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2016 NFL Week 1 Preview: Indianapolis Colts vs. Detroit Lions

The Colts open the season against one of the best second half teams of last season. Can the return of Andrew Luck start the Colts off to a better start than 2015?

Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Week 1 of the NFL Season always brings the most optimism out of every fan base. Every team (within reason) has a shot to make the Playoffs, and as we've seen before, all you need is a ticket to the dance to win the Super Bowl.

This sentiment is especially true when your favorite team lost their Quarterback halfway through the season, finishing a disappointing 8-8 and losing a very winnable division. The Colts are looking to put 2015 behind them, and hope with a healthy (?) Andrew Luck they'll once again take their spot atop the AFC South. We'll get to a season preview later today, so you'll see how I think the season as a whole will go, and whether they will, in fact, return to the Playoffs this season.

Right now, it's time to find out more about the Colts first opponent of the season, the Detroit Lions. The Lions started off 2015 1-7, and rumors were already swirling that former Colts Head Coach, and current Lions Head Coach Jim Caldwell wasn't going to survive the season. He was not let go, and the season flipped at their bye week, starting with their first win at Lambeau Field since 1991, and they continued their winning ways, finishing their season 6-2. Even though their 7-9 record doesn't look good on the surface, they were playing very well at the end of the season, which has always been a good indication for the following season. Time will tell if that is the case, but I'm going to try and cash in on their low expectations.

The biggest change for the Lions in the offseason is losing their All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson, who decided to retire after "only" nine seasons, and giving Lions fans some serious deja vu. They did attempt to replace Johnson with former Bengal Marvin Jones, but it's a really tall order to replace possibly the NFL's best receiver. They also brought back DT Haloti Ngata, who they traded for the year before. They don't really have any injury news to report (wish I knew what that was like), so they'll be at full strength Sunday afternoon.

Since these teams are in separate conferences, they don't play very often. In fact, since the Colts moved to Indianapolis they've only played seven times, with the Colts holding a 5-2 record, winners of the last four meetings. The last time they played? Luck found Donnie Avery as time expired to complete a frantic 12 point comeback in the last 4:02 to win 35-33, leaving Ford Field in shock. There was also a six TD game from Peyton Manning on Thanksgiving in those previous four meetings.

Because we don't have any data for 2016 yet, we'll look at these teams from last year to see where their strengths/weaknesses may lie.

Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Lions (2015 Adjusted):

Statistic Colts Lions
Offense Rank Defense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank
DSR 66.9% 26 71.5% 22 72.7% 6 71.4% 21
ANPY/A 4.251 31 6.095 20 6.281 9 6.115 22
Turnovers 2.14 29 1.63 18 1.65 18 1.53 21
Yds/Drive 26.48 29 31.95 22 30.26 14 29.32 12
ToP/Drive 2:33.0 23 2:45.0 19 2:52.0 11 2:31.0 5
Yds/Play 4.755 31 5.515 25 5.290 13 5.429 23
Orange Zone Eff 54.7% 19 57.9% 22 67.1% 1 66.4% 32
First Downs/Drive 1.62 22 1.73 17 1.85 9 1.68 12
3rd/4th Down 39.3% 17 42.8% 26 39.2% 18 39.2% 17
Avg Start Pos 28.2 21 29.3 14 29.2 17 29.7 18
3 and Outs 4.37 28 3.27 23 3.32 13 3.43 20
RZ Eff 64.9% 15 72.8% 28 73.3% 4 75.4% 30
Plays/Drive 5.621 18 5.766 21 5.775 13 5.452 6
Penalty Yds / Play 0.837 20 1.032 2 0.808 17 0.718 28
RB Success 41.6% 25 44.5% 15 46.0% 11 40.0% 6
Yds/Carry 3.94 21 4.42 24 3.80 28 4.04 15
Overall 27 22 8 16

Keys to the Game:

  • The Colts Offensive numbers are heavily influenced by non-Andrew Luck Quarterback play, so we can take some of them with a grain of salt. The Colts aren't the 31st best team throwing the football, but it's an area that desperately need improvement. The Lions ranked 22nd in our passing stat, so the Colts should be able to throw the ball against this Defense.
  • The Lions were among the league's best in scoring points when they got into scoring position, and among the league's worst in giving up points inside the 35 and the 20 on Defense. There's no doubt Calvin Johnson played a large part in those lofty numbers, but watching how many points both teams score when they get close to the opponents' end zone will be interesting.
  • With the return of Luck, the Colts should also be stretching the field a lot more than they did a year ago, where they also ranked 31st in the NFL in Yards per Play. The thing that could foil that plan is if the Colts Offensive Line doesn't give the receivers enough time to get down the field, which we know as been an issue Luck's entire career. Add in Jack Mewhort expected to sit out Sunday, and we might be expecting too much with the long plays.
  • You can see overall, the Lions Offense was quite good last season despite their overall record, and while they'll take a slight dip with the loss of Calvin Johnson, I think they're going to be much better than what people think.
Until we see Andrew Luck play a live game, I'm not sold he isn't injured. If he's injured, the Colts have very little chance to be competitive this season. I'm a firm believer that playing well at the end of the season will carry over to the following year, and you only need to look at the 2014 Panthers to see how that can work. The Colts Defense is ravaged with injuries, and I don't think they can stop anyone consistently. I want to be optimistic about their chances, but we've seen time and again how a Chuck Pagano team plays, and against a pretty similar team I don't see them getting the job done, once again starting the season with a loss. They're 1-3 in Week 1 games under Pagano, with the win coming against a team whose Quarterback is playing Wide Receiver this year.

Lions 27, Colts 24