Now three weeks into an intriguing NFL season, a plethora of questions still remain when it comes to the Indianapolis Colts.
After a porous roster defeated Cleveland on Sunday, the Colts’ playoff hopes stayed alive, for the time being. With Jacoby Brissett at the helm, a playoff berth is shaky at best for the Colt. Luckily, Luck should return by week six to right the ship.
Week six is not only Luck’s potential 2017-’18 debut, but it is the first divisional game the Colts play this season. In Nashville, the Colts will finally see how their off-season improvements compare to their rivals. The game will have certain implications if the Colts split their next two games, against the 49ers and Seahawks.
Getting Andrew Luck back could be what this team needs to push for the playoffs. In order to make the playoffs though, the Colts will need to win a majority of their division games. The Indianapolis roster will be tested in these games, especially in insufficient areas in which their division rivals surpass them. But which areas are these?
To put it simply, the Tennessee Titans have the best offense in this division. Marcus Mariota is the clear-cut second best quarterback in the AFC South and is complemented by an awesome offensive line, run game, and group of receivers.
The argument can certainly be made that the Titans have the best running back combination, receiving corp, and offensive line in the division. DeMarco Murray is slowly losing his role but is joined by up and coming Derrick Henry, a potential premier back in this league.
Additionally, a weak spot last year for this team was the targets. Tennessee fixed that with the fifth pick in the draft, selecting Western Michigan product Corey Davis. Eric Decker and rookie Taywan Taylor join Davis and Rishard Matthews as options for Mariota to throw to, and this group has the potential to light up opposing secondaries. Another weapon in this offense is tight end, Delanie Walker.
Not only the best tight end in the division but one of the best in the sport, Walker is a versatile and reliable receiving threat that creates matchup problems for defenses. In the trenches, Tennessee sports one of the best young tackle combinations in the league with Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan.
Adding to this are Josh Kline, Quinton Spain, and Ben Jones, one of the best interior offensive lineman trios in the sport. Though Indy possesses the better quarterback in Andrew Luck, the Titans’ firepower surpasses the Colts’ weapons in every category, and the offensive line is clearly better than the questionable group in Lucas Oil.
On the other side of the ball, the Titans are above average, but still not great.
Jurrell Casey is a prolific force in the middle of that defensive line. DaQuan Jones and Sylvester Williams are below average ends, but the effective edge rushers make up for it. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan get to the quarterback in a hurry and present a threat to any offensive line.
Tennessee is bringing back the interior linebacker combo of Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard, a duo that was underrated in their last campaign. The linebacking core is solid, to say the least, and helps out a secondary which is still growing.
At cornerback, free agent acquisition Logan Ryan leads the group, with LeShaun Sims and Adoree’ Jackson behind him. This group has a lot of talent but will struggle against the elite receivers in the league. An average safety combo rounds out the secondary, with Kevin Byard and Jonathan Cyprien. When comparing the two defenses, the Colts are outshined in every facet. The Colts defense simply isn’t there yet, and the Titans dominate this comparison. Also, both teams have good special teams units, though I believe the ageless wonder Adam Vinatieri helps to give the Colts the edge here.
Overall, the Titans seem like the better team. The offense is better in every respect except for quarterback, where Luck takes the cake. A competent run game joins a dangerous receiving core and an outstanding offensive line to complete an offense run by a quarterback who is poised beyond his years.
Defensively, it is not very close either. In both the front seven and secondary, the Titans outweigh Indianapolis, and it should show on the field. The Colts would be lucky to split with the Tennessee Titans.
After disappointing last season, the Jacksonville Jaguars held the fourth pick and selected Leonard Fournette, the running back from LSU. This addition was one of many that shaped one of the quietest rebuilds in the league, a process that built one of the best non-QB rosters in the league.
On offense, Blake Bortles is still Blake Bortles, even though his London adventure embellishes his play. The offensive line is shaky, but if Cam Robinson pans out, can be one of the better lines in the league. Furthermore, a big loss for this team was star wideout Allen Robinson, who tore his ACL. This leaves them with a banged-up receiving corp that needs some help. Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee are both adequate two receivers, but one will need to step up for this group to ascend.
Prior mentioned Leonard Fournette has played well thus far, and if he can stay healthy, will be an OROY candidate. With Bortles under center, almost any quarterback, including Indy’s superstar, will have the advantage. Fournette is much better than Frank Gore though, evening the score.
T.Y. Hilton has the ability to dominate a game, a talent no Jags receiver possesses, giving the Colts the edge in the pass-catching category. To be fair, both offensive lines are spotty, but Ryan Kelly’s upside just barely gives the Colts an advantage. For these reasons, the Colts are better at putting points on the board than their Floridian rivals.
Sacksonville built themselves a nice defense to compliment a roller coaster offense. The young talent runs awry, with budding stars Jalen Ramsey, Telvin Smith, Myles Jack, and Yannick Ngakoue leading this defense. Veteran presences such as Paul Posluszny, A.J. Bouye, and Malik Jackson also add to a defense that may be top five in the entire league.
It is not even a competition when compared to Indianapolis. Better defensive line, better linebackers, better corners, and better safeties; the whole nine yards. This Jacksonville team has elite talent across its defense, wiping out many offenses in its path. Moreover, a battle to watch when these two teams play is the Jags defensive front against the Colts offensive line. If the Indy offensive linemen hold up, the Colts can steal a game or two. If not, the Jaguars can run away with a few victories.
When talking about trench battles, the Colts seemed to be in trouble when facing the Jaguars. This problem only intensifies when playing the best front seven in the sport. One of the best defensive players ever is joined by a generational freak outside linebacker and a few other solid pieces to form a front seven that no one can stop. I can guarantee Luck will not have fun in this game and will spend a majority of the game on the ground.
Though the pass rush is legitimate, the pass protection is lacking in Houston. Kevin Johnson is average at best, and Jonathan Joseph is far from what he once was, and receivers like T.Y. could have a field day in Houston. The safety duo is just plain bad, with both a limited ceiling and a low floor. Once again, their immaculate front seven makes up for it though, since you can not throw the ball down the field without time.
To add, Houston’s offense has seen its ups and downs, as well. Rookie passer Deshaun Watson has been inconsistent but has shown spurts of talent without much around him. Duane Brown’s contract holdout cripples this offense, allowing them to be dominated by lower-tier front sevens.
The run game is not bad at all, even if Lamar Miller has not exceeded expectations. D’onta Foreman showed great value for where he was picked and also helps in a dangerous rushing attack.
After receiving a jaw-dropping extension, it is now time to prove it for Deandre Hopkins. The Clemson product seemingly carries his quarterback who has seen his fair share of struggles without an offensive line. The rest of the group possesses speed but is nowhere near as complete as Hopkins or any other stud receiver.
Once the Texans gain some tackles, the offense will be much more potent, and Watson will certainly improve. Obviously, the Colts’ defense is outshined by the Houston pack, but Andrew Luck’s massive advantage over the rookie passer helps to exemplify why the Colts have a better offense. This matchup is pretty even, and any team will have a shot to win either game.
Ultimately, the Colts have some work ahead of them. They’re not the most talented team in this division, but they do have playmaing on offense to keep the race for the AFC South interesting. The key? Getting a healthy Luck back as soon as possible.