3. Indianapolis Colts (9-8 in 2023)
The Indianapolis Colts entered the 2023 season with tempered expectations. Having just hired Shane Steichen as their head coach, and with a rookie quarterback leading the way, nobody would've batted an eye if they had finished the year with a losing record. However, they tuned out the outside noise, kept their head down, and came close to making the playoffs.
The fact that they missed Anthony Richardson for the season after just four starts and star running back Jonathan Taylor sat out four games with an ankle injury made Indy's success even more impressive. Then again, Steichen deserves credit for keeping his team focused in the face of adversity. Once Richardson hurt his shoulder, it seemed like the season was lost, but the Colts turned to backup Gardner Minshew to lead the way.
Minshew played surprisingly well. He wasn't great but he did just enough to get Indianapolis to the brink of the playoffs. The mustachoed quarterback is now set to become a free agent but that shouldn't be an issue, with Richardson returning for 2024. Having said that, the Colts will have to make a few upgrades in the offseason if they want to continue trending in the right direction.
Besides re-signing Michael Pittman Jr., the Colts' brass could use another receiver. They must also upgrade the tight end position if they want to ensure Richardson has enough talent around him. Their defense has also a few promising pieces, such as defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, edge rusher Kwity Paye, and linebacker E.J. Speed, who made Shaquille Leonard expendable.
If Indianapolis does take a step forward, the AFC South could feature a three-team battle for the division crown.