At the highest point of their quarterback careers, the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck and Jacksonville Jaguars' Blake Bortles advanced their respective teams to AFC Championship Game losses at New England.
But aside from both being first-round draft picks who are bringing 3-5 teams coming off a bye into an AFC South Division game Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, that's about where the similarities end.
Luck, after missing 2017 due to shoulder surgery, is having a career year and the Colts are coming off back-to-back wins for the first time since 2016. He's on pace for career bests in most major passing categories, proof that he's better than when he led the team to a 41-7 loss to the Patriots just one step away from the Super Bowl in the 2014 postseason.
Bortles, who had one of his best games in a 24-20 AFC title game loss to the Patriots in January, is at the helm of a sputtering offense that is 30th in points scored and largely to blame for a four-game losing streak. The Jaguars have been outscored 114-46 during that span.
Neither team can afford a loss, considering division leader Houston (6-3) is on a six-game winning streak, so this game takes on added importance. Not that at least one Colts player wants to look at it that way.
"Not make or break," said Colts four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. "We know what we need to do and how to get there. We've just got to win."
Indianapolis could find itself right back in the hunt of the AFC South title despite winning just once in their first six games. The Colts have won back-to-back games and play their next three games in the confines of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Bortles knows the margin for error is very small for the Jaguars the rest of the season.
"I think they are all must-wins for me from here on out," Bortles said. "I think we have to win them all. Maybe you get lucky and lose a couple and find a way to still make it, but I think you have to win them all and for sure starting with the first one."
Bortles, whose 81.4 passer rating ranks 31st among quarterbacks who have started multiple games, is also dealing with a left, non-throwing shoulder injury. He says he'll be OK, but he's faced continual scrutiny for an offense that has averaged just 10.5 points in its five losses. He has just 10 touchdown passes with eight interceptions, has lost three of five fumbles and taken 18 sacks.
Luck, whose 96.2 passer rating ranks 15th, is directing an offense that has scored 30 or more points in three consecutive games, the first time that's happened for the franchise since 2010. And his 23 TD passes are the most in his career for the first eight games and second most in team history, trailing only Peyton Manning's 26 in 2004.
Whereas Bortles will be facing an inconsistent Colts defense that, among other negatives, is 25th in points allowed at 26.6 per game, Luck is facing the NFL's No. 1 pass defense. The Jaguars allow just 190 passing yards per game. And they're also second in fewest total yards allowed at 313.2 per game.
"They have really good players all over," Luck said Wednesday of the Jaguars. "They've got guys who can cover, they've got really, really good linebackers, they've got a really stout, strong defensive line and they play the system really well. So it's a combination of a lot of factors. At the end of the day, this game is about the players on the field and they have a lot of good ones."
Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone has been particularly impressed with how the Colts have protected Luck. A reshuffled offensive line that has used 11 different starters has kept Luck from being sacked on 156 consecutive pass attempts. Couple that with a resurgent rushing game that has amassed more than 200 yards in the last two wins and it's no secret why the Colts offense has been clicking at a high level.
"It's a really, really good group and honestly right now collectively, I would have to say when you look at them on film they're probably the best offensive line that we have seen this year," Marrone said.
Bortles, the third overall pick in 2014, concedes his offense needs to vastly improve come Sunday.
"If I knew, if anybody knew," Bortles said of the issues, "we'd fix it in a heartbeat."
Colts first-year head coach Frank Reich is confident his fixed offensive line will be able to block a strong Jaguars defensive front, but admits the opponent poses the "toughest test" for his offense this season.
"It is having really good cover guys," Reich said, "but really I think it starts up front with the pressure that they get on the quarterback. That combination is obviously a really good combination to have. The good secondary play they are getting -- sometimes you get good secondary play just because you get good pressure and you could have average corners and good pressure and it looks good in the back end. This team is good up front, but they are also good on the back end as well."
The Colts must contend with a 4-3 scheme that relies on a front four led by pass-rushing ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, who each have a team-high five sacks. Because the Jaguars can count on standout cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye in man-to-man coverage, that frees up linebackers to blitz and speed up the internal clock of opposing passers.
