And away we go.
The NFL season is here, and the Seahawks open a season of high hopes in Indianapolis on Sunday morning with their first of nine road games.
The gritty details:
Seahawks (0-0) at Colts (0-0)
Time: 10 a.m. PT
Radio: 710 ESPN Seattle
Betting line: Seahawks are favored by 2.5 points.
Series history: Colts have won seven of the 12 meetings. The Seahawks won the last meeting, 46-18, in 2017.
Colts players to watch: QB Carson Wentz, RB Jonathan Taylor, DT DeForest Buckner, LB Darius Leonard.
Notable injuries: T.Y. Hilton (neck) out; LT Eric Fisher (Achilles), OG Quenton Nelson (back) and CB Xavier Rhodes (unspecified) day to day.
Three storylines to follow about the Colts this week:
1. ‘Preseason from hell’
It’s been a rollercoaster offseason for new QB Carson Wentz and the Colts, who reportedly have one of the NFL’s lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates.
Wentz, who is not vaccinated, had to go on the reserve COVID list late last month and quarantine for five days — meaning he missed another week of practice after missing three weeks of training camp while recovering from foot surgery.
Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly and wide receiver Zach Pascal joined Wentz on the COVID list after all three came in close contact with a staff member who tested positive. Per NFL protocols, players who are vaccinated only go on the COVID reserve list if they test positive.
“This happening this week kind of woke us up on the protocol and understanding how this happened and understanding some of the gray areas with the league and making sure we know,” Wentz told reporters last week. “We know what’s at stake and how to avoid it.”
The Indianapolis Star recently called it the “preseason from hell” for the Colts, and columnist Gregg Doyel ripped the new QB for being “selfish” and a “bad teammate.”
Doyel wrote: “How do you tell an adult not to play in traffic? How do you tell an adult that two plus two equals four? What’s wrong with you, Carson Wentz?”
2. Wentz will start against the Seahawks
Despite all the hiccups, Wentz will make his Colts debut against the Seahawks on Sunday, about five weeks after foot surgery.
Colts coach Frank Reich made the announcement Wednesday. Wentz was listed as a full participant in Wednesday’s practice.
Wentz will be the fifth quarterback to start a game for the Colts in the past five years. The Colts made a major move in the offseason to acquire Wentz from Philadelphia, reuniting Wentz with Reich — who was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator early in the QB’s career there.
Wentz, 28, is looking to revive his career after a disastrous 2020 season in Philly, when he threw a league-high 15 interceptions and was sacked 50 times, also most in the NFL.
“I’ve been around a lot of quarterbacks,” Reich said, via The Athletic. “It’s very common when you’re struggling, when your team is struggling, to try to manufacture something that isn’t there. The problem is that sometimes you can do that, but what is the cost of that? There’s a fine balance there.”
There is more promising injury news for the Colts. Quenton Nelson, the Colts’ All-Pro guard, has been trending toward playing this week. He also had foot surgery the same week as Wentz, and he has been dealing with a back injury too.
Reich also said veteran left tackle Eric Fisher could play Sunday.
Wentz’s absence in training camp did give the team an extended look at former UW quarterback Jacob Eason, who won the No. 2 job.
“Really happy with his progress and happy for him. Jacob’s handled himself like a pro,” Reich said recently. “I think his bright spots have really been throwing the ball down the field, making some nice chunk plays down the field and I think the other bright spot for Jacob was that it wasn’t too big for him.”
3. A formidable defense
The Colts went 11-5 in 2020, when their defense ranked in the top 10 in DVOA while allowing just 3.6 yards per rushing attempt, second-best in the NFL.
They return All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, which ought to provide a formidable test for the Seahawks’ new-look offense.
The Colts have set the bar high for their defense this season.
“For me, looking back at (the) 2020 season, it’s consistency,” Buckner told the Indianapolis Star. “For a point in time, we were the No. 1 defense in the league. And then we kind of fell off toward the end. That’s because there were certain games where we let off the gas pedal a little bit, or (there was a) miscommunication, or a missed tackle here and there. And for me, it’s just consistency. If we’re consistent from start to finish, I believe we could finish (as) the No. 1 defense in the league.”
The Colts used their first-round draft pick on edge rusher Kwity Paye, who earned Pro Football Focus’ highest grade among rookie defenders during the preseason.