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Indianapolis Colts vs. San Diego Chargers preview

Indianapolis Colts v San Diego Chargers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts are 0-2 for the third straight season, but they’ll be looking to follow that up just like they have in the past two years: with a winning streak. In order to get on the winning track this Sunday, however, they’ll have to face an old nemesis in the San Diego Chargers.

For Colts fans who have been following the team for a while, the Chargers might bring back some bad memories. The Colts are 10-18 all-time against San Diego, but they have lost their last three meetings and six of their last seven. Twice in the later years of the Peyton Manning era the Chargers knocked the Colts out of the playoffs, in Indianapolis in the 2007 season and then in San Diego in the 2008 season. The Colts are just 3-11 all-time at home against the Chargers (0-1 at Lucas Oil Stadium), and the Colts lost the only previous meeting between the two teams in the Andrew Luck era 19-9 in 2013.

This weekend, however, those games are just memories of the past. It’s been a couple of years since the two teams met, and both of them have changed quite a bit since then. The biggest constants that remain are the quarterbacks, however, and that’s the biggest matchup to highlight entering this weekend.

For the Chargers, they still have Philip Rivers, who’s in his 13th season with San Diego and who has completed 64.9% of his passes for 41,910 yards and 286 touchdowns with 135 interceptions for a passer rating of 95.8 in his career. Rivers currently ranks 14th in career passing yards, eleventh in career passing touchdowns, and eighth in career passer rating, having a very good and at times underrated career. He’s still playing at a high level, and this year has a passer rating of 120.3, as he has completed 42 of 60 passes (70%) for 463 yards (7.7 yards per attempt) and five touchdowns without a pick. He is the best quarterback the Colts will have faced yet this year, and that’s not good news for the Indianapolis defense. The Colts rank 25th in pass defense (299 yards per game allowed), 23rd in opponent passer rating (106.6), 32nd in the percentage of opponent passes going for first downs (the Colts have allowed 45.8% of passes thrown to be converted for first downs), and 31st in pass defense DVOA. They will once again be without cornerbacks Patrick Robinson and Darius Butler on Sunday (and maybe Vontae Davis, though there’s a chance he’ll play), and the matchup of this Colts’ defense against Philip Rivers looks, on paper, to be a huge mismatch.

That could shift the pressure even more to the Colts’ quarterback, Andrew Luck. Luck has also had a good start to the 2016 season, as he has completed 52 of 87 passes (59.8%) for 582 yards (6.7 yards per attempt), five touchdowns with one interception for a passer rating of 94.1. The Chargers actually rank lower than the Colts do in pass defense (they’re 29th, giving up 324.5 yards per game), but they rank 13th in pass defense when it comes to DVOA. With questions about Indy’s defense Andrew Luck and the offense will once again need to step up, and they’ll need to do so without number two wideout Donte Moncrief, who will miss 4-6 weeks with a fractured scapula.

Speaking of injuries, both the Colts and the Chargers have been hit hard this year, and if there’s one team that actually has it worse than the Colts do, it’s San Diego. The Chargers have already placed 14 players on injured reserve this year, including key guys such as wide receivers Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson and running back Danny Woodhead. So the Chargers’ 53-man roster is definitely healthier than the Colts’ 53-man roster right now, but their injuries have come in the form of season-enders. The Colts have been fortunate in the sense to not have a major season-ending injury yet, but they’ve struggled to even field a defense (mainly in the secondary) in recent weeks with all the injuries. This week, 18 players appeared on the injury report for Indianapolis, with 15 of them actually dealing with injuries. In other words, neither team nor fanbase will be giving the other much sympathy for the injury situations.

One other interesting thing to note about this game is that, based on DVOA, we’ll get to see the two worst run defenses in the NFL (the Colts are 31st and the Chargers 32nd). If that winds up being a key factor in the game, the Chargers hold the advantage. The Colts haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in a game since 2012, and this year Frank Gore has rushed for 103 yards while averaging 3.8 yards per carry. He’s done a solid job in the run game, but that’s clearly not the Colts’ strength. The Chargers have Melvin Gordon, who was the team’s first round pick last year. As a rookie in 2015 he disappointed, but he’s shown signs of his potential through two games this year, rushing for 159 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 4.2 yards per carry. So if the game comes down to the run game, the Colts once again figure to hold the disadvantage.

Regardless of how they do it, however, the Colts simply need a win. That’s an obvious statement, but this week’s game is as close to a “must win” game as you’ll find in week three. The Colts can’t afford an 0-3 start, which would put them in a big hole (even though playing in the AFC South gives them a better chance of being able to crawl out of it). The Colts just need to get on the winning track however they can, and they need to avoid an 0-3 start. In the past two seasons, they’ve been able to rebound and do just that after an 0-2 start. This year, the Colts’ backs are once again up the wall early in the season, and they’ll need a fast start to Sunday’s game as they try to avoid an even slower start to the season.

Predicted Score: Colts 30, Chargers 27