No one is even pretending that the Indianapolis Colts are going to have even a ghost of chance to make the AFC playoffs without Andrew Luck. And with his injury and rehabilitation being the subject of a lot of mystery, it was a big relief for Colts fans to see him out on the field, at last, in the 2018 pre-season opener. His presence opens up a lot of enthusiastic possibilities for a team that is starting fresh under new head coach Frank Reich and his staff.
The Baltimore Ravens naturally hope they can get something fresh out of quarterback Joe Flacco, who seems to have gotten stake the past couple of seasons. Lamar Jackson has come in as a rookie to jazz things up a bit, and there is also another Heisman Trophy winner making some noise. This team has some of the elements to make a run at the AFC North crown, but they found the missing pieces.
The Ravens have had two pre-season games to iron out the kinks. In the opener, at the Hall of Fame Game, they beat the Chicago Bears 17-16, then had a dominant effort against the Los Angeles Rams, blowing them away by a 33-7 score. The Colts went to Seattle and beat the Seahawks 19-17, but the big victory was that Luck, the quarterback upon whom they hang their hopes, was able to play with the first-team offense and play well.
So these teams will meet up in front of what promises to be a rather enthusiastic crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Monday night.
TV: 8 PM ET, ESPN. LINE: Pick'em. O/U: 43.5
ABOUT THE RAVENS: Whether John Harbaugh intends to keep three quarterbacks on the roster when the regular season starts is a good question. Lamar Jackson is, after all, a rookie, and the head coach probably did not envision him having a full-time role, utilizing the whole playbook if the situation demanded it. So that is why the progress of Robert Griffin III is well worth monitoring. Griffin, who was with the Cleveland Browns two years ago but got injured, has started only five games since 2014. But he has shaken off the rust, completing twelve of 18 passes for 143 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the two pre-season games, and was impressive in training camp right from the outset. The learning curve with Jackson will be high, but the Ravens' staff is integrating some things into the playbook that are tailored for his talents and therefore, in a sense, also work for Griffin. Maybe they will keep him, or use him as a trade piece. But based on what he has shown in camp, Griffin is going to be active on an NFL roster this season, although it would come with a certain degree of caution, because of his injury history. Jackson still has a ways to go when it comes to accuracy; he completed only seven of 18 passes against the Rams. Flacco, who started the game, was 5-for-7 for 71 yards. While Jacksonville's Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey praised Jackson in an interview with GQ, he asserted that Flacco "sucks." The Ravens brutalized Los Angeles, outgaining them by a 403-170 margin, although it's worth noting that Rams coach Sean McVay held all but two starts out of the game entirely. The Ravens are priced at +300 to win the AFC North and +2800 to win Super Bowl 53.
ABOUT THE COLTS: The situation with Andrew Luck is very encouraging for the Colts' staff. He came in and assumed control of the offense, in hostile territory, and against a team (the Seattle Seahawks) that has been known to try hard in pre-season games. He was in there for two series, completing six of nine passes for 64 yards. He was even able to take a sack and get back up with no effect. Reich has indicated that he will play more in Monday night's game. In camp sessions, he is completing around 70%. Reich and his offensive coordinator, Nick Sirianni, are adamant that this offense is not going to be of the dink-and-dunk variety but will get down the field, which is the way Luck wants it. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo has been dealing with a hamstring issue that kept him out of Thursday's practice, but we're not sure how much, if any, that is going to limit his time on the field Monday. The last thing Reich wants is for Luck to suffer from lack of protection. All told, Indy QB's were 20 of 29 for 189 yards against the Seahawks. That included Phillip Walker, Jacoby Brissett (last year's starter) and second-year man Brad Kaaya. Safeties Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker, regulars on the Colts' defense, are coming off knee injuries, and as they returned to the practice field, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus says he "re-set the whole defense and started from first day install and re-did all the walk-throughs again just for those guys." The Colts are +500 to win the very competitive AFC South and +5500 to capture the Super Bowl title.
1. These teams will know each other a lot better by game time because they have scheduled joint practices on both Friday and Saturday.
2. Don't be surprised if Luck is working in an offense that tries to speed up the tempo a little on Monday. He looked especially impressive when the offense was doing that in drills on Tuesday, and don't forget that Reich, as a quarterback, was part of the original "no-huddle" approach that was used in the Super Bowl years with the Buffalo Bills.
3. Harbaugh's record in pre-season games is worth reviewing here because it is so outstanding. After two wins, he is now 30-12 straight-up and 28-14 ATS (68%).