Last season marked a new era for the Indianapolis Colts as Peyton Manning moved on to the Denver Broncos, and Andrew Luck became the new face of the franchise. Things went very well as the Colts made the playoffs, and the Buffalo Bills are hoping to mirror that success this year.
The Bills and Colts will square off in the first game of their respective preseasons on Sunday afternoon from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. While the first preseason game generally doesn't reveal much about the teams involved since the starters tend to hit the bench early, that won't be the case when it comes to the Bills.
The Colts moved forward with a youth movement last season, and the Bills are trying to do something similar. It all starts with rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, but Buffalo will be monitoring plenty of other youngsters as well.
Buffalo is hoping that many of its rookies will contribute in a major way this season, and they will get their first taste of NFL game action on Sunday. The Colts proved last year that inexperienced teams can win, and the Bills need that to ring true for them as well.
Indianapolis' top players will only play for one series in all likelihood, but many of the Bills' key players will have a chance to remain in the game longer, so this should certainly be an interesting game to watch for Buffalo fans especially.
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis
When: Sunday, Aug. 11 at 1:30 p.m. ET
Watch: NFL Network
Betting Line: Colts (-3.5)
Bills Injuries (via BuffaloBills.com)
Out: CB Leodis McKelvin (groin), CB Justin Rogers (hamstring), WR Brad Smith (undisclosed), WR Stevie Johnson (hamstring), WR Kevin Elliott (shoulder), TE Mike Caussin (hip), DT Aaron Tipoti (ankle)
Colts Injuries (via ESPN.com)
Out: LB Jerrell Freeman (shoulder), TE Dwayne Allen (foot), OL Hugh Thornton (ankle), OL Khaled Holmes (ankle)
Questionable: S LaRon Landry (knee), OLB Bjoern Werner (knee)
Bills Player to Watch: EJ Manuel
There was plenty of talk heading into the NFL draft about who the first quarterback off the board might be, and names like Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib and Matt Barkley were bandied about.
One person who flew under the radar, though, was Florida State's EJ Manuel. It was no secret that the Bills needed a new signal-caller, but Buffalo shocked the world by selecting Manuel at No. 16 overall.
Manuel has been impressive in training camp thus far, though, and he seems to have the advantage when it comes to winning the starting job.
Buffalo does have veteran Kevin Kolb on the roster, but he has been limited by an injury and will serve as the emergency quarterback on Sunday, according to Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News. That means Manuel will get the starting nod against Indy, according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com.
EJ to start Sunday http://t.co/i71KlX9Woe— Chris Brown (@ChrisBrownBills) August 10, 2013
Since undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel is the only other quarterback on the roster besides Manuel and Kolb, Manuel figures to play at least a half, which isn't traditional for a starter in the first preseason game.
There is no doubt that head coach Doug Marrone wants to see what Manuel can do, especially in his fast-paced offense. If Manuel performs well, then there is a good chance that he will take a big lead over Kolb in the quarterback competition.
Colts Player to Watch: Bjoern Werner
Many of the Colts' young players are already starters, so they won't necessarily see much action on Sunday, but one youngster who stands to play quite a bit is rookie outside linebacker Bjoern Werner.
The Florida State alum was the No. 24 overall pick in this year's draft, and he is expected to take over for Dwight Freeney, who was let go by the Colts this offseason. Those are big shoes to fill, but Werner may have the ability and willingness to make it happen.
Interestingly enough, Werner may have to take down one of his Seminole teammates on Sunday in the form of Manuel. Werner was likely prevented from hitting Manuel many times in practice at Florida State, but he will have free reign if an opportunity presents itself this time.
The only concern with Werner is that he is currently nursing a knee injury. He left Friday's practice, but he hopes to play against the Bills, according to Tom James of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star.
OLB Bjoern Werner left Friday morning's practice and did not practice in the afternoon. Werner had a sore knee. Hopeful of playing Sunday.— Tom James (@TribStarTJames) August 9, 2013
Assuming Werner is able to go, Colts fans will be very interested to see how much havoc he can create in the opposing backfield. Werner was an absolute nightmare to block in college, but there is no doubt that things are much different in the NFL.
Werner has a ton of energy and drive, though, so he should be able to thrive at this level. Werner will have a chance to prove that he deserves playing time from Day 1, and he could earn it with a strong showing against the Bills.
Which team will win this game?
In regular-season terms, the Colts are currently a superior team to the Bills, as they made the playoffs last season, and their young players are already well-developed. Because of that, though, head coach Chuck Pagano will probably take it easy to ensure that no significant injuries are suffered.
The Bills, on the other hand, need to know what they have, so Manuel and a host of other talented, young players will play the bulk of the game.
It's possible that Buffalo's rookies will fall flat in their first professional game, but Marrone will give them every opportunity to succeed, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Since Manuel needs a strong performance to solidify his spot atop the quarterback depth chart, look for Buffalo to have the advantage in this one.
With Luck only playing one series for the Colts, Indy's showing won't be representative of what Colts fans will see during the regular season. With that in mind, look for the Bills to come away with a 24-17 win on the road.
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