In what has been, without a doubt, the most bizarre offseason and training camp period leading up to the first NFL game of 2020, we’ve officially made it to the regular season. It seems surreal to get to this point with the COVID-19 pandemic still here, and how that has changed the landscape of sports everywhere. However, the Kansas City Chiefs host the Houston Texans tonight to kick off the 2020 campaign. The Jacksonville Jaguars will begin its season on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.
To learn more about this year’s version of Indianapolis, we spoke to Chris Blystone of Stampede Blue — SB Nation’s website for all things Colts — in order to get more intel on the AFC South foe. The Colts look primed to have a strong season.
Check out our conversation below:
1. Obviously this has been the strangest offseason and training camp periods probably ever. Teams lost out on things like OTAs, rookie minicamps, preseason games, etc. Are you satisfied with the 53-man roster the Indianapolis Colts have put together in these most unusual times, why or why not?
Chris: In spite of the chaos of the 2020 offseason, this Colts team is the best one from top to bottom that I can remember since the mid 2000s. While there are spots on the roster that certainly could be improved upon, this is a roster without any glaring holes.
On offense, the team has perhaps the best offensive line in football, a remarkably talented backfield, and a borderline hall of fame passer. The biggest questions come at receiver, where there is a ton of potential, but due to youth there are still some unproven players. A healthy T.Y. Hilton and good seasons from Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman Jr. would mean a devastatingly good offensive attack.
On defense, the Colts added DeForest Buckner at the three-technique, which seems like something that has gone without much hype. Buckner is the type of player who impacts every level of the defense, and the expectation is that his presence will allow the rest of the defense to thrive. Questions remain at cornerback, but second year player Rock Ya-Sin looks primed to take a step forward and make an impact there.
As with every season, a team can look great on paper and never see that translate. Once the games get going, we will see if the Colts can play up to their potential, but overall I am very bullish on the roster.
2. How has Jaguars killer, Philip Rivers, looked throughout training camp and what are your expectations for the veteran this season?
Chris: Personally, I am very excited for Rivers. By all accounts he has looked completely in command of the offense and has stepped smoothly into his role as the leader of the team. Writers and teammates alike have raved about him in terms of his personality, leadership, and drive.
The Colts don’t need a quarterback who carries the team on his back, which is what Rivers has been accustomed to over the past few years with the Chargers. He can make some incredible throws, but at times he threw bad balls when his team desperately needed plays. In short, he was forced into playing hero-ball due to deficiencies on the roster.
With this Colts team, Rivers should be primed to use his strengths in processing and distribution of the ball to maximize a talented skill position group. The running backs in particular have already seen an uptick in passes from Rivers, who loves getting them the ball in space.
For my part, I believe we are going to see Rivers have one of his best seasons. He will be well protected behind the Colts offensive line, and he has an established history with (head coach) Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni. This season should be big for a guy looking to prove he’s still got it.
3. Are there any under-the-radar players on the Colts who Jaguars fans may not be familiar with who can make a difference in this game or on the season as a whole?
Chris: With divisional opponents, there are quite a bit fewer under-the-radar players, but the one who is likely to surprise this season just might be running back Nyheim Hines. The speedy running back largely works out of the slot on passing downs, and he’s had a solid camp with Rivers getting him the ball frequently in the second level and letting him go to work. Many think that with his speed and ability to run crisp routes, he stands to have a big year.
However, the area where Hines may make his biggest impact is not on offense, but on special teams. Late last season Hines took over punt return duties after receiver Chester Rogers was sent to IR. The impact was dramatic. Hines had an explosive game against the Panthers where he returned two punts for touchdowns, totaling 195 return yards. He looked electric in the role, and took over as the primary returner this offseason. If he gets a good look, Hines is a threat to take it to the house on any given punt.
4. The Colts have struggled in Jacksonville, having not won in Duval since 2014. Are you worried about Indianapolis having to travel there, given recent struggles on the field, and especially amongst all of the COVID-19 uncertainty?
Chris: There is no doubt that the Colts have had struggles in Jacksonville. They were absolutely abused there in December, and the taste of that loss is undoubtedly fresh in their mouths. Despite this, I think there is reason to believe this game will be a favorable one for the Colts. They have been a fairly cohesive roster, so in spite of COVID-19, they’ve been able to maintain a good process for the offseason.
While many teams have undergone significant roster changes or coaching changes, the Colts have kept nearly every starter and haven’t suffered major injuries or setbacks due to players becoming infected. There is certainly some concern with having to travel, because while teams have largely done very well at preventing infection, any time you go on the road that risk is heightened. Ultimately, I think both the Jaguars and Colts will do a good job providing as safe an environment as possible so that the contest will be far more about football than about COVID-19 concerns.
5. What are your expectations for the Colts in 2020 and how do you see the AFC South shaking out?
Chris: In my (admittedly biased) opinion, the Colts are the favorites to win the division. Rivers still has the arm to be as good as he was in 2018 when he led the Chargers to a 12-4 record and a hard-fought divisional match with the Patriots. The trenches on both sides of the ball are perhaps their strongest units, and should allow for the skill players behind them to excel.
The offseason is always a time for optimism, and right now mine couldn’t be much higher. I believe this team could be a top-10 offense and defense, and I expect them to win at least 11 games and take the division.
6. Who wins the Week One matchup, and score prediction?
Chris: I believe this one goes to the Colts fairly handily. When comparing position groups side by side, I am not sure I would give the Jaguars the clear advantage in any of those matchups. They have a talented receiver room which might edge out that of the Colts depending on how the younger talent develops, but I believe these early games will be decided on the ground as teams won’t have had as much time and reps due to the odd offseason. That advantage has to go to the Colts with their loaded backfield and stellar offensive line. I’ll take the Colts with the win, 27-14.
A big thank you to Chris for providing great insights, as always. on Indianapolis. You can follow him on Twitter, and if you want to keep up with everything the AFC South rival Colts are doing, be sure to follow Stampede Blue as well.
Don’t forget to check out my crossover piece on Stampede Blue as well.