8:20 PM EST, NFL Network – Line: Patriots -10, Over/Under: 51.5
As we reach the first quarter pole of the 2018 Regular Season, there are still many teams in search of themselves, including tonight’s combatants as old rivals renew acquaintances when the struggling Indianapolis Colts travel to Gillette Stadium to face the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Massachusetts. from the jump, this season was destined to be a Zero Year for the Colts (1-3, T-3rd in AFC South), ushering in a new Coaching Staff headed by former Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich (who in an awkward turn of events wasn’t their first choice), presiding over an extremely young roster littered with Rookies and Sophomores, while managing the long-awaited return of a presumably healthy Andrew Luck. Of course, the former 2012 No. One Overall Pick had previously missed roughly a season and a half dealing with a mysterious shoulder injury, that entailed an even more mysterious rehabilitation process, with everyone in Indianapolis wondering just what he would look like now in his seventh season as their Starting Quarterback. And four games into the campaign, Luck (67.2%, 281.5 Y/G, 5.44 NY/A, 9 TD, 3 INT) has left the fan base with indeed an optimistic outlook, though there are still plenty of concerns over the current state of his arm-strength as he continues to work his way back into Pro Bowl form. Clearly, Reich has gone out of his way to cater the passing game to the state of his Signal-Caller, with Luck rarely stretching the field in the early goings of the term, averaging a career-low 5.44 Net Yards per Game, despite having attempted a whopping 186 Passes, the second-most in the league at the moment. In last weekend’s heartbreaking 34-37 Overtime Loss at home to the previously winless Houston Texans, the 29-Year Old looked like his old self throughout much of the second half and extra period, frenetically leading the hosts back from a 7-21 deficit shortly before Halftime. However, with the score squared away at 34-34, the Colts came across a crucial 4th & 4 from their own 43-Yard Line, with Reich opting to go for it, instead of punting the football away and effectively settling for a Tie. Luck, who at that point had been absolutely DEALING, having completed 40-of-61 Passes for 464 Yards and Four Touchdowns, dropped back and launched a pass to the short right flank intended for Chester Rogers, only for the young Receiver to fail to make the Reception. Gifted with remarkable Field Position, Houston marched towards the Red Zone, eventually nailing the game-winning 37-Yard Field Goal to send the Home Side to their second consecutive defeat. This one looked eerily similar to the kind of performance that Reich and Co. would love to move on from, with Luck rallying an egregiously one-dimensional Offense (17 CAR, 41 YDS), behind an Offensive Line that struggled to protect him (4 Sacks, 27 Yards Lost), with a Defense that was gashed repeatedly (30 First Downs, 466 Total Yards) by a unit that had largely struggled to find it’s way heading into that particular affair. And while his Quarterback certainly appeared to be healthy, there it’s become abundantly clear that there is a wealth of work still to be done everywhere else; the Rushing Attack has been invisible with Tailback Marlon Mack nursing his foot and hamstring, averaging just 20.0 Carries per Game (30th Overall) for 72.0 Yards (29th Overall) on 3.6 Yards per Carry (26th Overall), while the Defense, despite registering a staggering Seventeen Sacks thus far (2nd Overall), has struggled to get the opposition off the Field, yielding a disappointing 43.4% Conversion Rate on Third Down (24th Overall). Compounding these issues are injuries, which are really starting to stack up, which doesn’t bode well in traveling to Foxboro on a short week. Mack remains Questionable, while Left Tackle Anthony Castonzo joins him after suffering a concussion last weekend, with Tight End Jack Doyle (9 REC, 80 YDS) making it a triumvirate after missing the last two outings with a strained hip. Pro Bowl Receiver T.Y. Hilton (21 REC, 294 YDS, 2 TD) is currently listed as Doubtful once again with an ailing chest and hamstring, while leading Sack Artist Darius Leonard (54 TKL, 4.0 SK, 2 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR) suffered an ankle injury against the Texans and is also in doubt for Thursday’s meeting with the Patriots.
