The NFL International Series is back in London for 2016 as the Indianapolis Colts take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley this Sunday. The Jaguars are back for their 4th game in consecutive years in London as they look to build on last years 34-31 thrilling win against the Buffalo Bills. This game will be the first regular season game to be played outside of the US for the Colts.
The Jags were probably the most talked about team in the off-season as they made big moves in free agency and in the Draft. Superbowl 50 winner, defensive tackle, Malik Jackson was the big name off-season addition to the Jaguars defense along with safety Tashaun Gipson who was signed from the Cleveland Browns. Pro Bowl running back Chris Ivory was the huge offensive addition, signing from the New York Jets. The Jags added more defensive talent in the draft, with 1st round pick Jalen Ramsey (CB) and 2nd rounder Myles Jack (LB), both of who are expected to have big NFL careers. The off-season hype hasn’t helped the Jaguars as they have started 0-3 heading into the Wembley game.
The 1-2 punch of Chris Ivory and T.J Yeldon at running back has been a disaster for Jags, as they average 55 yards per game on the ground, 31st in the NFL. Without a running game, Blake Bortles has really struggled, throwing 6 interceptions for the season. There are clearly issues on the offensive line for the Jags as Bortles has been hurried and hit in the pocket every game and the running backs haven’t been given the holes they need to explode through.
Key Player; T.J Yeldon
The Jags need a running game. Chris Ivory will probably play on Sunday after returning from an injury, but the majority of the running load will be placed on T.J Yeldon. Much of the blame can be put on this poor offensive line, but Yeldon is a much better running back than his 2.5 yards per attempt currently says he is. Pressure needs to be taken off Blake Bortles and a running game is the first way to do this. The Jags need to control the clock and avoid a QB shootout between Bortles and Luck, as the latter will probably win.
After an injury riddled 2015 season, Andrew Luck is starting to look back to his best. Luck is averaging around 300 yards per game through the air as he is winning games single handily for the Colts. The defense for the Colts is easily one of the worst in the NFL, giving up an average 400.0 yards per game and putting near to no pressure on the opposing QB’s, totaling only 4 sacks from 3 games. T.Y Hilton has made a fantastic start to the 2016 season (18 receptions for 294 yards) as he and Luck will try to replicate 2014 where Hilton had 1,345 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns.
GM Ryan Grigson has to take a lot of blame for the Colts recent lack of success, as Andrew Luck has not been given a good enough team around him. The offensive line is once again patchy and Luck has been sacked 9 times already in 2016. Since Luck entered the league in 2012, the Colts running game has been questionable, with mainly aging veterans like Ahmad Bradshaw and Frank Gore heading the attack. Like the Jags, the Colts need a better running game to take pressure off the gun-slinging Luck. Frank Gore played well in their week 2 win against the Chargers, rushing 81 yards from 21 attempts, so will look to carry that form across the pond.
Key Player; Andrew Luck
The poor Colts defense will keep Bortles and the Jags in this game, so Luck will once again have to step and lead his team to victory. Luck became the highest paid player in NFL history over the off-season so is expected to play at a very high standard. He needs help around him in the running game, offensive line and defense, but he is easily good enough to win this game on his own. The explosive T.Y Hilton will help his cause as he comes off a 174 yard game against the Chargers.
The Wembley Hotseat
Wembley has become notorious in the NFL for coach sackings. In 2014, the Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen was fired after their defeat to the Miami Dolphins. Fast forward to 2015 and it was Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins who was sacked after the loss to the Bills at Wembley. In fact, there have been 14 games at Wembley in the International Series and 6 of the losing team’s head coaches have been sacked at some point in the season, after losing at Wembley. This year, the seat is white hot for Jags head coach, Gus Bradley. This Jags team is clearly underachieving as they have the weapons in place to succeed. A loss on Sunday and the Jags will be 0-4. Surely Gus Bradley will not survive the Wembley curse if they lose against the Colts.
Prediction; Andrew Luck will lead his team to victory…31-28