#279 Detroit Lionsvs.#280 Indianapolis Colts
Written by Chris Kubala
Detroit Lions (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS, 0-0 O/U) vs. Indianapolis Colts (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS, 0-0 O/U)
NFL: Sunday, August 13, 2017, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1:30 pm ET
Spread: Pick ‘Em, Over/Under: 37.5
It’s an inter-conference matchup in week 1 of the NFL preseason slate in the Hoosier State. The Detroit Lions open up their preseason action as they take on the Indianapolis Colts Sunday afternoon. Detroit made the postseason for the second time in three years in 2016 and hope to build off last season’s success. Indianapolis finished at the .500 mark last year and missed the playoffs for the second straight season. The Colts hope to reassert themselves in the AFC South this season. Indianapolis holds a 21-19-2 advantage in the all-time regular season series between the teams though the Lions took a 39-35 win in the most recent matchup on September 11, 2016.
Detroit was 2-2 in the preseason last year and after starting the regular season 1-3, won eight of nine games. The Lions then went cold, losing their final three games in the regular season, costing them the NFC North title and then were blown out 26-6 in the wild card game by Seattle. Of course, Detroit was outscored 358-346 in the regular season, giving them a point differential of a team expected to win 7.7 games last year. The Lions are hoping for better health from some key contributors offensively in order to take the next step this year. Detroit needs to improve their running game and hopes that the return of Ameer Abdullah can cure those ails: Theo Riddick led the team last year with just 357 rushing yards, though he did grab 53 passes out of the backfield.
At quarterback, Matthew Stafford (388 of 594, 4327 yards, 24 TD, 10 INT) is back at quarterback and he has a firm grasp of the system. There’s not a ton of depth behind him if something should go wrong: Jake Rudock and Brad Kaaya are next on the depth chart. Golden Tate (91 receptions, 1037 yards, 4 TD) is a valuable receiver, especially out of the slot, but he’s not really a true #1 wideout. Marvin Jones (55 grabs, 930 yards, 4 TD) started off like gangbusters and then cooled off. The team will hope that third round pick Kenny Golladay can step in and contribute, especially after not re-signing veteran Anquan Boldin. Eric Ebron (61 receptions, 711 yards, TD) had his best season as a pro but still has work to do in order to become a red zone threat. On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions hope for bounceback seasons from Ziggy Ansah, who fell from 14.5 sacks in 2015 to two last year, and corner Darius Slay. Detroit drafted linebacker Jarrad Davis in the opening round and corner Teez Tabor in the second round in an effort to help bolster their back seven. The Lions will look for A’Shawn Robinson to improve over his rookie season to help the front four.
Indianapolis went 2-2 in the preseason after having their visit at the Hall of Fame Game canceled last season. They were just as average in the regular season, finishing 8-8, a game behind Houston for the AFC South title. Five of their losses came by one score and the team gave up at least 30 points on five different occasions. That was enough to get GM Ryan Grigson fired and replaced by Chris Ballard: only three of Grigson’s last 18 draft picks were left on board. It’s safe to figure that head coach Chuck Pagano is on the hot seat at this point as well. The biggest problem is the offensive line, which was below average last season and the only change this year was the selection in the fourth-round of Zach Banner. That’s going to be a major issue for Ballard to address going forward.
Andrew Luck (346 of 545, 4240 yards, 31 TD, 13 INT, 341 rushing yards, 2 TD) is still the cornerstone of the franchise at quarterback. The problem is he gets hit a lot: he was sacked 41 times last season and took a slew of other hits. He has to stay healthy because the depth chart behind him consists of Scott Tolzien, Stephen Morris and rookie Philip Walker. Frank Gore (263 carries, 1025 yards, 4 TD) is back to lead the ground game but he’s 34: how much does he have left in the tank? Rookie Marlon Mack from South Florida could cut into Gore’s action while Christine Michael tries to catch on again somewhere else. T.Y. Hilton (91 grabs, 1448 yards, 6 TD) is the go-to receiver in the passing game: Indianapolis will need more production from Donte Moncrief (30 receptions, 307 yards, 7 TD), Phillip Dorsett (33 grabs, 528 yards, two TD), along with free agent acquisition Kamar Aiken and rookie Bug Howard. Jack Doyle (59 catches, 584 yards, 5 TD) is the feature tight end now that Dwayne Allen went to New England as a free agent. Defensively, the Colts have to get a pass rush going: none of the returning players from a year ago had more than three sacks. The addition of Malik Hooker in the first round and Quincy Wilson in the second round, along with a return to form by Vontae Davis, will help tighten up the secondary.
There are a fair amount of questions for both teams to answer here in the preseason. For the Lions, who will seize the #2 QB job in case Stafford goes down? Can they keep Abdullah healthy to help bolster the run game? Can Golladay fill the void created by the departure of Boldin? Things aren’t any easier for the Colts: can Luck survive 16 games behind a questionable offensive line? Can Gore carry the load on the ground or will he end up being phased out? Can anyone get pressure on the quarterback for the Indianapolis defense? In preseason, with limited reps for the starters, you have to give Tolzien the edge over the Lions’ backups: look for the Colts to prevail in this one.
Detroit hopes that the acquisitions of guys like T.J. Lang to their offensive line will help make things better as far as opening holes on the ground and protecting Stafford. The Lions need to get better production from guys on the defensive side of the ball: Kerry Hyder had eight sacks last year but can’t play against the run while Ansah finished with only two sacks last season. The team let DeAndre Levy go as he hasn’t recovered from a knee injury, leaving a gap in the linebacker group. Indianapolis has massive questions on the offensive line and let their best pass rusher (Erik Walden, 11 sacks) go in free agency. If Luck can’t stay healthy, it could make for a rough year for the Colts as there’s not much to look at offensively other than him.
The under is 9-2 in the Lions last 11 games overall, 9-2 in their last 11 games on fieldturf and 20-7 in their last 27 road contests. Indianapolis has seen the under go 5-0 in their last five home games, 6-1 in their last seven games on fieldturf and 5-2 in their last seven games overall. Given the extremely short stints you can expect to see the A list guys on the field in this one and the unproven commodities on both sides of the ball for either side, this one likely falls short of the total.
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Christopher Kubala has been crunching stats and following sports for over 30 years. His in depth analysis and passion for sports have led him to writing books about sports, regularly being featured on sports talk radio and as the go-to person for any obscure trivia. He keeps an eye on transactions and statistics like a hawk, especially when it comes to football, both the NFL and college, the NHL, the NBA and college basketball and MLB.