It’s the most wonderful time of the year as the NFL is back with a full slate of games this weekend. On Sunday September 8, the Los Angeles Chargers host the shell shocked Indianapolis Colts at 4:05 p.m. Eastern at something called Dignity Health Sports Park in someplace called Carson, Calif. Next year they’ll be in their new home in LA.
The Chargers, coached by Anthony Lynn, are coming off an excellent 2018-19 season where they won 12 games and made the playoffs. They beat the Ravens in the wildcard round but got smoked by the Patriots in the Divisional Round 41-28. Once again, the talented Chargers, led by quarterback Philip Rivers, are expected to compete for the AFC title. Can they finally break through?
Indianapolis Colts fans had high hopes for their beloved home town team coming into the 2019-20 season. Last year, they surprised everyone by finishing 10-6 and making the playoffs. They beat the Texans in the wildcard round and lost to the Chiefs in the Divisional Round. Then, about two weeks before the start of the season, All-Pro quarterback Andrew Luck shocked everyone by announcing his retirement at age 29. Now, with backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett at the helm, Colts fans don’t know what to expect.
Colts begin life without Luck
What do you do when you lose your Pro Bowl quarterback two weeks before the season to retirement? Well, we’ll find out starting Sunday when the Colts officially begin the post Andrew Luck era. After Luck announced his retirement on August 24th, the Colts went from being one of the favorites in the AFC to being an also-ran. It’s a shame for Colts fans because last year, Luck won the Comeback Player of the Year Award and led then to a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance. They won their wildcard game, beating the Texans.
So where do the Colts go now? They elevated Luck’s backup, Jacoby Brissett, to starter and signed veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer as his backup. The Colts are confident in Brissett’s abilities and will build the offense around him.
“There are coaches that run systems, and then there are coaches that run systems but adapt to their players of what they (can) do,” offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni told the Herald Bulletin. “All coaches will do that. Again, we want a system with adapting to our players.” Sirianni added that there’s “an element of surprise that we get back right there (with Brissett starting) that’s to our advantage.”
The Colts do have some offensive talent around Brissett. He has a good offensive line, the best the Colts have had in years, and a top-flight receiver in TY Hilton. They also signed Devin Funchess in the offseason, and have Eric Ebron back at tight end, who had a career high 13 touchdowns last year. They also have a nice one-two punch in the backfield with Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines at running back.
Defensively, the Colts took players on the defensive side of the ball with 7 of its first 8 draft picks in the draft. The best of the lot appears to be linebacker Darius Leonard, who impressed in preseason. They also signed Justin Houston from the Chiefs in the off season, which will help their weak pass rush.
They are in a division, the AFC South, with a lot of question marks, so it’ll be interesting to see if they have Luck on their side, after all. The Colts won last time these two teams met in 2016, but this is a new era.
Chargers expected to be among AFC’s best
The Los Angeles Chargers come into the 2019 NFL season as one of a handful of favorites to win the AFC. Last year, the Chargers finished 12-4, which was tied for the best record in the conference with the Chiefs. The Chargers beat the Ravens in the first round of the playoffs and lost to eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots 41-28 in the Divisional Round.
In 2019, expectations are once again high for head coach Anthony Lynn’s squad. The offense is loaded, even without star running back Melvin Gordon, who is holding out. Austin Ekeler will take over Gordon’s role until he comes back, and he is a more than capable backup. Ekeler ran for 554 yards on 5.2 yards per carry last year and had 39 receptions. He’ll be joined in the backfield Justin Jackson. “I’m ready whenever,” Ekeler said, reported the LA Times. “I’m a football player. You have to be flexible. We’ve got a guy here. If he comes back, I’m not going to be the starter anymore. He’s going to work his way back in.”
Of course, the offense will center around 37 year old Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers, who had one of the best years of his career, throwing for 4,300 yards, 32 touchdowns, and had a 68 percent completion percentage. He has some weapons on the outside in Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen, who had 97 catches for 1,196 yards and 6 touchdowns. He’s joined by Mike Williams, who emerged as a major threat, catching 43 passes for 664 yards with a team-high 10 touchdowns. Look for Williams to have a big year in 2019.
Defensively, the Chargers have one of the best units in the NFL. Their pass rush is among the best in the league, led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. However, they will miss all-pro safety Derwin James, who is on the injured reserve list. But still, there’s plenty of talent on defense.