The Indianapolis Colts were a trendy pick to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50, but barely looked like a fringe playoff team in their season-opening loss to the Buffalo Bills. They'll try to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole when they host the New York Jets on Monday Night Football.
A trip to Levi's Stadium in February should be the logical progression for a Colts squad that has taken a step forward in the playoffs during each of Andrew Luck's three seasons -- they lost in the Wild Card round in 2012 and reached the Divisional Playoffs in 2013, before losing in the AFC Championship game last year. The Colts then ramped up the expectations even further this offseason, signing a bevy of veteran studs and creating what some hyped as possibly the greatest offense ever.
Problem is, they don't play the games on paper. The Colts got a startling wake-up call last week when their supposedly explosive offense looked anything but superhuman in the loss to the Bills. They were held without a point for the first 44 minutes and didn't even cross midfield until five minutes remained in the first half. The early returns on the Colts' new additions were not good, either: Frank Gore was held to 31 yards on eight carries, Andre Johnson caught only four of his 10 targets for 24 yards and rookie Phillip Dorsett muffed two punts.
The Jets enter this game with some surprising momentum after they throttled the Cleveland Browns in Week 1. Rex Ryan might have taken his talents upstate to Buffalo, but the Jets are still a ground-and-pound team under new head coach Todd Bowles. Their blueprint for success hasn't changed: use an aggressive defense and ball-control offense to wear down their opponents for 60 minutes. It worked to near-perfection against the Browns, as they forced five turnovers, had three sacks, didn't allow a single touchdown in the red zone and rushed for 154 yards in the convincing 31-10 win.
Andrew Luck has faced the Jets just once in his career and it's a game he probably would like to forget. The Colts were blown out at the Meadowlands in Week 6 of 2012, losing 35-9 to a Jets team that would finish with double-digit losses that year. Luck completed just 50 percent of his passes and was picked off twice in one of his worst performances. Granted, he was a rookie with just four games under his belt, but his passer rating of 51.3 was the third-worst he's ever posted in a game.
Should panic really set in if the Colts somehow are unable to deliver a win in their home opener on Monday night? Under the current playoff format (since 1990) only 12 percent of teams that lose their first two games of the season end up in the playoffs. And the trends have been even worse recently: since 2009, 45 teams have started 0-2 and just two of them have gone on to play in the postseason.
Of course, one of those teams was the 2014 Colts, who rebounded to win 11 of their final 14 regular season games. If any preseason division favorite could go 0-2 and still make the playoffs, it's the Colts. They still have a chance to beat up on the weak AFC South, which the Colts have made a habit of doing over the last three seasons. They haven't lost a division game since Week 15 of 2012 and are 16-2 against the AFC South with Luck under center.
One of the key matchups in this game will be how Luck handles a blitz-happy Jets defense. Luck didn't fare well against the relentless pressure of the Bills in Week 1, going 9 of 23 for 118 yards with one interception and a 34.3 passer rating. That performance was a far cry from the way he expertly handled added pressure last year, when he produced a 110.7 passer rating with 18 touchdowns and just three picks in 234 dropbacks versus the blitz.
Look for the Jets to continue their run-heavy offensive game plan against a Colts defensive front that was gashed for 147 yards in Week 1 and finished with the third-worst run defense grade per Pro Football Focus. The Jets ran 36 times in Week 1, tied for the third-most rush attempts, and were one of four teams to gain at least 150 yards on the ground. That's a familiar script for Gang Green, which had the fourth-most rushing attempts (507) and third-most rushing yards (2,280) in 2014.
Who to Watch
Chris Ivory - His numbers from Week 1 weren't eye-popping (20 carries, 91 yards), but he showed off a tough, punishing running style that should make him a true No. 1 back for the Jets. Last week 64 of his 91 yards came after contact, per Pro Football Focus, one of the highest totals of his career. He also took advantage of multiple red-zone chances, scoring two touchdowns, so look for the Jets to ride him early and often on Monday night.
Donte Moncrief - T.Y. Hilton will be a game-time decision, but even if he is able to suit up against the Jets, he'll likely be limited by his knee injury and probably will be shadowed by shutdown corner Darrelle Revis. That should significantly increase Moncrief's role in the Colts' passing game and he could see the majority of the targets this week. Although he hasn't yet lived up to the sky-high expectations many have placed on him, Moncrief still has a ton of upside and the talent to be an exciting player in this league.
How to Watch Online
When: 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Announcers: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
It is nearly a clean sweep for the Colts among the experts' picks this week. All eight of the guys at CBS Sports are taking Indianapolis and nine of the 13 at ESPN are also siding with the home team. As for our panelists at SB Nation, only PFT Commenter is brave enough to take the underdog Jets.
The Colts are 7.5-point favorites and the over/under is set at 46.5 in this game, according to Oddsshark.com.