The Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions entered the 2015 season with playoff hopes, but injuries and disappointing play quickly dashed those hopes for both teams. They kick off the 2016 season against each other, hoping for better luck than last season.
The Lions had a nightmare start to 2015, stumbling to a 1-7 start and prompting a midseason house cleaning in the front office. Things turned around after Jim Bob Cooter was promoted to offensive coordinator, however -- the Lions rallied with a 6-2 finish, ending the year with a 7-9 record and doing just enough to save head coach Jim Caldwell's job. Matthew Stafford also played much better with Cooter calling the plays.
But Detroit got more bad news shortly after the year ended, when superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson announced his retirement. The Lions brought in Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin in free agency, and Golden Tate returns as a dangerous playmaker. Tight end Eric Ebron had an injury scare in training camp, but he's expected to be ready to play Week 1. It's a solid group of pass catchers, but they'll be hard-pressed to replace the matchup advantages Megatron created by just being on the field.
The Lions also want to see more from the running game. Ameer Abdullah showed flashes in his rookie year, but he ultimately disappointed with just 597 rushing yards on 143 carries. More will be expected from the 2015 second-rounder this season. The defense is anchored by pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah, but still has question marks across the secondary. It'll be on Stafford and company to keep the chains moving if the Lions are to get back to their winning ways.
The Colts' Super Bowl aspirations blew up when Andrew Luck endured the worst season of his career. Playing through injuries for most of 2015, Luck made it just seven games before hitting injured reserve with a lacerated kidney. He finished the year with just 15 touchdown passes and 6.4 yards per attempt, both career lows.
Fortunately, Luck is healthy again and still has a good supporting cast in Frank Gore, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Dwayne Allen, in addition to rising second-year receiver Phillip Dorsett. The offensive line got a much-needed upgrade in first-round rookie center Ryan Kelly, although veteran guard Jack Mewhort's status is undetermined for this game as he suffered a knee injury but has made progress in returning.
The defense remains a point of concern for head coach Chuck Pagano. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman departed in free agency, while shutdown cornerback Vontae Davis is dealing with a severe ankle injury that could keep him out for the first month of the season. For a defense that gave up 25.5 points per game last year (eighth-most in the league) it's hard to pinpoint an area where Indy truly improved on.
But if Luck stays healthy and returns to playing at an MVP level, that could all be moot. Entering his fifth year in the NFL, there is more pressure than ever on the 27-year-old to deliver the Colts back to the promised land.
How to watch
When: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
Announcers: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin