The Chargers and Colts are two teams struggling to find their way both on and off the field.
The Chargers have let the last few years of Phillip Rivers’ prime slip away with only a single playoff appearance since 2010, and failing to win more than nine games in a season since ’09. Off the field, the team’s ownership uses its leverage of simply being an NFL franchise against the city of San Diego, threatening to move to a new city.
For Indianapolis, the 2015 season was a lost campaign with Andrew Luck sidelined for more than half the season, revealing just how flawed the Colts were without their franchise quarterback. Little has been done to improve the roster since drafting Luck No. 1 overall in 2012, and now it feels as if Indy also is wasting the best years of Luck’s career.
Sunday’s game represents an early crossroads for two teams trying to keep pace with the rest of their respective divisions.
San Diego Charges vs. Indianapolis Colts
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 24 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Colts -3
1. Rivers Owns Indy
Phillip Rivers loves playing against the Colts. Rivers is 5-1 in his career against Indianapolis, including 2-0 in the playoffs (2007, ’08 seasons) when Peyton Manning was running the Colts' historically prolific offense.
Right now, Rivers is playing some of the best football of his career. At age 34 and in his 13th season, Rivers hasn’t showed any sign of slowing, currently ranking third in the league in passer rating and leading the NFL's No. 2 scoring offense (32.5 ppg).
Rivers enters this game without the services of wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Danny Woodhead, both lost for the season after tearing their ACLs in back-to-back weeks. Those two combined for 147 catches, 1,480 yards and 10 TDs in 2015. The good news for Rivers and his pass catchers is that the Colts’ secondary also is in shambles, as cornerbacks Darius Butler and Keenan Robinson remain out, while Vontae Davis and a pair of safeties are listed as Questionable. Even though he may not have all of his favorite weapons, look for Rivers to sling the pigskin all over the Lucas Oil Stadium turf this afternoon.
2. No Woodhead, No Problem
The Chargers have been rather efficient so far this season running the football, totaling more than 150 yards in each of the first two games. If they can top the 150-yard mark again this week it will be the first time since 2006 the team will have done so in three straight games.
Much of the success on the ground came from the one-two punch of Melvin Gordon and Woodhead. Prior to tearing his ACL, Woodhead was averaging more than six yards per carry. Gordon seems to have found his stride in his second season, as he finally scored his first NFL touchdown in Week 1. Even with Woodhead out, Gordon should be able to find some running room against a defense that is allowing 125 rushing yards per game.
3. Luck Keeping It Close
With the Colts’ decimated defense going against one of the hottest QBs in the league, Andrew Luck and the Indy offense has to be on their ‘A’ game. The offensive line woes have been noted and noticeable, as Luck has already been sacked seven times and he’s officially listed as Questionable (shoulder) on the injury report.
Despite the line troubles, Luck has done his job, throwing five touchdowns to just one interception so far. But this week, Luck will be without starting wide receiver Donte Moncrief, allowing the Charges to shift their attention to stopping T.Y. Hilton. San Diego has struggled against the pass (324.5 ypg) in the early going, so as long as Luck gets enough time, good things should happen when he drops back and lets it loose.
Don’t expect much defense from either team in this game. Both the Colts and the Chargers are in the bottom third in the league in yards allowed per game. This matchup is all about the quarterback. Both Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck have big arms, are playing and facing banged-up secondaries and ineffective pass rushes. This game could very well turn into a shootout and come down to which teams has the ball last. If that final possession belongs to the Colts, give me Adam Vinatieri with the game on the line any day of the week.
Prediction: Colts 38, Chargers 35
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.