Still reeling from the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck, the Indianapolis Colts will begin their 2019 season with a road game against the Los Angeles Chargers. The game will kick off at 4:05 EST on Sunday, September 8 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. Fans in local markets will be able to watch the game on CBS.
Oddsmakers view the Chargers as 6.5-point favorites at home with an over/under of 43.5 points. Be sure to check out a full list of this week’s NFL betting odds.
The Chargers surely have mixed feelings heading into the 2019 season. On the one hand, they were outstanding in 2018, going 12-4 and winning a road playoff game in the Wild Card round. On the other hand, they were probably the most overlooked team in the NFL, overshadowed by the Chiefs, who are now the darlings of the NFL and favorites in the AFC West.
To make matters worse, the preseason circled around the holdout of running back Melvin Gordon, who will not be there for the start of the season. The Chargers will also start the season with star safety Derwin James on IR. That means Los Angeles will be without two of their most important players to start the season on a team that otherwise looks like it could be a Super Bowl contender.
Of course, few teams are in a worse position than the Colts. They also looked like potential contenders after winning the AFC South last season with Luck coming back healthy from a year away. But all of that was thrown out the window when Luck abruptly retired a few weeks into the preseason.
Indianapolis will now turn back to Jacoby Brissett, who was their starting quarterback in 2017 when Luck sat out following shoulder surgery. The silver lining is that the Colts have a far more talented roster today than they did two years ago. However, losing one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks on the eve of the season definitely threw a wrench in their 2019 plans.
Admittedly, Luck’s retirement changes how we all look at this game. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the oddsmakers are overreacting just a little by making the Chargers nearly a touchdown favorite. The Colts weren’t a good team last year solely because of Luck and the Chargers have plenty of problems of their own. I think this is a closer matchup than people realize, so I’ll lean toward the Colts to beat the 6.5-point spread.
Part of Luck’s success last season was Indy’s outstanding offensive line. The Colts have worked hard in recent years to rebuild up front, and it paid off last year, as Luck was sacked just 18 times in 16 games. Brissett will have the same benefit this season, which should put him in a better position to succeed than when he started two years ago. The colts also added Devin Funchess this year as a red-zone target and complement to T.Y. Hilton while rookie Parris Campbell is an intriguing X-factor.
The other benefit of the Indianapolis line is that they should be able to run the ball effectively. Marlon Mack was consistent on the ground last year and would have gone over 1,000 yards if he hadn’t been limited to 12 games by injury. Meanwhile, stopping the run just happens to be the biggest weakness of the Los Angeles defense. The Chargers are without their top run stoppers from a year ago, including James, who would come up from the secondary to help against the run. They were ripped apart by the Patriots in the playoffs last year because New England committed to running the ball. That will surely be Indy’s plan with Brissett at quarterback.
Of course, the Chargers are capable of scoring points, with or without Gordon. Los Angeles had a top-10 scoring offense last season, even with Gordon missing four games. Austin Ekeler averaged over five yards per carry in 2018 as the backup and Justin Jackson proved to be a capable rusher when called upon. The Chargers also have Philip Rivers, who they can lean on to carry them if the running game is sluggish without Gordon.
On the other hand, the Indianapolis defense is no pushover. Darius Leonard was a revelation last season and the secondary remains in good shape. Most importantly, the Colts added Justin Houston over the offseason to give their pass rush a much-needed boost.
Ultimately, I expect Indy’s ability to run the ball to be the difference in the game. It will help take the Los Angeles pass rush out of the game and shorten the game. Even if it’s not enough to win the game on the road, it will help the Colts keep the game close without having to lean too heavily on Brissett. The Chargers may get the win because I still think they’re the better team. But I like the Colts to beat the spread.