The Indianapolis Colts open up the season hosting the Oakland Raiders. Andrew Luck heads into his second season looking to avoid the myth of the sophomore slump and jump into the conversation of best QBs in the NFL.
This will be the start of coach Chuck Pagano’s second season, but it feels more like his first. As we all know, he spent the vast majority of last season battling cancer. He was an inspiration to the team, and many believe his fight motivated the team into the playoffs.
General manager Ryan Grigson spent the offseason tweaking the lineup, and made changes even over the past week. This team is much improved over last season, and fans are eager to get the season started.
We have already seen Colt legend Peyton Manning rip apart the Super Bowl champion Ravens for seven touchdowns. It sparked a mini-debate over whether or not the Colts should have kept Manning. I, for one, am happy to have luck and while its tough to watch Manning do his thing, this is a new era for the Colts. Luck is going to be one of the best QBs in the league in the very near future, and his rise starts this season.
The Raiders are not exactly a formidable opponent. Looking up and down the roster, its hard to find any players that stand out. Before I did my research, I could only name running back Darren McFadden and kicker Sebastian Janikowski. The Colts are staring at an easy win here.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for:
- Andrew Luck. Everything hinges on his development (and health). He has been impressive in the preseason, and has the work ethic and tools to succeed. In another year, he’ll be in the discussion of top five QBs in the country. The Colts won’t struggle for points as much this season with an improved Luck at the helm. It will be important for him to improve his completion percentage and cut down on turnovers, both things that will happen in Pep Hamilton’s offense. Watch for Luck rip apart the Raiders secondary (and then imagine what Peyton Manning is going to do to them).
- 3rd Down. The Colts were exceptional at converting third downs last season. Its a clear advantage, and being in third-and-long won’t hold Luck back. The Colts converted nearly 43 percent of third downs (and 87 percent of fourth downs) last season. Expect that trend to continue as the Colts will face fewer third-and-longs under the new offensive scheme emphasizing quicker passes for shorter gains.
- Run to Win. Or maybe not. The Raiders fielded one of the better run defenses last season, according to running back success rate. And that was pretty much the lone bright point for this team. Ahmad Bradshaw is a talented runner and many expect him to have success, even behind this iffy offensive line (Vick Ballard is no slouch either). Expect to see Luck pass a lot when the run game falters. The Colts have a talented receiving corps that will take apart a secondary that would have been really good back in 2007.
- Darrius Heyward-Bey. DHB last played for the Raiders, and was drafted by Al Davis primarily for his speed. He is finally out of the Black Hole and with a competent quarterback. He also looked very good in the preseason, but with the talent of TY Hilton it looks like DHB might be used as a decoy more often than not. It wouldn’t be surprising if he went off on his former team and burned them for 8-10 receptions and over 100 yards.
- Darren McFadden. He is by far the Raiders best player. But he is also easily broken, having spent 13 games on the sideline in his first two season. He has to stay healthy for this team to have any success. The Colts have to keep him contained, and force the Raiders to pass the ball.
- Terrelle Pryor. Speaking of passing the ball, Pryor is the team’s starting QB. His stat line for the preseason isn’t exactly stellar: 17-of-32 for 221, 1 TD, 2 INT. That doesn’t really scream starting quarterback in the NFL. He does have the ability to run with the ball. The Colts want to keep him in the pocket and force him to win with his arm.
- The Blowout. Many have pegged Oakland to be the worst team in the NFL, and I’d have to agree. Last season, the Colts won a lot of close games. This year, they should have a few blowouts on the schedule. This team is much better on paper, just a year of experience will do that, but they’ve also upgraded a number of positions. The next jump is for the Colts to beat up on weaker teams, like the Raiders. If this is a close game, it’ll be a long season, but that’s unlikely.
- Tattoos and Jerseys. This has been brought up before, but I’ll never miss a chance to take a shot at the NCAA. If you didn’t already know, Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor attend Ohio State. While there he traded memorabilia for tattoos. This was an NCAA rules violation. Apparently you are not allowed to sell or trade your personal property if you’re a college athlete. This eventually cost coach Jim Tressel his job (and he briefly worked for the Colts). Personally, I believe that the rule book should be thrown out and redone. The idea that I can’t sell something I own is laughable and the number of players who have been screwed over by stilly violations is growing exponentially.
I fully expect the Colts to win this game easily. The 10-point spread should be covered, and then some.
Colts win 28-10.
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