Sunday's NFL preseason action has two first-overall picks at the helm of the St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts, each trying to open up the 2012 season on a better note. 2011 was one of the more forgettable years for each franchise, but there is reason for long-term optimism in both camps.
Let's take a closer look at who has the edge in this Week 1 exhibition matchup.
There aren't a lot of records to speak of here. Jeff Fisher had a winning preseason record during his time in Tennessee, but he's a bit of a wild card when it comes to game planning in the exhibition.
Earlier in the week, Fisher said that starters could get as little as two series or as long as a quarter. Fisher said running back Steven Jackson probably won't play much, and Bradford said he hadn't been given an indication how much playing time he'll get.
Jackson participated in practice Friday night after two days off, with second-round pick Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson likely to get heavy duty Sunday.
Fisher brings Brian Schottenheimer in to run the offense. Chuck Pagano heads up the Colts and has no head coaching record to speak of. He has Bruce Arians in charge of Andrew Luck and company, while Greg Manusky leads the defense.
Who covers the spread?
The line opened at Indy -2.5 and we've seen some movement toward St Louis. The line currently sits at Indy -1.5 (courtesy of SBR Forum) and 57 percent of the bets on the Rams. I won't be shocked if there's even more movement toward the dog.
Most eyes are going to be on No. 1-overall pick Andrew Luck in this matchup. Arians has said Luck will get between 20-25 plays, but that's not set in stone. If Robert Griffin III's performance is any indication, we should be in store for another impressive debut for the Colts rookie. That might be easier said than done. 60 percent of the 90-man roster is new and there isn't a whole lot of quality depth. The O-Line is a work in progress, the running game has question marks and Donnie Avery won't be available at WR.
After Luck we have Drew Stanton. Those within the team have nothing but good things to say about his veteran presence, but observers at camp haven't been as generous with their reviews. However, the real problem comes in the third-string spot. Chandler Harnish is the "Mr. Irrelevant" seventh-round choice who has the responsibility of mopping up this game. Good luck shedding that label!
For St Louis we have another No. 1-overall pick in Sam Bradford. He has said that his ankle still isn't 100 percent from last season, but there hasn't been any sign of problems in training camp. The talent on this kid is off the charts, it's just a matter of surrounding him with options and protecting him more effectively.
The good news is he has more options this year. Danny Amendola returns from injury, Brandon Gibson has impressed in camp, Brian Quick and Chris Givens were acquired in the draft and Steve Smith was signed in free agency. That group might be devoid of a "No. 1," but when you throw in Lance Kendricks it's a group with room to grow.
In the backup roles there is Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis, and Tom Brandstater. Clemens has first-hand knowledge of Schottenheimer's offense and should be serviceable. Davis and Brandstater aren't household names, but they can't be any worse than "Mr. Irrelevant". Jeff Fisher has liked what he's seen from Davis in camp, so expect him to get the bulk of 2nd half action.
I realize the Rams finished near the bottom of the league last year, but make no mistake, this team has some nice pieces to build on. Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins are big additions in the secondary and the likes of Robert Quinn, James Laurinaitis and Chris Long are difference makers in the front seven.
Rookies Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson will see a lot of action at running back and the Rams are liking what they've done in camp so far. Also, there are more than enough receivers to give all three QBs some capable options.
On the flip side, I can't be as optimistic for the Colts. Much like the Browns, they barely have enough to fill out a competitive starting roster, let alone any quality depth in the backup roles. I'm not even going to try pretending I know half of these guys. From what I've read, there is so much turnover and change that no one really knows what they have yet.
What I do know is that they are headed for some serious growing pains.
I don't understand how bookmakers set this line. I understand home teams get the obligatory 2.5 points, but the Rams have one of the most respected and experienced head coaches in the NFL, a better QB rotation and better overall quality throughout the lineup.
There's been no news out of either camp to indicate a lean toward the Colts unless you think Luck is going to own the day with multiple TD drives to open the game. If you look at some of the talent he'll be facing and what he has to work with, I'd say that's unlikely.
NFL Pick: STL +1.5 (SBR Forum)