Meanwhile, all concerns over the Patriots’ (2-2, 2nd in AFC East) surprising 1-2 can be dismissed for the time being, as New England certainly handled their business against the previously unbeaten Miami Dolphins in a 38-7 victory. If memory serves us right, Bill Belichick’s charges have gotten off to slow starts before, only to quell any rumors of their dynasty’s fall in ruthless fashion, which is precisely what they did to their division rivals. After all, the Pats came into last weekend’s matchup with the ‘Fins having gone unbeaten at home against their AFC East brethren since 2008, which coincidentally came when Tom Brady (64.4%, 229.5 Y/G, 6.25 NY/A, 9 TD, 4 INT) missed virtually the entirety of the campaign with a broken leg. You could see his one coming, folks, as the media built up the dysfunction in New England to ridiculous levels, stacking the deck against a team that has featured in seven consecutive Conference Championships and three of the last four Super Bowls against an opponent that has made the Postseason just twice since 2001. After all, the typically prolific Offense had up to that point lacked consistency with a dangerously thin Receiving Corps and inexperienced Backfield, with a Defense that had proven to be overwhelmingly slow in many areas. But hey, eventually the teams stepped onto the field at Gillette Stadium and the hosts reminded everyone just who they are; this one was never close, folks, as Brady & Co. gradually piled it on the Dolphins, leading 31-0 at Halftime, and when it was all said and done they had racked up Twenty-Six First Downs, a balanced 449 Total Yards that included 175 Rushing Yards on Forty Carries and another 274 Yards through the air, converted on 10-of-15 Third Downs, all the while owning 36:22 of Possession. And did we mention that they managed to do so even with committing a pair of Turnovers? Even at Forty-One Years of Age, Brady picked apart Miami’s Defense on 23-of-35 Passing for 274 Yards, Three Touchdowns and Two Interceptions, though the more impressive matter was just how physical the Patriots got in the trenches, where they punished the Dolphins with the Running Game, led by Rookie Tailback Sony Michel (49 CAR, 196 YDS, 1 TD), who racked up a whopping 112 Yards and a Score on Twenty-Five Carries, while the versatile James White (43 Touches, 303 YDS, 4 TD) added another 112 Yards from Scrimmage on Eighteen Touches. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t give the Defense credit for absolutely stymying the opposition, relegating the Visiting Side to a paltry Eleven First Downs, 172 Total Yards, including just Fifty-Six against the Run on Eighteen Carries, and 3-of-11 on Third Down, while totaling a pair of Sacks and Takeaways. While that victory went a good ways towards silencing their detractors, help is on the way in the form of a Receiving Corps that is to undergo a serious makeover, with the return of Slot Receiver extraordinaire Julian Edelman, who missed all of last season with torn ligaments in his knee, and has just finished serving a 4-Game Suspension for running afoul of the league’s Performance Enhancing Drug Policy. The short Passing Game is such a vital piece of this team’s offensive puzzle, and you can bet that Brady should be elated to find the 32-Year Old back on the field. Needless to say, Brady and Edelman have been one of the most prolific combinations in the league since the Receiver arrived in Foxboro back in 2009, accounting for 425 Receptions, 4,540 Yards, and Twenty-Four Touchdowns over the duration of Eight Seasons. However, let us not forget that New England also traded for the oft-maligned (and suspended) Josh Gordon (3 REC, 49 YDS, 1 TD) a week ago, potentially bringing a physical, vertical threat to the equation. Gordon saw limited action this past Sunday, catching a pair of passes for Thirty-Two Yards as he has been hampered by a nagging hamstring and continues to become more acquainted Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ comprehensive playbook. Provided these guys manage to stay on the field (and we’re looking at you Josh!!!), this position group only figures to improve, which will only benefit the reigning MVP as he continues to defy Father Time.