INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (7-9)
New faces: QB Philip Rivers, DT DeForest Buckner, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB T.J. Carrie, WR Michael Pittman Jr., RB Jonathan Taylor, TE Trey Burton, DT Sheldon Day, CB-KR Isaiah Rodgers, S Tavon Wilson, TE Noah Togiai.
Key losses: DE Jabaal Sheard, K Adam Vinatieri, TE Eric Ebron, S Clayton Geathers, WR Devin Funchess, OL Joe Haeg, WR Chester Rogers, WR Dontrelle Inman, C Josh Andrews.
Strengths: Acquiring Buckner makes world of difference. He upgrades run defense, improves interior pass rush, and gives defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus more flexibility with rotations and schemes. He’ll also be teaming with DE Justin Houston and OLB Darius Leonard, giving Colts three defenders with Pro Bowl resumes. Offensive line, led by two-time All-Pro LG Quenton Nelson, has been among league’s best at protecting quarterbacks past two seasons, and top-10 ground game could be even better with new 1-2 punch of 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack and second-round pick Jonathan Taylor.
Weaknesses: Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement last August created hole at quarterback, and after Jacoby Brissett got second chance to start, GM Chris Ballard brought in 38-year-old Rivers. Reich expects Rivers to revert to pre-2020 form by reducing turnovers. With exception of Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton, Rivers will be working with young, promising group of receivers including Pittman Jr., this year’s second-round pick, and Parris Campbell, second-rounder who missed most of 2019 with injuries.
Pandemic Development: Reich believes roster composition and maturity level of team give Colts competitive advantage this season. He used Zoom calls for everything from playbook installation to Rivers’ cadence, something Rivers credited for no false starts on first day of practice. Colts had three backups opt out.
Fantasy Player To Watch: Campbell. Indy needs someone to emerge as complement to Hilton and after playing small role as rookie because of injuries, Campbell could thrive if healthy. Coach Frank Reich envisions Campbell helping stretch defenses and could get some carries. Having a year in system could give him leg up on Pittman, too.
Vegas Says: Win Super Bowl: 25-1. Over/under wins: 9.
Expectations: Over past three seasons, Ballard has slowly and steadily built roster. Now, after missing playoffs four of last five years, Indy believes Rivers can lead it back to postseason. Rivers is coming off one of worst seasons of career, but if he cuts down turnovers and relies on better offensive line and strong ground game, defense should hold up its end and Colts could be one of league’s most improved teams.
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