After months and months of speculation, second-guessing, and hand-wringing, the Colts finally will be playing a real game Sunday afternoon, trying to make a return trip to the Playoffs. The first test comes from the Oakland Raiders, a team many consider to be the worst in the NFL. It sure looks like an ideal opponent for the Colts, especially at home, to kick-start another run for the Super Bowl. On Sunday, we'll know for sure.
The Colts are entering year two of Head Coach Chuck Pagano, GM Ryan Grigson, and QB Andrew Luck, and all of them have something to prove, namely that last year wasn't a fluke, something many people have said about the 2012 Colts (myself included). Also entering his second year with the Colts is Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky, who really needs to improve his unit, ranking towards the bottom of the NFL last year in many categories. There's no doubt having Pagano around all year will certainly help, but for the Colts to take that next step, the Defense has to at least be league-average.
The Colts Offense also will look slightly different, even though the cast of characters will look mostly the same. Offensive Coordinator and interim Head Coach Bruce Arians is now in Arizona, and former Stanford O.C. Pep Hamilton has taken the reins of the unit led by one of his former players. Much has been said about the "power running game" they want to establish, but until we actually see that put into practice, it's still Luck's show. He does have a couple shiny new toys in RB Ahmad Bradshaw and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, and we're all hoping they can help make the Offense look like the one we saw for so long.
The Raiders enter the 2013 season with very little expectations, and a new starter at Quarterback. Funny story though, it isn't the starting QB the Raiders thought they'd be starting. Matt Flynn was signed in the offseason, just a year after he signed with Seattle, only to be beat out by Russell Wilson. Sure enough it happened again to him, as Terrelle Pryor will be starting Sunday in Indianapolis. Poor guy. Pagano said today the Colts will be gameplanning for both QBs, and I think there's a pretty good chance we'll see both of them at some point Sunday.
The Colts and Raiders haven't played since 2010, a 31-26 Colts win in Oakland. The Colts gave up a kickoff return for a TD to start that game, but did a good job holding the Raiders to field goals. Its most famous play, one that we saw about once every ten years, was a naked bootleg by Peyton Manning to ice the game. There was nobody in the same zip code as Manning, who slid right before the end zone to preserve the win. You all know the play. Overall the Colts are just 5-7 against the Raiders all-time, but have won the last three meetings. They also haven't played each other in Indianapolis since 2004, which seems like a long time for teams in the same conference.
Let's get to the numbers and see how the Colts and Raiders match-up with each other:
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Raiders:
|Orange Zone Eff||50.9%||23||58.5%||27||50.9%||24||56.8%||21|
|Avg Start Pos||26.9||32||28.0||3||28.1||27||34.3||32|
|3 and Outs||3.03||5||2.77||32||4.27||27||3.74||18|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.716||6||1.208||1||0.921||25||0.981||3|
Keys to the Game:
- Let's start when the Colts have the ball. The biggest advantage the Colts seem to have is on 3rd and 4th down, where they ranked 6th in the NFL last season, while the Raiders defense was a sub-par 24th. The Colts kept many drives alive last season by converting on Third Down, especially in the second half of the season. If that continues, I don't see any way the Colts lose.
- Time of Possession per Drive is another pretty big advantage for the Colts, as we should expect drives to average just under three minutes, which is certainly long enough to score, and is pretty good in today's NFL. More rest for the Defense -> better chance for victory.
- Where is the Raiders Defense really good? Stopping the run, ranking 3rd in the NFL in RB Success Rate. I think we'll have to wait at least a week for the "power run game" to be unleashed.
- The Raiders Offense will be tough to judge based on last year, as Pryor played only in mop-up time. By the numbers, they actually passed the ball better than the Colts did last year, mainly due to all the interceptions thrown by Luck. Pryor isn't necessarily known for his passing prowess, but the Colts will have to ensure he isn't that successful doing it if they plan on winning.
- The Colts were just slightly below average on 3rd/4th Down last year, which is a step up from many of their other stats. They'll need to get the Raiders off the field, and those plays are the ones I worry about Pryor scrambling and picking up big yards. The Colts would be best served having one of the Linebackers "spy" him on virtually every play, as I believe the Colts secondary is good enough that they don't need the help. The scrambling concerns me a lot more than Pryor passing and the Raiders Receivers.
- The Colts should be able to handle the Raiders running game, although Darren McFadden is very boom/bust, so let's hope this isn't one of those monster games he's had in the past.
The Colts Offense is clearly the best of the four units that will be on the field Sunday, which obviously gives them a distinct advantage. Vegas has set their line at 10 points, which is absurdly high. This is not to say the Colts can't win Sunday by more than 10 points: they certainly can. It means that the Colts just aren't good enough yet to say they'll absolutely win by double digits. Only two of their 11 wins a year ago were by more than 7 points, so even against below average teams they couldn't really beat-down an opponent. Until they can show they can do it consistently, I can't get behind such a huge spread.
That said, I think the Colts win, but it's "closer than the experts think". The Colts were very good at home last year, only losing to Jacksonville (see, they can lose to bad teams, even at home), and I think that'll continue this year. The Colts should start 2013 with a win. However, never underestimate a team the "experts" think is ranked #32 in the NFL. I know of another team that used that for motivation last season...
Colts 27, Raiders 21