Colts have lots of ground to cover to catch up Jaguars in the AFC South arms race

Indianapolis Colts cornerback Kenny Moore II (23) chases Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Indianapolis Colts cornerback Kenny Moore II (23) chases Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence. / Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY

The Jacksonville Jaguars proved in 2022 how much of a difference having the right coach in place makes. After going 3-14 under Urban Meyer in 2201, the Jags seized the AFC South title and made the playoffs with Doug Pederson at the helm. Loading up on talent and surrounding Trevor Lawrence with weapons also helped but the bottom line is that it's indeed possible to go from last to first in just one year. This begs the question, can the Indianapolis Colts contend for the division crown in 2023? Garrett Podell of CBS Sports certainly thinks so.

Podell argues in a recent article that Indy can legitimately challenge the Jaguars for the AFC South title next season, citing the return of linebacker Shaquille Leonard and running back Jonathan Taylor as big factors. Similarly, Podell thinks that the Colts have solid pieces in the offensive trenches, more specifically guard Quenton Nelson and center Ryan Kelly, to protect rookie quarterback Antony Richardson.

Speaking of Richardson, Podell believes head coach Shane Steichen's tutelage will be huge in his transition to the pros.

"Richardson is also well-equipped on the sidelines as well as on the field thanks to the Colts hiring former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator and play-caller Shane Steichen. He played a significant role in 2023 NFL MVP runner-up Jalen Hurts' development, helping his offenses evolve from a run-first operation that heavily relied on his legs to leading the league in deep passing. Read-option and play-action plays involving Richardson and Taylor could be deadly early on. "

Podell rests his case by saying that the Colts can make a serious run at the division if Richardson gets acclimated to the NFL faster than expected.

The Colts have way more questions than the Jaguars ahead of the 2023 season

Make no mistake, Indy could end up exceeding expectations and winning more games than they should in 2023. Their win total for the season currently sits at 6.5 and it's hard to see it move considerably one way or another in the upcoming months. While it's true that the Colts will get Shaquille Leonard and Jonathan Taylor back, it's uncertain if they'll both be able to regain their All-Pro form. In the same manner, Quenton Nelson was solid last year but he didn't play like he did in previous seasons, and outside of Michael Pittman Jr., the Colts don't have many viable options in the passing game.

There's also the Anthony Richard factor. The former Florida Gator is one of the most intriguing players to come out of the collegiate ranks in recent years but he's got his work cut out if he wants to thrive in the NFL. Can he successfully pull off the transition? He may but it remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars have spent the offseason fortifying their roster, and have a top-10 quarterback in the league in Trevor Lawrence. As long as he stays healthy, they'll have a chance to win. Moreover, the arrival of Calvin Ridley could turn their wide receiver corps into one of the best three or five in the league.

Nobody will argue that the Jags also face a few questions ahead of the 2023 season but they don't have nearly as many as Indianapolis. In fact, you could even make the case that the Houston Texans are a bigger threat to Jacksonville than the Colts.

Things can always change and the Indianapolis Colts can't be ruled out before they even play a snap in the regular season. Then again, it's hard to see them dethroning the Jaguars and representing the AFC South in the 2023 playoffs.

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