The regular season is finally upon us, as the Indianapolis Colts will open their 2015 campaign on Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. ET on the road against the Buffalo Bills. Both teams finished with winning records last year (the Colts 11-5, the Bills 9-7) and both are looking to make the playoffs this year. The Colts are led by one of the league's best offenses, while the Bills are led by one of the league's best defenses. It will be an exciting week one matchup to be sure, and it will likely be a tough, hard-fought game. Let's jump into our preview of the matchup, then a prediction for the game.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Offense vs. Bills Defense
I am very tempted to go with the Colts' wide receivers against rookie cornerback Ronald Darby, who will be making his first career NFL start. He's a good corner, but the reality is that he'll still be making his first start. I'd expect the Colts to try to create favorable matchups against the young corner and I'd expect Andrew Luck to target him a lot, especially early on in the game to test him. But with that said, that's not the matchup that I'm going with here. Instead, I'm going with the Bills' defensive line against the Colts' offensive line. Part of the reason is because so many have been concerned about the offensive line for the Colts, but part of it is because the Bills have a really good front seven and can really get after the passer. In 2014, the Bills finished with the third-best passing defense in the NFL, and a large part of that was due to their NFL-most 54 sacks. Mario Williams had 14.5. Jerry Hughes had 10. Marcell Dareus had 10 (though he'll miss the game against the Colts due to a suspension). Kyle Williams had 5.5. The point is, the Bills have plenty of guys who can get after the quarterback, and the Colts have had struggles protecting Andrew Luck. On Sunday, that will play a key role in the outcome - can the Colts protect Luck enough so that he can make plays in the passing game (perhaps against Darby)? Or will the Bills cause enough disruption to throw off the entire Colts' passing game? There's the old adage about how football games are won in the trenches, and it's entirely possible that a huge key to this Sunday's game will wind up being how well the Colts' line can hold up against a very good Bills pass rush.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Defense vs. Bills Offense
Really, where else can we go with this matchup but this: the Colts' run defense against LeSean McCoy and the Bills run game? That's the only logical matchup to highlight here, as that's both the most important and most talked about entering the game. The Colts will be starting two rookies on their defensive line in Henry Anderson and David Parry, and for as much potential as they might have, it's still their first NFL start. The run defense has been a question mark for a while, and this offseason the team didn't do a ton to make those questions stop. Now, they'll be without Arthur Jones for the entire season. I like the move to add Kendall Langford and think he could have a very nice season, but the question marks about the run defense are still there and very fair. Add to that the Bills situation, as they acquired one of the league's best running backs this offseason in LeSean McCoy, and it makes for a key matchup on Sunday. The Bills will likely rely heavily on McCoy and the run game, which is also a good way to expose this Colts defense - at least until they show they can stop the run. Will that be this Sunday? If not, the Bills could have quite a bit of success running against the Colts, which would spell trouble for the visiting team.
Why the Colts Will Win
Let's start here: Andrew Luck vs. Tyrod Taylor. Which would you rather have? Which do you have more confidence in? For both of those answers, I think it would be a unanimous answer: Luck. Taylor might be able to give the Colts' defense trouble, but Luck is one of the best quarterbacks in the game. And though the Bills defense is tough, so is the Colts' offense, and they should be able to put up some points. Defensively, the Colts might have some rough points, but if they can play disciplined football against Taylor and the Bills' offense, they should be able to keep the Bills from outscoring their offense.
Why the Colts Won't Win
The Bills defense is not to be underrated. The Colts offense will win some matchups, to be sure, but the Bills defense can give them trouble. Last year, the Colts played three games against teams that finished in the top ten in pass defense (the Browns and two games against the Broncos). Andrew Luck threw two interceptions in each game, while he averaged just 0.86 picks per game in games not against top ten passing defenses (including playoffs). His completion percentage was 4.3% lower, he averaged 1.6 yards less per attempt, and his passer rating was 24.7 points lower in those three games against the top-ten passing units than in the 16 games that weren't against those opponents. I don't say this to bash Luck or say that he underperformed in those games, but I say it to illustrate that even one of the league's passing offenses can be disrupted a bit by a good pass defense (and the Bills were number three last year). And then if the Colts have trouble against Tyrod Taylor (and they've had some struggles against mobile quarterbacks before), the defense could be in for a long day as well.
When the schedule was initially released back April, I predicted the Colts to lose in week one to the Bills. I've always thought that opening the season on the road against a tough team like the Bills in Rex Ryan's head coaching debut would be a tough task. And I still believe that will be the case, as I think the Bills will do enough to slow down the Colts' passing attack a bit, and they also could have success on the ground against the team's run defense. This will be a game that comes down to the fourth quarter of a hard fought game, but I'll take Andrew Luck and the Colts' offense to make just enough plays when it counts to win a close game on the road.