The Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams both finished on the bottom of the NFL’s heap last year, going a combined 4-28 SU and 9-22-1 ATS. Sunday afternoon’s exhibition slate has the clubs meeting at Lucas Oil Stadium, opening this year’s preseason action.
Sports books opened Indianapolis as a 2 ½-point home favorite, with early betting action on St. Louis quickly driving the number down to a pick’em on most boards. NFL odds makers first set the ‘total’ at 33 ½, which rose a ‘hook’ to 34 after initial wagers favored the OVER.
Colts rebuild with Pagano, Luck
Indianapolis conducted some major revamping in the offseason, adding new general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano. The club notably released veterans Peyton Manning and Joseph Addai from its offense, while using its top draft picks to bring in quarterback Andrew Luck and tight end Coby Fleener from Stanford.
Pagano makes his head coaching debut after spending last year as the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator. The Colorado native has specialized in improving secondaries, with Indianapolis welcoming that expertise after giving up a sizeable 26.9 PPG and 371.2 YPG last season.
Luck will likely see a light amount of action under center in Sunday’s duel, stating he still feels like a “scrub rookie,” according to the Toronto Sun. Colts veteran Reggie Wayne has remained with the team as its top wideout on the depth chart, while Pagano expects to evaluate his share of cornerbacks on defense with the recent departure of Kevin Thomas to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Rams begin the Fisher era
St. Louis named Jeff Fisher its new head coach in January, coming to terms with the team after 17 seasons with the Tennessee Titans and a year off from action in 2011. The 54-year-old is joined by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who shifts to St. Louis after six years on the sidelines beside Rex Ryan’s New York Jets.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford returns for his third season under center with the club, following 10 starts last year. The Oklahoma native was held to six touchdown passes, while leading an offense that notched a subpar 12.1 PPG and 283.6 YPG.
St. Louis added defensive tackle Michael Brockers from LSU as its top draft pick, while using its three second-round choices for wide receiver Brian Quick, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and running back Isaiah Pead. Rams three-time Pro Bowler Steven Jackson returns to its backfield. The Rams hope to allow fewer than a league-high 55 sacks last year with the addition of center Scott Wells.
Back the UNDER in Indy
Sunday’s kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. (ET), with NFL Network providing television coverage. Both clubs will have their share of rest following the contest, with St. Louis returning to action Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis traveling to meet the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday.
I am adding the UNDER in this contest to my NFL Preseason picks for the week’s schedule. Look for the clock to grind as both sides evaluate their talent.
St. Louis should look to its short game out of the backfield, giving rookie Isaiah Pead some carries while focusing on the offensive line protecting Bradford and Co. The team’s upgrade at center to Scott Wells should mean fewer sacks this year, but do not expect the first string to be out there long.
Indianapolis’ hype of having Luck starting under center should move the ball a bit in the first quarter, but look for mop-up duty to begin early from a pair of also-ran’s in Drew Stanton and Chandler Harnish as they battle for the backup job. Pagano’s evaluation of his defense will likely have him rotating secondary personnel, keeping some fresh newcomers out there hungry to grab a big interception or two.
Special teams can often be the deciding factor in a preseason game’s field position and scoring, with no exception here. Colts punter Pat McAfee got lots of work in last season after many three-and-out’s, averaging a sizable 46.6 YPP, while Rams rookie placekicker Greg Zuerlein should be capable of connecting a few long-yardage attempts here in lieu of going for fourth-down conversions.
Look for the ball to not enter the red zone much for either side over most of the contest, leading to UNDER tickets getting the money related updates as the year progresses.