The "Pat McAfee Show Classic" awaits the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium to start the 2021 NFL season. McAfee had a relentless obsession with the Russell Wilson offseason drama with the Seahawks that drove the 12s on Twitter crazy, and it is always quality entertainment on social media when Pat goes after a particular NFL fan base. On the field, Indianapolis leads the all-time series 7-5, with the Seahawks winning the last meeting in 2017 in Seattle 46-18.
Seattle will be looking to hit the ground running on offense in 2021 after a rough finish in the 30-20 loss in the NFC Wild Card Round against the Los Angeles Rams. New offensive coordinator Shane Waldron takes over for Brian Schottenheimer, which should help the relationship between the organization and Wilson for now. One of many points of emphasis for Waldron will be to get Wilson in situations where he must get rid of the ball quickly to avoid unnecessary hits.
Wilson has his two top receivers back in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, who should have a great shot to combine for 3,000 yards with the extra game this season. Chris Carson is back as the No. 1 running back, and it's about durability with him, as he has done very well when he has been able to play. Carson was only available for 12 games and was limited to just 681 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 2020. Defensively, it will be all about generating pressure and causing turnovers to get the ball back to the offense. The Seahawks were plus-four overall in turnover margin last season thanks to 22 takeaways.
The Colts are coming off an 11-5 season that resulted in a trip to the playoffs where they lost to Buffalo 27-17 in the AFC Wild Card Round. General manager Chris Ballard acquired Carson Wentz from Philadelphia to take over for Philip Rivers, who retired after the 2020 season. Wentz is reunited with head coach Frank Reich, who was able to get the most out of him when the two were with the Eagles in 2017. The surrounding infrastructure around Wentz is better with the Colts, as they have a stout offensive line led by Quenton Nelson, who is dealing with a back injury, and center Ryan Kelly. Linebacker Darius Leonard leads a defense that is going to be a problem for a long time if they can keep this group together. The first two games against the Seahawks and Rams will show Reich and his staff where his team is at right away in all three phases.
Seattle at Indianapolis
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 12 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' new-look offense vs. Indianapolis' defense
This will be the first test for offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, as the Seahawks will be facing a salty Colts defense. Left tackle Duane Brown ended his "hold in" after agreeing to an adjusted contract that guarantees him additional money for this season along with $2 million in injury protection for 2022. Brown brings stability to the offensive line along with new left guard Gabe Jackson (acquired prior to the draft from Arizona) to anchor the left side of the line. Damien Lewis will need to take a big step forward at right guard starting this week against the likes of All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Awareness of where fellow All-Pro Darius Leonard is at all times is going to be vital for Waldron and Wilson. Leonard is the highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL after signing a five-year, $99.25 million contract extension in early August, and he is a force to be reckoned with on every play. Getting Carson rolling early will also be important, as it will allow him and the offensive line to gain some confidence against a defense that ranked eighth in yards allowed per game in 2020.
2. Colts running attack
Indianapolis has to find a way to establish a running game in the early portion of the season opener. Seattle allowed 95.6 rushing yards per game in 2020, which ranked fifth in the NFL, so it will be easier said than done. Jonathan Taylor is coming off an excellent rookie season in which he rushed for 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns. Expect Taylor to get 20-plus touches this week since he's also effective as a receiver out of the backfield. A strong running game also will help slow down a Seahawks pass rush led by Jamal Adams (9.5 sacks) and Carlos Dunlap II (6). Last season, the pass rush really took off when Dunlap came over in a trade with Cincinnati, as the veteran injected some much-needed life into the defense.
3. Lucas Oil Stadium atmosphere
One big difference in 2021 is the anticipated return of fans to NFL stadiums that will allow them to be at full or near-full capacity (depending on local/state regulations and restrictions). The Colts had some fans in Lucas Oil Stadium last season, but nothing close to what Sunday will bring to the table. A sellout of the 70,000-seat venue has already been announced for Sunday's game, and owner Jim Irsay has made it clear he wants even more people in the building.
Not surprisingly, this plan has received plenty of media attention, including the Pat McAfee show earlier on Wednesday. Expect plenty of energy early on from the Colts fans since Lucas Oil Stadium hasn’t been able to be at full capacity for a home game since the 2019 season. Thus, it will be vitally important for the Seahawks to not let the game get away from them in the opening quarter. If they can survive the opening wave of emotion, then they should settle in and be in great shape. On the other hand, if the Colts can jump out to a quick lead, that will put more pressure on Seattle's new-look offense trying to find its rhythm in a hostile environment.
This should be an evenly matched game that goes down to the wire if each team avoids turnovers. Seattle should be able to get enough done in the passing game with Metcalf and Lockett doing most of the damage. This also marks Wentz's Colts debut, but it's expected for him to have some up-and-down moments as he continues to build chemistry with his new teammates and makes up for missed time in training camp because of a foot injury. But it should not result in anything that will cause Indianapolis fans to lose faith in their team. Look for the Seahawks to sneak out of Lucas Oil Stadium with a one-score victory and come back home to deal with Tennessee next week.