AFC West: Indianapolis Colts

Upon Further Review: Chiefs-Colts

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4

Adam Teicher and Mike Wells break down the Kansas City Chiefs' 45-44 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs.

Live blog: Chiefs at Colts

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
Join our NFL experts for playoff football as the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Indianapolis Colts on wild-card weekend.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET. See you there.

Something will have to give when the Indianapolis Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs meet in an AFC wild-card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.

The Chiefs have lost seven straight playoff games, tying them for the longest playoff losing streak in NFL history. The Colts have lost three straight wild-card playoff games.

This is the second time the teams will meet in a three-game period. The Colts, who are on a three-game winning streak, beat the Chiefs 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 22. Colts reporter Mike Wells and Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher break down the matchup.

Teicher: The Colts were wobbling coming into Kansas City a couple of weeks ago but seem to have righted themselves that day. What can you point to as the reasons?

Wells: Most fans would say it's because of quarterback Andrew Luck. Don't get me wrong, Luck has been as good as expected, but the change has been led by the defense. The Colts have 12 sacks and have forced eight turnovers, including four against the Chiefs in Week 16, during their three-game winning streak. That's where Luck and the offense come in. You give Luck a short field to work with, and the odds are pretty good that he'll lead the Colts to a score. They scored a quick 17 points in the first quarter against Jacksonville last week.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid decided to rest most of his starters against San Diego in the finale. Do you think that was the right thing to do?

Teicher: Undoubtedly. The Chiefs didn’t get a bye in the playoffs, but Reid created one for eight defensive and seven offensive starters who didn’t play against the Chargers. I would expect that to be reflected in how those guys play against the Colts. Momentum going into the playoffs is overrated. The NFL is such a week-to-week deal that it’s almost impossible for a team to carry anything over from one game to the next, and even at that, the starters were able to get in some practice time last week. Not that this is a huge thing with the playoffs beginning, but the Chiefs got a good look at some of their backups under game conditions against an opponent that needed to win. In several cases, they liked what they saw.

Donald Brown was the Colts’ playmaker against the Chiefs a couple of weeks ago. He obviously is fast and has more power than you would think by looking at him. Why don’t the Colts use him more as their featured back and why did they trade for Trent Richardson?

Wells: Brown took over the starting spot from Richardson against Tennessee on Dec. 1 because Richardson was having a difficult time finding a rhythm. I still think the Colts made the right move in trading for Richardson, because Brown has been inconsistent for most of his five seasons with the Colts up until now. Richardson is still the future for the Colts; they have no intention of parting ways with him after the season. They still envision him and Luck having a great future together. And Brown said it best earlier this week, “There are only a handful of teams that only use one running back. We’re going to need two, three running backs to get through the playoffs.”

Speaking of running backs, it looked like Jamaal Charles was going to have a huge game against the Colts (not that 106 yards is a bad game) after the first series. He ended up with only 13 carries. How come the team’s best player didn’t have more carries or more catches, for that matter?

Teicher: Reid messed up that one and he beat himself up for it afterward. You can count on that not happening again this time around. Charles was given the ball 18 times (13 carries, five receptions) against the Colts two weeks ago. That actually wasn’t a season low for him. He had 16 touches (and a monster game) the week before in Oakland and 18 touches in two other games (both Chiefs losses). Another thing to remember is the Chiefs had only 53 offensive plays against the Colts, their second-lowest total of the season. They didn’t have the normal amount of opportunities to get him the ball. But whether or not the Chiefs have a limited amount of snaps on Saturday, they will get him the ball more often. He’s their best offensive player, so they’re making a huge mistake if they don’t.

Linebacker Jerrell Freeman is another player who had a big game for the Colts when they played against the Chiefs. Has he had other games like that this season? Give us a little scouting report on his strengths and weaknesses.

Wells: You have to credit Colts general manager Ryan Grigson for finding Freeman. Grigson is known for finding players in different parts of the world. He’d probably go to Antarctica to scout if there were a football team there. Freeman is a former Canadian Football League player. He led the Colts in tackles as a rookie and would be the team’s defensive MVP if not for a player named Robert Mathis. Freeman reached double figures in tackles in 12 of the 16 games this season. He has no problem being matched up against a running back out of the backfield, a tight end or even a wide receiver if he has to, because he’s athletic enough to defend them. An argument could be made that Freeman deserved a Pro Bowl nod.

This is not a knock against Charles, but how come the Chiefs had a running back lead them in receiving this season? I would have said Dwayne Bowe led them in receiving if you asked me to take a guess on their leading receiver this season.

Teicher: It’s a number of factors. The Chiefs wanted to use Charles more in the open field and get him in favorable one-on-one matchups, and it’s easier to do that by throwing him the ball. Ideally, the Chiefs would go down the field to their wide receivers more often, but Bowe, Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster haven’t been able to get open consistently and have delivered few plays. Quarterback Alex Smith has tended to do the safe thing and opt for the checkdown to Charles rather than take a chance down the field. It’s something the Chiefs will need to correct next season. They’ll find another receiver or two in the draft or through free agency.

Quick Take: Chiefs at Colts

December, 29, 2013
Three things to know about next week's Kansas City Chiefs-Indianapolis Colts wild-card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium:

1. Containing Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs running back finished with 106 yards on 13 carries in the first matchup between the two teams on Dec. 22. But those yards don't tell the whole story. Charles gained 37 yards on Kansas City's opening series. That means the Colts held one of the NFL's premier all-around players to only 69 yards the rest of the game. Indianapolis will have to do the same again because Charles has proved that he can run the ball -- he ran for 226 yards against the Colts in 2012 -- and he had 195 yards receiving against the Oakland Raiders in Week 15 this season. Charles finished the season with 1,287 yards rushing, 693 yards receiving and 19 touchdowns.

2. Do it on defense. Yes, Andrew Luck is the Colts' most valuable player, but they'll need their defense to play well. They're heading into the playoffs with the defense getting 11 sacks and forcing eight turnovers during their three-game winning streak. The Colts sacked Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith four times to go with four turnovers in the game. Indianapolis held Kansas City to 287 yards of total offense.

3. Continue to protect the quarterback. The offensive line has done a good job protecting Luck. He was sacked only three times in the final three games of the season. The ability to keep the young quarterback on his feet has helped the Colts' passing game, as he was 26-of-37 for 282 yards in the season finale against Jacksonville on Sunday. Luck also completed 67 percent of his passes to receivers with six touchdowns and only one interception in the final four games of the season. He had completed only 50.5 percent of his passes to his receivers in the first five games without Reggie Wayne.

You know what you're going to get out of receiver T.Y. Hilton. But fellow receivers Da'Rick Rogers, LaVon Brazill and Griff Whalen are about to step into unfamiliar territory. The three have developed a nice continuity with Luck. The playoffs aren't the time for them to have a setback by showing their inexperience. The Colts won't be able to run their no-huddle offense if Luck can't depend on them to get open and catch the ball.

Live blog: Broncos at Colts

October, 20, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they break down the Denver Broncos' visit to the Indianapolis Colts. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.

Double Coverage: Broncos at Colts

October, 18, 2013
There will always be games when a player returns, with his new team and wearing a new set of NFL colors, to the city where he once worked. Happens all the time.

And then there is this week. When the former face of a franchise, a future Hall of Famer, returns, not as a legend in the final days of his career, but as a 37-year-old vying for the league's MVP award, having the season of his life with a Super Bowl hopeful. Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis as the 6-0 Denver Broncos will meet the 4-2 Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium. Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold and Colts team reporter Mike Wells break down this week's game.

Legwold: Mike, let's get right to it. Manning. Colts. Indianapolis. There isn't much precedent in the league's history for a player of Manning's stature returning, playing as well as ever, to meet his former team. How has it played there? And just how many of the current Colts were even teammates with Manning?

Wells: As much as I hate to admit it, safety Antoine Bethea, a former Manning teammate, said it best inside the locker room in San Diego on Monday, “We see players come and go all the time,” and that the media will make a big deal about it. Bethea was the first Colt not named Jim Irsay to talk about Manning's return. Coach Chuck Pagano didn't even want to talk about it on Tuesday. There are only 11 players still on the roster from when Manning played here. The Colts respect Manning, but they also want to prove they've moved on and they can win without him.

You've been around Manning for more than a season now. Do you get a sense that he'll be more pumped than what he is every weekend?

