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With Philip Rivers, Colts have pieces to challenge Chiefs in AFC

Jesse Reed
Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sport

The Indianapolis Colts reportedly landed Philip Rivers in free agency. It’s a move that sets themselves up to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs in 2020.

The skinny: Despite a down year in 2019 with the Los Angeles Chargers, Rivers is still one of the most dangerous gunslingers in the NFL. He now joins a team that has all the other ingredients to challenge the Chiefs in the AFC and to make a Super Bowl run.

It’s important to note that Rivers was in a horrible situation the past few seasons with the Chargers — an organization that lost the support of its fan base with a dumb move to Los Angeles, which has not embraced the team at all. Now he’s landing in a place where the fan base is as rabid as any in the NFL, and the Colts have a roster loaded with talent from top to bottom.

The offense just needed a QB: The Colts have a dominant run game that’s spearheaded by the best offensive guard in the NFL. They also have talented receivers, a nice stable of running backs who can catch the ball, and a coach that is known for his offensive mind.

It all starts with the big guys up front: The Colts’ offensive line is better than the one Rivers played with last year in Los Angeles.

  • Bringing back left tackle Anthony Castonzo was a huge move that will benefit Rivers and the Colts. He signed a two-year deal in free agency and is one of the most reliable blind-side protectors in the league.
  • Offensive guard Quenton Nelson is the NFL’s pancake king. A very good pass blocker as well, his play in the run game is a defining trait for this franchise.
  • Center Ryan Kelly has been rock solid since being selected in the first round back in 2016. He allowed just one sack last year.
  • The Colts could use an upgrade at right guard, but Mark Glowinski started all 16 games last year and gave up just three sacks.
  • 2018 second-round pick Braden Smith has been a full-time starter since his rookie year, and his arrow is still pointing up.

Skills to pay the bills: Indy has a bunch of talent at receiver and running back, and much of it meshes well with what Rivers does best — push the ball downfield.

  • Star receiver T.Y. Hilton is electric. When healthy, and when he’s had a top-tier quarterback slinging him the pigskin, this guy has been extremely productive throughout his career.
  • Former undrafted receiver Zach Pascal is an up-and-coming star. Last year, starting 13 games, he caught 41 passes for 604 yards and five touchdowns.
  • Former Ohio State star Parris Campbell had a rough rookie season beset by injuries. But this kid can play and is a big part of the Colts’ future plans.
  • The Colts still have hope that former fifth-round pick Daurice Fountain will emerge as a big-time playmaker, too, and Rivers could be the man to help him realize his potential.
  • Marlon Mack is one of the best between-the-tackles running backs in the league and has racked up 17 rushing touchdowns the past two seasons.
  • Hines will be Indy’s version of Austin Ekeler, a trusted target for Rivers in Los Angeles, and is dynamic with the ball in his hands.
  • Tight end Jack Doyle, when healthy, is a big red-zone threat. If the Colts can bring back Eric Ebron in free agency, the tight end group will be a huge part of the team’s offense in 2020.

The offense is clearly going to be a force in 2020 with Rivers pulling the trigger under center. Putting up points won’t be an issue. This is especially true given the fact that the veteran will be reuniting with Colts head coach Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni, Indy’s offensive coordinator, who both coached him during their tenures with the Chargers.

Getting defensive: The Colts made one of the biggest moves of the offseason Monday when they traded their first-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers for All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. This move gave Indy an incredible weapon that immediately helps them when it comes to taking on Patrick Mahomes and the dangerous Chiefs offense.

  • Bringing Buckner on board gives the Colts an amazing front line. He joins the likes of Justin Houston (still effective at the age of 31), Denico Autry, Ben Banogu, Kemoko Turay and Grover Stewart. With so many interchangeable parts, this defensive line will be fresh and dangerous.
  • Star linebacker Darius Leonard leads a young, talented group of speedy playmakers that will benefit in a big way from Buckner’s ability to disrupt, both against the run and pass.
  • Malik Hooker and second-year cornerback Rock Ya-Sin are a couple of franchise cornerstones who lead a defensive secondary that should continue ascending in 2020.

The bottom line: The Chiefs are clearly the class of the AFC. That’s going to be the case as long as Patrick Mahomes can stay healthy. But the moves the Colts have made this offseason give them a legitimate shot to challenge the NFL’s reigning MVP for the right to play in Super Bowl LV next February.

Rivers is the biggest key to all of that. Provided he can rebound from his turnover-prone 2019 campaign — something we’re confident he will do playing for Reich again — Rivers will have the Colts contending for a title in 2020.