Set your alarm clocks, folks. In an effort to expand NFL dominance to a global level, The Shield is giving its American fans a wake-up call. An 9:30 a.m. (ET) one to be exact.
This year’s NFL International Series Game, the 10th season and 15th game in London, matches up two AFC South foes, the Colts and Jaguars — two fledgling teams struggling to find their way in a muddled division.
This Sunday’s game at historic Wembley Stadium marks the fourth straight season that Jacksonville has have made the cross-Atlantic trip to London, while Indianapolis is making its maiden voyage overseas since the International Series began in 2007.
The Colts are coming to Foggy London Town looking for vengeance from last years’ Week 14 drubbing courtesy of the Jags, 51-16, that all but sank Indy’s playoff chances and snapped its 16-game AFC South winning streak. Meanwhile the Jaguars are looking for just the second win in their last nine games, and trying to avoid going 0-4 for the third time in four years.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (London)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 2, 9:30 a.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Indianapolis -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Bortles Must Be Better
Is it too early to make a final judgement on the career of Blake Bortles, less than three seasons in? Is the Jacksonville quarterback a bust? Looking at Bortles’ numbers from last season (4,428 yards, 35 TDs, 18 INTs) it would be hard to call the No. 3 overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft anything less than a plus-side player. But a closer look at his numbers reveal a quarterback that was playing from behind pretty much week in and week out. Of the 35 touchdown passes Bortles threw a season ago, 29 of them came with his team trailing, and his completion percentage was just 55.9 percent with only three touchdowns when his team was winning.
The numbers, and apparently his own throwing mechanics, aren’t doing Bortles any favors this season, either. So far this season, Bortles has more interceptions (6) than touchdown passes (5), and a passer rating of 75.0, which places him 28th among qualifying QBs.
With outstanding offensive weapons at his disposal, and going against a thin and injured Colts secondary, this would be the perfect game for Bortles to prove the doubters wrong.
2. Can Colts Find Their Way?
If it weren’t for a 63-yard TD strike from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton (and terrible tackling by San Diego) with 1:17 remaining last week, the Colts and Jaguars would have the same record coming into London, winless.
But starting slow is the Indianapolis way. The Colts have christened the last two seasons by starting 0-2 before finding their winning ways — playing in the lowly AFC South certainly helps rack up the wins.
The Colts are also one of the worst first quarter and first half teams in the league, and have been since the Ryan Grigson/Chuck Pagano era began in 2012. Currently the Colts are averaging just 4.3 points in the first quarter this season (3.8 in 2015), and 9.7 points in the first half (10.1 in ‘15) — both ranking in the bottom half of the league.
This week the Indy offense faces a Jacksonville defense that ranks eighth in yards allowed per game, but surrenders five yards per play, allows 28 points per game, and has just six sacks in the first three weeks. London could be the Colts’ coming out party.
3. With Such an Early Kickoff, Will Anyone in America Watch?
The short answer? Apparently, yes.
While the oh-so-early kickoff figures to impact the overall audience numbers, this is the NFL, America’s most popular sport. Consider that during last season’s Week 4 matchup in London, 9.9 million tuned in on CBS to watch the Jets and Dolphins duke it out overseas. That was a 16 percent increase from the Lions vs. Falcons London affair in the same time slot in 2014. Simply put, people will wake up early on a Sunday if it means football will be on the tube.
While this game is expected to operate at a net loss for the NFL, even with a sold out Wembley Stadium (approx. 80,000) and a large BBC television audience, the NFL isn’t ready to quit the great European experiment. In fact, this is just the first of three games in London this season, and there’s also one that will be played in Mexico City. The NFL International Series isn’t going away anytime soon.
If the NFL wants to grow its brand into an international juggernaut and not just an American one, the league should really consider sending two teams that are actually good at playing football.
According to ProFootballTalk.com, not only has the NFL never sent two teams with winning records to play one another in London, they have sent six winless teams. Only one team that has played in London has wound up finishing the regular season with a winning record, last year’s Kansas City Chiefs. Not exactly the most exciting brand of American football. Perhaps the upcoming New York Giants vs. Los Angeles Rams (Week 7, Oct. 23) or Washington Redskins vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Week 8, Oct. 30) London games can reverse this trend.
As for Sunday’s matchup, although the Jaguars are playing in London for the fourth consecutive season, don’t expect to see a lot of our British friends donning Blake Bortles jerseys. I think Andrew Luck and the Colts get back to .500, turning up the heat on Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley’s already hot seat.
Prediction: Colts 31, Jaguars 25
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.