Legwold: Manning has already been on the media merry-go-round earlier this season when he faced his brother Eli for the third and likely final time in his career. He didn't like it that much and said as much. I think he certainly will want to show, at least in some way, he appreciated his time with the Colts and that he enjoyed the successes there. In the end he will try to play it straight through the week. That said, when Manning arrived in Denver, those close to him said he was initially surprised the Colts actually released him, even though it made sense financially and for the overall direction of the franchise due to the uncertainty surrounding how he would recover from his neck surgeries. As one of the most competitive people in a league full of competitive people, there is likely a part of him that wants to show what he has left for a team that considers itself to be a Super Bowl contender.

To that end, Andrew Luck has consistently seemed comfortable in his role as the team's leader in the post-Manning era, how do you think he will handle all of this? And will he have some added adrenaline?

Wells: Luck hasn't given any indication that he'll prepare for or approach the game any different. It obviously wasn't the same magnitude as what Sunday will be, but the second-year quarterback was put under the spotlight earlier this season when he returned to the Bay Area, where he starred at Stanford, to take on his college coach, Jim Harbaugh, and the San Francisco 49ers. Luck played within himself -– 17-of-26 for 159 yards --and I expect him to do the same thing this weekend. Don't be surprised if offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton tries to get Luck going early in front of the sold-out Lucas Oil Stadium crowd. But don't expect to see Luck throwing the ball 45 times unless the Colts dig themselves into a big hole.

I was little surprised Broncos coach John Fox took exception to Colts owner Jim Irsay's comments to USA Today. Is that normal for Fox to respond the way he did?

Legwold: From the Broncos' perspective, some in the organization see it as Irsay gladly reaping the benefits of the Colts' success with Manning at quarterback, including a new stadium that allowed the city to host a Super Bowl, and now acting as if one Super Bowl win in Manning's tenure sticks in his craw. Fox simply came to the defense of his player, something he does when he sees it as necessary and something that only strengthens his standing in the Broncos' locker room. Manning almost always takes the high road publicly in such things, as he did this week, but there isn't much question he has one of the game's longest memories when it comes to what's been written or said.

Much of what is, or isn't said, this week won't matter much once the ball is snapped, but on the field what do you think the Colts' defensive plan will be against the Broncos' offense?

Wells: Don't expect the Colts to sit back in a Cover 2 the way Jacksonville did. That's not defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's style. The cornerbacks will press up on the receivers and they'll continue to gamble to try to make a play. That may not be the right approach to take because as you know, Manning makes teams pay for their mistakes. It'll be interesting to see if Robert Mathis, another one of Manning's former teammates, is able to get off the edge and get to Manning. Mathis is tied for the league lead in sacks with 9.5. The area of concern for the Colts is at linebacker. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman, the team's leading tackler, had to sit out the second half of last week's game at San Diego with a concussion.

Speaking of linebackers, the Broncos will have Von Miller for the first time this season this weekend. Do you expect him to be rusty after being suspended for the first six games?

Legwold: On the field that may be the biggest question of the week. Miller, under a provision added to the league's collective bargaining agreement in 2006, could attend team meetings during his suspension and work out at the team's strength and conditioning center. He could not practice or attend games. So, all of the on-field work he has done with the strength coaches has been a solo affair. The question will be if he stayed up to speed in the team's defensive playbook – he says he has. He is an impact rusher, a "game-wrecker" as Pagano likes to say (Pagano is a Boulder, Colo., native). Miller's adrenaline will be off the charts, especially early in the game. It wouldn't be a shock for the Colts to test him with a little misdirection early to see if he's up to the challenge. But Miller should have an impact in the pass rush, especially if his conditioning is as good as he says it is.

A lot of folks here are interested to know how Pagano has done healthwise this season following last year's cancer treatments. How important is he to the team's success?

Wells: The fact that Pagano was able to overcome cancer to be back on the sideline coaching at the end of last season is a remarkable story in itself. The players like how he motivates them and is constantly positive. I don't think there are many head coaches in the NFL who would think about heading over to Lowe's (he ended up having somebody else go for him) to purchase mousetraps as a reminder for his team not to overlook winless Jacksonville after beating San Francisco the week before.

So much is said about Denver's passing game, but what about its rushing game? Can it be effective the same way San Diego was last week?

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesVon Miller will make his season debut against Andrew Luck and the Colts.
Legwold: Much of the Chargers' offense comes from first-year head coach Mike McCoy -- the Broncos' offensive coordinator last season. Denver certainly noted the success the Chargers had running at the heart of the Colts' defense, especially with a zone run scheme. For all of the talk about how much the Broncos throw the ball, and they throw it with purpose in any down-and-distance situation, they are still fifth in the league in carries with 180, or 30 per game. With Manning at quarterback, with this coaching staff, they will always be pass-first, but offensive coordinator Adam Gase's mentor in the league was Mike Martz. And Martz's high-flying offenses always had a major run-game component.

With the Colts' run game, and with Luck 20th among the league's starters in pass attempts, is there an element of having a system in place that doesn't require Luck to have to do everything for the team to win?

Wells: Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who held that same role at Stanford with Luck, is big into being a run-first team. The Colts have stuck to that mindset through the first six games. But it'll be interesting if Hamilton loosens things on the offense this season after the Colts ran for a season-low 74 yards last week at San Diego. Luck gives the Colts the best chance to win. They'll need Luck's arm to beat the Broncos because Manning & Co. are going to put points -- a lot of them -- on the board this week. It's hard to imagine the Colts will be able to run the ball well enough to keep Manning on the sidelines looking antsy to get back on the field.

Passing the ball is probably a good idea since the Broncos are last in the league in defending the pass (338 yards a game). Why have the Broncos defended the pass so poorly?

Legwold: Some of it, especially over the first four games of the season, was a good bit of stat padding late in blowouts by opposing offenses. But there is an element that is a personnel issue as well. Elvis Dumervil left in free agency after the fax fiasco in the offseason, Miller was suspended and Champ Bailey missed five games after injuring his left foot in the preseason. That's 17 Pro Bowl appearances from guys who were in the lineup last season when the Broncos tied for the league lead in sacks. And they have had some sacks -- 17 thus far -- but those plays have often been clustered near the end of games with the Broncos having built 20-point leads. They haven't consistently pressured opposing passers this season and as a result some of those quarterbacks are finding some openings against a steady diet of man coverage in the Broncos' secondary. They know they have to get to Luck this weekend or he will pick away at them.

That should do it, enjoy the game.


NFLN Says: Can Luck be Manning?

October, 17, 2013
Andrew Luck and Peyton ManningGetty ImagesAndrew Luck has shown some of same skills as Peyton Manning. How do they compare?
The past, present and future quarterbacks of the Indianapolis Colts will meet Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, and ESPN's NFL Nation spent part of this week asking players if Andrew Luck is the next Peyton Manning.

Most of us should agree: There will never be another quarterback with Manning's combination of instincts, football intelligence, pocket presence and quick release. Let's not bother with that discussion. But can Luck provide the same essential service to the franchise? Will he guide the Colts at a high level through parts of two decades, as Manning did from 1998-2010?

Luck is off to a good start, having won 15 of his first 22 NFL games. Nine of those victories have come via game-winning drives in the fourth quarter, a topic we will inspect later this week, and he currently is the league's fourth-ranked quarterback via Total QBR. If he continues on that path, history tells us the Colts would have accomplished a rare feat in modern NFL history.

The chart illustrates the immediate transition from each of the nine Hall of Fame quarterbacks whose careers began after 1980. (We took the liberty of adding Brett Favre, eligible in 2016, as a 10th entry. Manning would be No. 11.) Usually, these transitions have failed and teams have taken decades to find a true franchise replacement. (Think: Terry Bradshaw to Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, Dan Fouts to Philip Rivers in San Diego and -- yes -- John Elway to Manning in Denver.)

In some cases, they're still looking. (We're looking at you, Miami and Buffalo.)

The Green Bay Packers have proved to be the exception. If Aaron Rodgers plays out his seven-year contract, the Packers would have achieved 28 consecutive years of elite quarterback play from him and Favre. Can Luck be the Colts' version of Rodgers? Will he add a two-decade career on top of Manning's tenure?

Here's what ESPN's NFL Nation found:

(Read full post)

MNF live blog: Colts at Chargers

October, 14, 2013
Join our NFL experts for "Monday Night Football" as the Indianapolis Colts face off against the San Diego Chargers.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. See you there.

SAN DIEGO -- The Indianapolis Colts travel to the West Coast for the second time in four weeks after an impressive win at home against Seattle. The last time the Colts traveled to California, they thumped last year's NFC champions, the San Francisco 49ers, 27-7 on Sept. 22.

Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck is showing no signs of slowing down in his second season. But he'll face a veteran signal caller in San Diego's Philip Rivers, who is playing back at an elite level after a rough, two-year stretch. Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams and Colts reporter Mike Wells break down the matchup:

Williams: The national expectation heading into this season was that last year's 11-5 playoff team was a mirage, and the Colts would slide back to .500 this year. That, of course, has not happened, with Indianapolis beating up on NFC West powers San Francisco and Seattle on its way to a 4-1 record. Besides Andrew Luck's impressive play, what has been the key to the Colts' success this season?

Wells: You can't put it on one player. If you had to pick one organization that's truly a team, you have to look at Indianapolis. Luck is obviously the franchise player, but he's not carrying the offense. The Colts are fourth in the league in rushing and 24th in the league in passing. Nobody would have ever thought that would happen with Luck taking the snaps. You also can't forget about the defense. That unit is 11th in total defense and is only giving up 15.8 points a game. So, credit goes to all areas, including the coaching staff. The same can't be said about the Chargers, it seems. They're sitting at the bottom of the AFC West. What's been their biggest issue this season?

Williams: Inconsistency. The Chargers play impressively one game, but look sluggish the following week, which is the reason the team is 2-3. In his first season, San Diego coach Mike McCoy's squad has been competitive in all five games. However, the Chargers have had trouble finishing in the final quarter. The Chargers just came out flat against Oakland last week, falling behind 17-0 before rallying in the fourth quarter to make the game close. Good teams play at a high level each week, and San Diego is still working toward that goal. Mike, you mentioned the Colts' surprising ability to effectively run the ball this season. How has the trade for Trent Richardson helped in that effort?

Wells: I wrote earlier this week that general manager Ryan Grigson should be getting Executive of the Year votes already, despite it only being Week 6 of the season. It cost the Colts a first-round pick, but acquiring Richardson was an excellent move by Grigson, considering they've lost two starting running backs -- Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw -- already. Richardson's progress with the Colts has been slow. You can tell he's not completely comfortable yet. He had an impressive second half against the team you used to cover -- Seattle -- rushing for 54 yards on 12 carries. The hope within the organization is Richardson will be able to build off that game. Quarterback Philip Rivers has completed 72 percent of his pass attempts in three meetings against the Colts. He's fourth in the league in passing this season. Can the Chargers continue to build around him?

Williams: At present, that's the plan. A year ago, you could certainly argue that Rivers was on the downside of his career. He had 47 turnovers through the 2011 and 2012 seasons, second-most in the NFL. But Rivers experienced a rebirth in McCoy's up-tempo offense. As you mentioned, he's fourth in the NFL in passing yards (1,610), second in passing touchdowns (13) and second in completion percentage (73.8 percent) -- proving at 31 years old there's still some tread left on the tires. Tight end Antonio Gates is healthy and again playing at a high level. Danny Woodhead gives them a high-effort guy who can make plays in the passing game out of the backfield. Young receivers Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown are making plays and earning Rivers' trust. Other than consistently running the ball, San Diego is clicking on offense. But the defense is a different matter. Speaking of defense, you mention the Colts are 11th in total defense. Indianapolis also has forced 10 turnovers, including seven interceptions. The Colts forced just 15 turnovers all of last season. What's changed?

Wells: The players are finally comfortable with coach Chuck Pagano's 3-4 defensive scheme after spending most of last season getting used to it. Robert Mathis went from playing defensive lineman to being a rushing linebacker. Now he's leading the league in sacks with 9.5 to add to his two forced fumbles. The Colts also have seven interceptions. Cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Greg Toler are both players who enjoy being aggressive in going after the ball. It started in training camp and it's carried over to the regular season. They'll lose some battles by gambling to make a play, but they've won the majority of their battles this season. Barring a sudden collapse, the Colts are in a good position to win the AFC South and make the playoffs. How realistic is it for the Chargers to be a playoff team?

Williams: With two undefeated teams leading the AFC West in Denver and Kansas City at 5-0, you would think the Chargers are a long shot to make the playoffs at 2-3. However, if the playoffs were to start today, San Diego would be only a game off the pace for the final AFC wild-card spot. The Chargers still have two games remaining with both the Broncos and Chiefs, along with a home contest against the Raiders in the second half of the season. It's certainly an uphill climb for San Diego to get into postseason contention, but it's doable if they take care of business at home and sneak a couple of wins on the road. Hard to believe we've gone this far without talking specifically about Luck, but how has he improved from his rookie season to this year?

Wells: This might be a record for how many questions I've gone without talking about Luck in Double Coverage this season. He's improved in all areas, which was expected because he's his own worst critic. You talk to him after a game or during the week, and instead of talking about what he's doing well, he usually points out what areas he needs to improve. You like to hear that because that means he's not getting too full of himself. Luck likely won't pass for as many yards this season, but he's OK with that because the Colts are running the ball so well. One area Luck needs to improve in, though, is learning how to slide. Let's just say you won't see him pop up on any tutorials on how quarterbacks should slide. Speaking of waiting so long to talk about a familiar name, how's linebacker Manti Te'o coming along? I have to ask since he's a Notre Dame product.

Williams: Te'o has a total of eight tackles in two games, after sitting out the first three games of the season with a sprained foot suffered in August. Te'o admitted that he's been tentative and thinking too much on the field. Because of that, he's not made any of the game-changing type of plays that he became known for at Notre Dame. Also, the Chargers have worked him in slowly. Te'o played just 14 snaps his first game and 42 snaps last week against the Raiders. He's a hard worker and serious about his craft, so I expect his play to improve over time. Luck has one of the more underrated receiving units in the NFL with wide receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, along with fellow Stanford-product, tight end Coby Fleener. Wayne, 34, doesn't appear to be slowing down, while Hilton and Fleener are two emerging, young talents. How does that trio work with Luck to create explosive plays in the passing game?

Wells: Wayne is Mr. Reliable for Luck. He's always going to come through when his quarterback needs to come up with a play. Hilton is Luck's deep threat. The two connected for two touchdown passes, including a career long of 73 yards for both players, against Seattle last weekend. In fact, Hilton has outplayed Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is the team's No. 2 receiver, all season. You probably forgot Heyward-Bey is even on the roster. Fleener hit a rough stretch during training camp, but he's been solid for the most part. He's had to play an increased role because fellow tight end Dwayne Allen is out for the season with a hip injury. I see Gates is leading the Chargers in receiving. Are there any signs of him slowing down?

Williams: Gates has struggled with foot and rib injuries the past few seasons, but is finally healthy and back to playing at a high level. As you mentioned, he leads the team in receiving with 32 receptions for 438 yards and three touchdowns. Among tight ends, Gates is second in the league in receptions behind Jimmy Graham (37). At 33 years old, Gates still has enough juice to get deep, and the former Kent State college basketball player remains a matchup nightmare in the red zone.


Live blog: Raiders at Colts

September, 8, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they break down the Oakland Raiders’ visit to the Indianapolis Colts. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET. See you there.

Terrelle Pryor and Andrew LuckUSA TODAY SportsTerrelle Pryor will lead a rebuilding team while Andrew Luck and the Colts will try to build on last season's success.
The Indianapolis Colts surprised the league by finishing with an 11-5 record and making the playoffs behind rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. The Oakland Raiders struggled with a 4-12 record. They're expected to have problems again this season as the rebuilding project continues for the Raiders. The teams open the season facing each other on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Mike Wells: So much was made about who the Raiders would start at quarterback earlier this week. It looks like it’ll be Terrelle Pryor. Does he give Oakland the best chance to win, and if so, what makes him so dangerous as a quarterback?

Paul Gutierrez: It appears as though it will be TP2 Time for the Raiders in the opener. And really, it should be. Now, that’s not necessarily an endorsement, but with this team, at this moment, Pryor does at least represent some semblance of hope, what with his skill set. His ability to run should keep the Colts' front seven honest and they won’t be able to simply pin their ears back and rush, like they could Matt Flynn. I believe Flynn is probably a better NFL quarterback at this stage, but with the deficiencies around Oakland’s pocket -- leaky line, inconsistent receivers, injury-prone running back -- Pryor gives the Raiders a better chance. And being that this is a quarterback-driven league, how has Luck dealt with stepping into those huge shoes left by Peyton Manning, and how can Luck avoid the sophomore jinx?

Wells: I’m sure you probably watched Luck one or two times out there in the Bay Area while he was at Stanford, so you know his work ethic should never be questioned, and his demeanor doesn’t allow him to get caught up with the hype. The offensive weapons the Colts put around Luck will make it difficult for him to struggle. Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Oakland’s favorite former receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey at receiver; Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen at tight end to go with the duo of Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard at running back. So the words “sophomore slump” and “Andrew Luck” shouldn’t be on anybody’s mind. Of course that’s if the offensive line does its job and blocks. A lot is being made of Pryor’s ability to be creative with his feet, but what about Darren McFadden -- isn’t he the real threat with running the ball, especially with the Colts being near the bottom of the league in rush defense last season?

Gutierrez: No doubt, especially in a perfect world for the Raiders' offense. If all is working right, and opposing defenses have to at least respect the quarterback’s ability to take off, they can’t key on the quarterback. And that sets up the play-action pass. But for the Raiders to have any success offensively this season, it all starts and ends with a guy who has yet to play more than 13 games in a season.

Yeah, Run DMC had been more Limp DMC of late, but when he’s right, he’s nice. Two years ago, he was playing like a league MVP candidate. Then came the Lisfranc injury that ended his campaign after just six-plus games. And last year, in perhaps the greatest failing of the Raiders’ new regime’s plans, they changed the offense on McFadden from a power scheme to the zone-blocking philosophy. McFadden’s average yards per carry went from a career-high 5.4 yards to 3.3 yards. McFadden is also entering a contract year so yeah, he has something to prove as the Raiders return to the power running game. Speaking of something to prove, you mentioned him earlier: The artist formerly known as DHB around these parts left a lot to be desired after four nondescript seasons in Oakland. Hey, it wasn’t his fault he was drafted so high. How has he adapted to a change of scenery, and how strong is his desire to prove something to the Raiders after they cut him this spring?

Wells: I thought Heyward-Bey would come to Indy with a chip on his shoulder because, well, he did play for the Raiders, where more bad than good comes out of that organization. But Heyward-Bey has only good things to say about the Raiders. He blames himself for a lot of his struggles during his four years in Oakland. He also knows he needs to produce to get rid of that “bust” label. As you know, Heyward-Bey has an incredible work ethic.

The biggest difference here is that he now has a mentor. Wayne is the perfect veteran to guide him. The future Hall of Famer's professional demeanor is exactly what Heyward-Bey needs. The other thing is, Heyward-Bey doesn’t have the pressure of being the No. 1 receiver. Wayne isn’t slowing down any time soon, and the Colts have so many other offensive weapons, as I mentioned earlier, that Heyward-Bey can just let the game come to him. Fans will likely see a number of those weapons because the Raiders don’t have much of a defense. Will nine new starters help them from giving up almost 28 points a game again this season?

Gutierrez: That’s the plan. At least, that’s the hope for the Raiders. Yeah, they have nine new starters on defense, with the only two returning starters being defensive end Lamarr Houston, who is moving from the left side to the more pass rush-specific right side, and strong safety Tyvon Branch, who endured an injury-plagued season for the first time in his career. Of course, a million times of course, the Raiders kept their defense vanilla in the preseason ... and not just for what coach Dennis Allen would term "competitive reasons." In fact, Sunday will be only the first time the Raiders will field their entire starting defense at the same time. Injuries wreaked havoc in exhibition games.

There was a glimmer of hope, though, with the run-stuffing play of defensive tackle Pat Sims in the exhibition finale. And if Nick Roach, who will wear the green dot on his helmet, can rally the defense from his middle linebacker position, the Raiders' defense should be better this season. Emphasis on "could." Can the Raiders -- with virtually an entire new defense and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, who schemed daily against Luck at Stanford -- be a detriment to the Colts? Or are they simply of the mindset that they have to worry only about themselves?

Wells: The only way the Raiders will be able to rattle Luck is if the offensive line doesn’t do its job and allows its quarterback to take a pounding all game long. And even then, that may not be enough to beat the Colts. Let’s not forget, Luck was sacked 41 times and hit more than 100 times last season. That didn’t stop him from setting a rookie record for passing yards, attempts and 300-yard games. So I don’t think the Raiders will be to do much against Luck & Co. on Sunday afternoon.

Colts will try to help Broncos

December, 26, 2012
The Denver Broncos owe a tip of the hat to Chuck Pagano.

The Indianapolis Colts are going to make the Houston Texans earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Pagano, who will coach Sunday for the first time since being diagnosed with leukemia in September, said Wednesday that he will not rest his starters against the visiting Texans on Sunday. The Colts will be a wild-card team in the playoffs.

However, the Texans are trying to hold off Denver for the top seed. If the Broncos win at home against the Chiefs and the Colts beat the Texans, Denver will get the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. If Houston and Denver win, the Broncos will be the No. 2 seed. If the Broncos lose and New England beats Miami, Denver will be the No. 3 seed and it will play in the first round.

However, getting the top seed is a real possibility for the Broncos, and Pagano’s decision to play his starters at home increases Denver’s chances.

Final Word: AFC West

November, 2, 2012
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Peyton Manning’s arm strength is fine: This makes you wonder how much pain Manning, who leads the Broncos to Cincinnati this week, was in during the 2010 season. He missed all of 2011 with a neck injury that led to four surgeries. In 2010, his final season with the Colts, Manning completed 27.6 percent of his throws longer than 20 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In his first seven games this season, Manning is completing 51.9 percent of such throws. His accuracy is clearly better on deep throws post-surgery.

[+] EnlargeSebastian Janikowski
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaRaiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski hasn't missed from inside 40 yards in more than two years.
Scoring when it counts: Oakland has been terrific in the final two minutes of the first half. The Raiders -- who host Tampa Bay on Sunday -- have scored in the final two minutes of the first half in every game this season, notching three touchdowns and four field goals. Even more impressive, five of the scores have come with 49 or fewer seconds remaining.

Automatic from 40: If kicker Sebastian Janikowski lines up for a field goal attempt from 40 yards or shorter Sunday, just book three points for Oakland. Seabass is going to make it. He has made 43 consecutive field goals from inside 40 yards dating back to September 2010. Janikowski is 18-of-19 on field goal attempts this season. His only miss was a 64-yarder at the end of regulation against Jacksonville, a game Oakland won in overtime on a Janikowski field goal.

Denver goes tight end heavy: The Broncos had great success using multiple-tight end sets against New Orleans. I’d imagine they will try the same at Cincinnati on Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Manning was 16-of-20 for 252 yards and two touchdowns with two or more tight ends against the Saints. It was the most he'd played using multiple tight ends since 2008.

Broncos’ schedule easing: Going in the season, the Broncos had the second-toughest schedule in the NFL. Now, the meat of the schedule is behind Denver, which leads the AFC West at 4-3. The Broncos’ remaining opponents have a combined record of 22-42 -- giving Denver the easiest remaining schedule in the league.
Maybe Peyton Manning came to the wrong division?

According to several statistics compiled by the great minds at ESPN Stats & Information, the new Denver Broncos quarterback has had some struggles against the AFC West during the 2008-2010 regular seasons. Manning's numbers weren't exactly impressive against AFC West opponents in the three seasons before his injury.

His .679 winning percentage against the West ranks only third among the four current AFC divisions.

Against AFC West opponents, Manning has averaged just 7.1 yards per pass attempt -- that's his lowest average against any division he has played. His 84.5 passer rating against the AFC West is his second lowest among the eight divisions.

In six postseason games against AFC West teams, Manning has four victories. In fact, the only AFC West squad to ever knock him out of the playoffs were the Chargers during the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

Does this all mean Manning will not succeed in the division? No, of course not. But it does provide some hope for the rest of the AFC West.

AFC West notes

March, 21, 2012
AM ET reports Jacksonville will be strong players for Tim Tebow in the trade market. Jacksonville is his hometown and new Jacksonville owner Shahid Khan has said he would have drafted Tebow in the 2010 draft.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported Jacksonville, Green Bay, Miami and the Jets all have interest in Tebow. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said a deal could be done Wednesday or Thursday.

As expected, Colts’ tight end Jaocb Tamme and center Jeff Saturday are set to visit the Broncos. Both played with new Denver quarterback Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.

UT San Diego reports Kansas City running back Jackie Battle has left his visit with the Chargers without a contract. The Chargers are considering four players to replace Mike Tolbert as the backup running back. Meanwhile, the paper is reporting defensive lineman Luis Castillo has been offered a contract to return. He has also visited the Chiefs and New England.

The Denver Post reports the Broncos are working to get a deal done with defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley. He is a priority in Denver and I think re-signing him is a must. New Orleans is in on Bunkley as well.

The market for Oakland running back Michael Bush -- the best available free agent in the AFC West in my mind -- continues to plod along.