This Sunday, as everyone reading this already knows, the Indianapolis Colts travel to Chicago to take on the Bears in the regular season opener.
Not many people gave the Colts a chance against the Bears in the offseason, but now that they have seen Andrew Luck play, some are giving them a chance now. Some are even predicting an upset (ahem, Matt Grecco).
I said Bears all along, and I'm sticking with it. I say Chicago wins 31-17, but let me also say this: I won't rule out a Colts win. I, for one, don't think this team is all too bad. They have holes, but they also worked on filling other needs (trading for Vontae Davis was HUGE). The offense could be pretty good, in my opinion. The defense, while I am expecting it to be bad, could actually hold their own this year.
The Bears are going to be good this year. They have one of the best quarterback/running back/wide receiver combinations in all of football in Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, and Brandon Marshall. Their defense, which has been the cornerstone of the team for years, may not have to carry them this year. Which is good news for the Bears, considering the defense is aging and there are serious injury concerns with Brian Urlacher (who will indeed play Sunday).
How in the world could a young, inexperienced team led by a rookie quarterback go into Soldier Field and win in their season opener? Here are the three big keys to a Colts victory Sunday:
1) Andrew Luck
Where Andrew Luck goes, so go the Colts. While the team is not going to be built so much around Luck as it was around Peyton Manning, this year it may seem that way. The bottom line is that the Colts are made up of inexperienced players who were pieced together from various places. The Colts don't have many superstars. Andrew Luck is the biggest one. This Sunday will be his first game, and he will make mistakes, but I don't expect him to be overwhelmed. He is as NFL ready as any rookie ever has been. He is good enough that I expect him to be able to pull out some wins this year - I have the Colts winning 7 games. As long as Luck plays well, the Colts will have a shot in pretty much every game this year. Yeah, he's that good. If he plays well Sunday, the Colts will have a chance to win. If he struggles, the Colts will struggle. It's as simple as that.
2) The Offensive Line
This one kind of ties into number one - the Colts must protect Andrew Luck. The line was shaky in their final two preseason games, causing concern among Colts fans. To add to that, it was announced today that Seth Olsen would start at left guard in place of the injured Joe Reitz. Olsen is a major downgrade from Reitz, and for even more comfort consider that Jeff Linkenbachwill likely be the one to replace Olsen if he struggles. The line must keep Andrew Luck upright - and if they do, Luck will keep the Colts in the game. Also the line must provide good run blocking. The real issue with the Colts run game in recent years has been with the offensive line, in my opinion. Ryan Grigson completely blew the unit up this offseason (only one starter returns - left tackle Anthony Castonzo). That may have been just the thing the Colts needed, but it is too early to tell. Football games are won in the trenches, and the Colts offensive line will need to play well if they are to have a chance at a win.
3) The Linebackers
In a 3-4 defense, the linebackers are expected to make most of the plays, and the Colts currently have question marks at linebacker. It is a unit that could be really good, but it also could be a weak spot. We just don't know yet. The outside linebackers, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, are making a transition to standing up. Freeney will be playing at his traditional end spot quite a bit as well, but he is officially labeled a linebacker. He was nonexistent this preseason, and while I hope that was due to him just not playing as hard, I have my doubts. And while Mathis looked a little better, he still didn't have much of an impact either. If those two can adjust and play solid football, then this defense will instantly become a lot better. At inside backer, Kavell Conner and Jerrell Freeman will start, as Pat Angerer is injured. Conner and Freeman are both good young players, but I want to see how they do against the Chicago Bears and Matt Forte. The linebackers will need to stop the Bears run game and provide pressure on Jay Cutler. They will play a big role on Sunday, and they will have a big impact on the game. If they do their job, then the defense will more than hold its own, which would take a lot of the pressure off of Mr. Luck.
If Andrew Luck, the offensive line, and the linebackers do their job on Sunday, the Colts will have a real chance to win.
While I picked the Bears to win 31-17 (and don't let the score mislead you - I do expect it to be relatively close), I won't rule out a Colts victory. So yes, I would officially put the Chicago Bears on upset alert. This Colts team is unproven and has potential - I'm excited to see what they can do on the field.