The Colts and Rams are stuck on the same notch of NFL mediocrity, just on different paths. The Rams, under the guidance of 31-year old, first-year head coach Sean McVay are trying to rebuild around second-year quarterback Jared Goff after a decade-plus of putridity.
Meanwhile the Colts are languishing as their once-in-a-generation talent of a quarterback is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The Ryan Grigson era set the Colts franchise back years and likely risked the entire career of Andrew Luck. Enter new general manager Chris Ballard. Ballard has completely turned the roster over, and with Luck ailing, is in no hurry to move down next spring’s draft board anytime soon.
Indianapolis at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 10 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Los Angeles -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. No Luck, no Donald, no fun
Rams all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald had been absent from the team because of a contract holdout that kept him out for all of training camp and the preseason, until he reported Saturday. The two sides have not worked out a new deal, and Donald will not play Sunday. His absence on the field will be palpable for both teams. Pro Football Focus ranked Donald as the best player in the NFL in 2015 — not the best player on defense, not the best in the NFC, the best player in the whole darn league — and the second best in ’16. The three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro D-lineman is set to make $1.8 million this season before getting a pay increase to $6.8 million in 2018, making him the most undervalued player in the league. Get your money, young fella.
The Andrew Luck saga is like the mystery of the Wu-Tang Clan – no one knows when they’re coming back, or how good they’ll be when they do. One thing is for sure, without Luck the Colts have arguably the worst roster in the entire NFL and the front office should be in no hurry to rush him back out to the field. Fifth-year quarterback Scott Tolzien will make his fifth career start (937 yards, 2 TDs, 7 INTs) and will likely be the Colts’ signal-caller until further notice.
2. Quarterback questions
The biggest question with Tolzien — and there are many — is how much slack does head coach Chuck Pagano give his backup-turned starter? Last weekend the Colts traded former first-round pick, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, to the Patriots for third-string QB Jacoby Brissett, who, for all we know, is better than Tolzien. However, baring a complete disaster (or injury), Tolzien is the man under center for the Colts until Luck returns. How he will fare under a somewhat revamped offensive line and no notable weapons outside T.Y. Hilton remains to be seen.
Jared Goff was drafted much like that of an NBA lottery pick – a raw prospect that showed flashes of brilliance in college, but was going to take time to mold in the pros. The Goff Experiment probably began a season too early as the rookie was thrust into the fray the remaining seven weeks of last season. The Rams were winless in those seven games as Goff looked lost, at best, finishing the year with five touchdowns, seven interceptions and a measly 22.2 QB rating. They say that the biggest jump in a quarterback’s career comes between years one and two. The Rams and new head coach Sean McVay are banking the future of the franchise on this being the case for Goff too.
3. What to expect when you aren’t expecting much
Let’s face it — neither of these teams are projected to do much of anything this season. The Rams haven’t had a winning season since George W. Bush was in his first term (2003), and haven’t had a .500-season since Crash won the Oscar for “Best Picture” (2006). Owner Stan Kroenke hired Sean McVay to groom Jared Goff after McVay successfully helped Kirk Cousins somewhat find his stride in Washington. Under a rebuilt offensive line, the idea is to get running back Todd Gurley back into 2015 form when he rushed for more than 1,100 yards in 13 games, and not the version that had nowhere to run in ’16. Success on the ground should only make things easier for Goff.
Even with a healthy Luck, the expectations for the Colts this season were tempered following the GM change and the roster rebuild that began during the offseason. With no Luck or starting center Ryan Kelly or Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis it would surprise no one to see Indianapolis get off to a rocky start out in Los Angeles. Colts fans shouldn't be expecting much of anything on Sunday except for a healthy dose of 34-year vet — I mean 34-year-old running back Frank Gore. Strap in Colts fans, this could be a long season.
Looking over these teams’ rosters without Andrew Luck and Aaron Donald is reminiscent of the opening scene of Major League when the good people of Cleveland and the bewildered Indians’ front office execs bemoan the spring training invites. “This guy’s dead!” ... “Cross him off then.”
Jokes aside, The Rams appear to have the advantage in every matchup category against the Colts, except for perhaps when it comes to the best-looking blue and white helmet. Expect a heavy dose of Todd Gurley and for rookie head coach Sean McVay to turn his young QB lose against an unknown Colts defense.
Prediction: Rams 17, Colts 10
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.