The Colts don’t have Andrew Luck. The Chargers don’t have Melvin Gordon or Russell Okung or Derwin James.
Indianapolis can rely on veteran QB Jacoby Brissett who, although he’s not Luck, is a very good QB who’s been around this team and in head coach Frank Reich’s system since last year.
The Chargers have to fill in with Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson … Trent Scott … and Adrian Phillips. The backs have been effective but not as the “bell cow” that Gordon is. Scott is a very large and talented man but he’s only started one NFL game. Phillips was in the Pro Bowl a year ago but as a special teams player, not a safety.
So, who is really in worse shape and why are the Bolts favored by 6.5 points, exactly?
That’s not a rhetorical question, I really want to know.
Both of these teams have supremely talented rosters, both won an AFC playoff game last season and both expect to be in the post-season picture again in 2019. So which team starts its quest with a win? Let’s examine that with three matchups to watch at the soccer stadium:
Starters vs. Rust
Philip Rivers didn’t play in the preseason at all. Neither did Joey Bosa or Melvin Ingram or several other starters. The Colts gave some of their top-tier guys a cup of coffee in early exhibition games then shut them down. Both teams held joint practices, which is what a lot of franchises are doing now to try and replicate game situations in a controlled environment. They say it’s great but nothing can fully replicate the speed of an NFL game. Whichever team can get kickstarted and knock off the rust first (or more effectively) has the advantage.
Familiarity vs. Innovation
Frank Reich spent three years with the Chargers. His offensive coordinator, Nick Sirianni, was with the Bolts for five years. Both worked under current offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. They definitely know the personnel and style of football the Bolts like to play. Rivers is also intimately familiar with the kind of system the Colts are going to run, at least offensively. So there will have to be some adjustments made to how things are done and not just with audible calls. We might see a little more disguising of looks on both sides of the ball to try and throw the other side off because if NFL coaches are anything, they’re paranoid. If the adjustments don’t work or cause excess confusion that will be a determining factor.
Old vs. Who?
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri has been in the NFL for a quarter of a century. He’s 46 years old and has seen basically every situation ever conceived on a football field. Chargers kicker Michael Badgley is out with an injury so the kicking AND punting duties fall to Ty Long, who has spent the last two years in the CFL. You pretty much know what you’re going to get from the veteran, who’s as steady as they come and destined for the Hall of Fame (if he ever retires). You’re not all that sure what you’re getting from Long BUT backup QB Tyrod Taylor will be the holder instead of Long, though, so that could open up a fake or two with a real passer on the field.
The bottom line here is the Colts have a fantastic offensive line and the Chargers don’t. Without Gordon to help balance the offense this is going to be a very long day for Rivers as Indy wins as the underdog.
Final score: Colts 22, Chargers 19