bowl experiences have occurred in South Florida.
The Colts entered last season as an afterthought. Remember those preseason polls that had them ranked No. 32? Reich did. After the Colts prevailed in their win-and-in meeting with the Tennessee Titans in week 17 in Nashville, he held up a piece of paper flashing #32.
And then he tossed it on the ground.
A franchise that posted a 4-12 record the previous season had won nine of its final 10 games and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Now, comes the harder part: doing it again. Doing more. Going deeper into the playoffs. Adding a Lombardi Trophy to sit alongside the one Bill Polian, Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning and so many others delivered to Indy in Super Bowl XLI.
During an exit meeting with his players, Ballard asked the most pertinent question: what are you willing to struggle for?
“That defines us. It defines me. It defines you,” he said last month. “For us to just sit here and say we’re going to all of a sudden be a top-level team without any kind of struggle, that’s not realistic. It’s just not.
“What are you willing to struggle for? What are you willing to sacrifice for? It’s hard to be great. The step from good to great, that’s the hard step.”
Two of the catalysts for the Colts’ turnaround season were on display in Atlanta last weekend. Andrew Luck was selected the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year and Darius Leonard named Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Each enjoyed the moment, but also insisted his preference next season was to be playing in the Super Bowl, not participating in one of the NFL’s many pre-game events.
“You want to be Super Bowl champion,” Leonard said before joining Vernon Maxwell and Duane Bickett as only Colts selected Defensive Rookie of the Year.
During an appearance on radio row earlier in the week, he was more expansive while talking with the Athletic and IndyStar.
“I would rather be playing in the dance,” Leonard said. “As a football player, your ultimate goal is to win championships. Being so close this year and going and losing to Kansas City, that hurt.
“But I think that loss is something we needed to help us drive for next year so we won’t have that bitter taste in our mouths. Hopefully we can learn from it and next year be on the opposite side.”
Luck indicated being involved in the Super Bowl’s periphery served as “a little extra motivation” to change his and the Colts’ involvement moving forward. He already has broken down game tape with Jacoby Brissett, Reich, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and assistant quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady.
Luck stressed how being able to return to the playing field after missing 2017 with his shoulder issues “re-energized me and re-invigorated me.”
“We came up short but I think setting the table for moving forward,” he said. “We set a standard and we have to improve. We have to get better. Frank’s philosophy of process-focus and getting one-percent better will not change.
“That’s how we will get to where we want to go.”
Ballard has the wherewithal to address the roster. He has more than $100 million in cap space and an owner willing to pay for talent. And he has nine overall picks in the April draft, including three in the top 59.
Luck is entering his eighth season and turns 30 in September, but still has at least six or eight quality years in him. The roster around him teems with young talent.
“But it’s young men that are willing to get better and willing to embrace being part of a team,” he said. “Those guys work hard. It’s old men, like Adam Vinatieri, that are coming back. This is probably the first year I actually feel like a veteran in this league.
“We’re all excited. We’ve got great leadership (with) Chris and Frank and a great group of guys in the locker room.”