The Indianapolis Colts and Oakland Raiders will meet up in Week 1 of the NFL season in a matchup that features franchises trending in opposite directions. After back-to-back .500 seasons in 2010 and '11, the Raiders dropped to 4-12 last year behind a faulty defense and inconsistent quarterback play. The Colts, meanwhile, shot from basement-dwelling in 2011 to 11-5 last season.
The Raiders are hoping to steal an early win on the road, but taking down the reinvigorated Colts will be a tall order.
Meet the Colts
With Peyton Manning providing a reminder on Thursday night that he is still one of the league's elite passers, Colts fans will be even more eager for Andrew Luck to get off to a fast start in his second year as the starting quarterback. With over 4,000 yards and 23 touchdowns, Year 1 wasn't a bad start, though he'll need to rein in the 18 picks he tossed. Receiver Reggie Wayne should continue to produce at the age of 34 and T.Y. Hilton is waiting in the wings to break out. Ahmad Bradshaw was expected to play a starting role at running back after coming over from the Giants, but he's still locked in a battle with second-year man Vick Ballard.
As good as Luck and the offense were in 2012, the defense was just as abysmal. The Colts finished 21st in scoring defense and were especially porous against the run, allowing nearly 140 yards per game on the ground. It doesn't look they'll be much better this season, especially considering they parted ways with defensive end Dwight Freeney in the offseason.
Meet the Raiders
The big news out of Oakland, of course, is that Terrelle Pryor will be starting at quarterback. It's caused quite a stir both outside and inside the Raiders organization, but with a faulty offensive line up front, the decision to go with the athletic Pryor over the less-mobile Matt Flynn makes sense. The true key to the Raiders offensive success, however, lies with the durability of Darren McFadden, who has yet to play more than 13 games in any of his five NFL seasons.
After ranking 28th in scoring defense a season ago, the Raiders don't look to be much improved heading into 2013. In preseason play, they allowed points on an astounding 16 of their 18 drives, a foreboding stat for a team that allowed nearly 28 points per game last year. Defensive back Charles Woodson rejoins the club after a successful seven-year stint in Green Bay, but it's unclear how much he'll be able to contribute at the age of 36.
Local Takes: Colts
With the mobile but sometimes inaccurate Pryor taking the field, Tyler Brooke at Stampede Blue thinks the Colts defense will challenge the quarterback to beat them through the air by containing him on the ground.
The defensive line looked very solid and fluid this preseason thanks to the nice combination of veterans and young players. They were able to get a lot of penetration over the past few weeks, and the amount of depth means that fresh legs will be in there often. If the preseason was any indication, the Colts could do a good job winning the battle in the trenches on defense, and that could keep the Raiders one-dimensional for the whole game.
Keeping Pryor contained and forcing him to make plays with his arm would be the best strategy against him. While he does have a strong arm, he tends to make bad decisions and sometimes has issues with accuracy. This will be a good test for Greg Toler to see just how much of an upgrade he can be for this secondary..
Local Takes: Raiders
Raider Nation has been deeply divided over the announcement of Pryor's starting role. While Pryor may not be as talented as Flynn, Jeff Spiegel at Silver and Black Pride argues that he's still the right man for the job.
So is Pryor the better quarterback? You might be surprised to hear me say this, but I still believe the answer is no.
If we rephrase the question, to say, "Is Pryor the better quarterback for the Raiders right now?" — then my answer changes.
My reasoning is simple:
For starters, this team is a mess. The offensive line is a mess, the receivers are a mess and the defense is a mess. In a situation like that, the need for a quarterback who can run and create offense all by himself is all the more important. This team no longer needs a quarterback to limit mistakes — at the rate the defense is giving up points it won't really matter — they need a quarterback who can keep them in games.
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@mchappell51 - Colts beat writer
#colts angerer on concussion: "I kind of thought it would go away. It didn’t. ...you don’t know what a conucussion is supposed to feel like.— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) September 6, 2013
@Jerrymcd - Raiders beat writer
Menelik Watson did not practice, Dennis Allen said. Will know more tomorrow. Would need to make transaction if he can't play.— Jerry McDonald (@Jerrymcd) September 5, 2013
Peter Prisco at CBS Sports sees the Colts cruising through this one, 27-14.
The Raiders have major problems in a lot of spots. Does it really matter who starts at quarterback? They will have problems winning three games this season. This is a great way to start for Andrew Luck in his second season. The happiest guy in this one might be Robert Mathis, who will spend the day in the Raiders backfield. Colts easy.
The line opened with the Colts as seven-point favorites, but has since trended toward the ten-point range in most major sports books, according to Oddsshark.com.