The Jaguars appear to have good news on the horizon. Running back Leonard Fournette practiced for the second time this week and while still showing up on the injury report, all indications are that he'll be in the starting lineup come Sunday. That's a plus. The Jaguars are 2-0 in the two games he's played in this season. Without him, they are 1-5.
If Fournette is in the starting lineup on Sunday, the Jaguars will not hold back on using him. Marrone made that crystal clear on Sunday, when he was asked if the Jaguars would limit his carries to any degree.
"You're asking me if he is able to play, are we going to kind of hold back or just kind of work him into it? We are full-boring everybody," Marrone said. "Once a guy is ready to play, that has to be our expectation."
"Another guy we got to fight, defend and stop," Colts defensive tackle Al Woods said of Fournette. "So it's going to be interesting, it's going to be a dog fight. Can't wait."
The Denver Broncos have signed running back David Williams, who the team originally drafted in 2018 before letting go. Williams was a Jaguar last season, but carried the ball just eight times for 36 yards with Jacksonville. It's hard to imagine a situation where Williams has fantasy value in a Broncos backfield that already has Royce Freeman and Phillip, but stranger things have happened. He's not draftable in any format, but a good training camp could put him in the mix for some of Devontae Booker's snaps as the number-three back.
Free-agent DE/LB Connor Barwin (Eagles) told Sirius XM NFL Radio during an interview Friday, July 17, that he has spoken with general manager Howie Roseman about re-signing. Barwin indicated the Eagles want to take a look at their younger players for a few weeks in training camp first but suggested the two sides will reconvene after that.
Oakland Raiders wide receiver Tyrell Williams is poised for a stellar season in his debut year with the Silver and Black. Lining up across the field from Antonio Brown, Williams will serve as the deep threat for the offense and will undoubtedly get his share of targets with Brown drawing most of the attention from opposing defenses. The 6-foot-4 wideout is a boom or bust player on a weekly basis but has the potential to surpass his value on his current 156 ADP. Williams caught 41 balls for 653 yards and five touchdowns with the Chargers last season despite being nearly non-existent in the second half of the year. He does own a 1,000-yard season under his belt, so he has sneaky potential on a team lacking a depth of weapons. As the bonafide number two receiving option for quarterback Derek Carr, Williams is a good late-round target, but the week-to-week consistency is a question mark.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Justin Watson worked 'extensively' in the slot this spring, according to Greg Auman of The Athletic.
Fantasy Spin: As Auman states, there has been a lot of offseason talk about Chris Godwin working in the slot. Godwin will still get plenty of time inside and probably be the primary slot option in Tampa Bay, but he won't be the only one that spends time there. Owners can continue drafting Godwin high because he is poised to break out regardless of where he lines up, but Watson is a name to remember as a highly athletic player capable of becoming what Godwin turned into last season.
Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett led the league with a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeted 20 or more yards downfield (minimum 15 targets) in 2018.
Fantasy Spin: Lockett will be counted on to be much more than just a deep threat this season with Doug Baldwin now out of the picture and should be valued as a low-end WR2.
Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (ACL) is expected to be ready to go for the start of the 2019 season. Fuller's played just 17 games over the past two seasons, but when he's on the field he's one of the NFL's best downfield weapons and has developed great chemistry with quarterback Deshaun Watson. Even with serious injury concerns, the upside is too great with Fuller to pass up on him in the middle rounds of the draft. He has 11 touchdown catches over the past two seasons and with DeAndre Hopkins playing across the field from him, defenses aren't able to double Fuller, allowing him to get open deep on a routine basis.
Houston Texans running back D'Onta Foreman had a disastrous 2018 season, rushing for negative yardage on seven carries while adding two catches for 28 yards and a touchdown. Recovering from an Achilles tear, Foreman appeared in just one regular season game, playing 31 snaps in a loss to the Eagles. Foreman is expected to play a much bigger role this year now that Houston's long time backup, Alfred Blue, is gone, and Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle expects 2019 to be an audition of sorts for Foreman in preparation for Lamar Miller's impending free agency, with Foreman seeing a decent amount of work this season. Foreman makes sense as a late round pick for this reason, though questions about how he'll play after the Achilles injury loom large.
Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley (knee) received a vote of health and confidence Thursday, July 18, from head coach Sean McVay, who was a guest on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show. 'I think he's feeling great,' McVay said on the show of Gurley. 'I think, you know, one of the things about Todd is (he's a) great competitor. I think he's earned the right to be able to have the plan that we had this offseason. Can't wait to get him back going. I know he's ready to go and it's going to be fun for the Rams this year.'
Fantasy Spin: Of course, we've been hearing this for months regarding Gurley, and no one is really going to know until the games begin for real on Sept. 8. In the meantime, hedge your bets as best you can and value Gurley as a low-end RB1/high-end RB2 with ample risk/reward involved.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill issued his own statement Friday, July 19, after the league announced he will not be subject to a disciplinary suspension or fine at this time. In part, Hill wrote: 'To the Kansas City Chiefs, Clark Hunt, Brett Veach, Coach Reid, the entire organization and the Chiefs Kingdom: you gave me a home when everyone doubted me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you all. I can assure you that I will continue to work to be the person, player, and teammate that you envisioned me to be.'
Fantasy Spin: Surprising as it may be, Hill returns to WR1 consideration in fantasy until further notice.
Buffalo Bills SS Rafael Bush announced his retirement Friday, July 19.
Free-agent FS Kurt Coleman (Saints) signed a one-year deal with the Buffalo Bills Friday, July 19. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
The NFL will not suspend Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill for violating the league's player-conduct policy. Hill was under investigation for an incident in which his son's arm was broken. With Hill cleared to be on the field, the Chiefs wideout is once again on track to be one of the league's top receivers thanks to his speed and the prolific passing of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Hill's a second-round fantasy pick at worst now, and will be a huge value for fantasy owners who drafted early and took him at his lower offseason ADP.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill is unlikely to resume contract talks for several weeks or months with the team.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill will not be suspended by the NFL as the league found that he did not violate the personal conduct policy. He will be able to attend training camp and participate in all team activities.
Fantasy Spin: The news has a big impact on the fantasy landscape as Hill immediately returns to WR1 status with the cloud clearing over him. Hill had an 87-1,479-12 breakout last season, and talks on a long-term deal could also rekindle.
Rival teams believe the Buffalo Bills could release someone from the group of RBs LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon, according to MMQB's Albert Breer, who notes that McCoy is set to earn far more money than Gore or Yeldon.
Fantasy Spin: Barring injury, Devin Singletary is going to make the 53-man roster. Beyond that, training camp will sort things out, though Yeldon seems the most like casualty at this stage.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is now the top receiver on his team but still has to prove to some that he belongs among the league's elite. After finishing top six in the NFL last year in both receptions (111) and receiving yards (1,426), the third-year pass catcher is in a position to repeat his breakout season. Without Antonio Brown in town, Smith-Schuster will be Ben Roethlisberger's first look. In half-PPR mocks, he's been going in the early-to-middle of the second round. The talent and opportunity are certainly there for the 22-year-old to be considered a top eight receiver in fantasy drafts.
Denver Broncos TE Troy Fumagalli spent time with the first-team offense during training camp Thursday, July 18.
Oakland Raiders RB Jalen Richard could lose a 'good chunk' of his snaps on receiving downs to RB Josh Jacobs, according to Vic Tafur of The Athletic.
Fantasy Spin: Richard's value was already limited to PPR formats, and now that Jacobs is in the mix and potentially headed for an every-down role, Richard is slipping into handcuff territory. Meanwhile, Jacobs looks like a RB2 candidate as a rookie.
New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones remains unsigned with one week remaining before training camp opens. He is one of five first-round picks yet to agree to terms with his organization. Jones is still scheduled to arrive to training camp on Monday when all rookies and select veterans report. He is expected to sign a four-year, $25.5 million contract, with a $16.6 million guarantee, when he arrives, or even shortly before. That is the financial slot for the No. 6 overall pick in the draft. Last season RB Saquon Barkley signed a day before he arrived at camp, so there isn't cause for alarm with Big Blue.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Demarcus Robinson will be expected to take over the role that Jacksonville Jaguars WR Chris Conley filled for the offense last season.
Fantasy Spin: Conley finished last season with 32 catches for 334 yards and five scores while Robinson logged 22 grabs for 288 yards and four scores. Combine those numbers on top of a potential suspension for Tyreek Hill, and Robinson could be worth a late-round flier as a WR5.