The most newsworthy moment of Sunday’s preseason game came when Colts general manager Chris Ballard entered the broadcast booth. After telling NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero earlier this week that quarterback Andrew Luck would likely be off the physically unable to perform list by the beginning of the regular season, he raved about Luck’s budding arm strength to the team’s play-by-play crew. Ballard said Sunday that Luck’s “strength levels” were likely better now than they were “at any point last season.”
While this could be the type of vague, fill-in-the-blank statement Ballard uses to get himself away from another Luck interview unscathed, it also could be an indication as to how close Luck actually is. As Pelissero noted, Luck has been ramping up his throwing program of late. Coming back stronger than ever would truly be something. Owner Jim Irsay doubled down on those comments in a conversation with reporters after the game, though he could not guarantee Luck would be ready for the season opener, just somewhere around that time. When asked by the Indianapolis Star about the team’s strategy regarding a more suitable backup, Irsay brought up a steep price tag.
Watt isn’t the only one donating to hurricane relief efforts. The Texans have donated $1 million and the Titans gave $1 million to Watt’s drive. The New England Patriots and cheap jerseys and New York Jets and the Johnson family also are donating $1 million each to relief efforts. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank pledges to match fan contributions up to $1 million to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
The Green Bay Packers organization is donating $100,000 to J.J. Watt’s Houston Flood Relief Fund. The Baltimore Ravens are donating $1 million to United Way of Greater Houston, with the funds distributed to the United Way Relief Fund for Hurricane Harvey, the Salvation Army of Houston and the Red Cross. The Lions also announced a $1 million donation to the Red Cross’s relief efforts.
There’s no debate that Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston form football’s best division of quarterbacks. The difference in the Dirty South this season is that all four players have more assistance than usual. The Saints’ and Falcons’ defenses are set to improve because of an influx of young talent. Winston has more pass catchers than he knows what to do with, and Newton should be supported by a quietly strong defense and running game.
Much like the AFC West, it’s easy to imagine any of the four teams in the NFC South taking the division crown and even earning a bye. The 2016 Falcons should be a reminder that there are more Super Bowl contenders entering each season than commonly believed. All four NFC South teams should be seen as potential teams to reach Super Bowl LII in Minnesota, which makes their division games this season among the most watchable in all of the NFL.
It’s always difficult in the first few weeks of a new season to pinpoint which defenses are good matchups, because all we have to go with are last year’s statistics. But here we go: In 2016, the Colts defense allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks (17.69). The Indy defense also ranked bottom 10 in the NFL overall in each of the last three seasons, and allowed 262.5 pass yards per game, sixth-most in the NFL a season ago. The team will be without veteran cornerback Vontae Davis as he deals with a groin injury.
These weaknesses in the Colts defense may allow Goff to move the ball downfield at will. Los Angeles added some solid offensive pieces to the mix in the offseason including wideouts Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and rookie Cooper Kupp, along with rookie tight end Gerald Everett and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. Let’s not forget Todd Gurley’s ability to make plays as a pass-catcher either.
Houston made a draft-day splash by trading up for quarterback Deshaun Watson, but the rookie failed to beat out incumbent Tom Savage. We’re bound to see both signal callers play for a team that again will lean heavily on its ferocious defense.
The beaming hope under center is Marcus Mariota. The Titans’ third-year passer — if he can stay healthy — has the chance for a breakout campaign with Tennessee, a team that has been crafted into a hard-hitting, power-style whirlwind under general manager Jon Robinson. A quick start in Nashville could finish off the rest of the work-in-progress South.
“Too often, he has played through injuries too often over the last two years. Too much over the last two years he has gone out there less than 100 percent. They want to exercise caution to make sure that when he is ready, he is really fully ready, so yes, it is a possibility, maybe even a strong possibility that Scott Tolzien gets more than one start, maybe even more than two or three starts.”
The team also acquired quarterback Jacoby Brissett from New England in exchange for wideout Phillip Dorsett, but Ballard weighed in Monday, saying: “It’s Tolzien’s job [for now], because Brissett has to get up to speed.”