Fresh off of a 27-26 pre-season victory against the Bengals in Cincinnati, the Colts and Bengals will battle in the regular season opener in Indianapolis. Last year, these two teams played a very competitive regular season game that ultimately ended in a heart wrenching loss for the Colts. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett and Tight End Jack Doyle were on the same page in that matchup, as Doyle had a huge 12 reception game with 121 yards and a touchdown from 13 yards out. Unfortunately, Doyle’s big game would be spoiled in the final minutes. Leading 23-17 with seven minutes left in the game, Jacoby Brissett throws a pass that gets tipped, intercepted, and returned for a touchdown. The Bengals would kick the extra point, and take the lead. From that point, the Colts were unable to get into field goal range, as the Bengals escaped with a narrow victory 24-23.
This year, the Bengals will have to deal with an Indianapolis team with a far different look from last year. Andrew Luck’s long awaited return comes after a 20 month shoulder surgery rehabilitation, and Luck looks ready to go. The Colts’ preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago, served as the regular season dress rehearsal. In that matchup, Luck went 8-10 for 90yards and a touchdown throw to offseason free agent acquisition Eric Ebron. Luck also showed that he is still very mobile, as he rushed for 27 yards.
There are still a few question marks surrounding the Colts as we head into opening weekend. The first is the offensive line. A group that gave up a league high 56 sacks in 2017, will look to tighten up this year. During the off-season, linemen were the priority. Drafting guards Quenton Nelson (Round 1 Pick 6) and Braden Smith (Round 2 Pick 5), as well as dipping into free agency to pick up veteran guard Matt Slauson. On paper, this offensive line looks like one of, if not the best offensive line that Andrew Luck has played behind in his career. That being said, it’s not too much of a compliment considering Colts offensive lines of the past.
Question mark number two is the wide receiver group. With the departure of veteran Donte Moncrief (now with Jacksonville Jaguars), the Colts WR depth was simply nonexistent. The Colts did sign Ryan Grant (previously with Washington Redskins) and drafted two receivers (Daurice Fountain and Deon Cain); However, each of these receivers have faced their downsides this season. Ryan Grant was said to have had an excellent training camp by numerous reporters and Colts staff, but unfortunately that never translated during game time in the preseason. Grant only caught 1 pass for 17 yards. As eyebrow raising as this might seem, Grant is still holding on to the number two receiver spot on the depth chart. This is likely due to lack of competition. As for the two draft picks, Fountain failed to make the roster, but has cleared waivers to be retained on the Colts practice squad. Cain on the other hand had a great training camp, but unfortunately tore his ACL during his only preseason action against the Seattle Seahawks. Cain was placed on the Injured Reserve list, and hopes to return to full strength in 2019. Luckily, the style of offense that Colts Head Coach Frank Reich brings in from Philadelphia will feature more Tight End and Running Back involvement in the receiving game. This will hopefully take the pressure away from the lack of depth at the wide receiver position.
The final question mark I have for this week is the defense. The transition away from Chuck Pagano’s 3-4, to new Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 scheme will be interesting to watch. Many wonder if the Colts will be able to effectively move to a 4-3 with so many of Pagano’s players still in place on the defense. The defense seems very patchy at most positions. Defensive End Jabaal Sheard, Safeties Malik Hooker and Matthias Farley, and Cornerback Quincy Wilson seem to be the only bright spots in an otherwise forgettable Colts defense. In week 1, the Colts face a big test in the secondary trying to cover pro bowl wide , receiver A.J. Green, and the speedy John Ross, while also having to worry about veteran Tight End Tyler Eifert. Up front, the defensive line will try and slow down second year running back Joe Mixon, who many believe is poised for a breakout season.
Overall, I think that the Colts have done enough over the offseason to get this victory. A new coaching regime, Andrew Luck’s return, and electric home crowd will be the difference in this matchup.
My prediction: Colts 27 Bengals 17