Fresh off a thrilling comeback victory in Detroit, Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts (8-4) play host to their division rival, the Tennessee Titans (4-8), in Week 14.
The two teams previously met in Week 8, with the Colts (once again) using some late-game heroics to win 19-13. Trailing by seven late in the fourth, Andrew Luck led a game-tying drive to force overtime, where Vick Ballard sealed the win with a leaping touchdown.
At 8-4, Indianapolis sits squarely in the driver's seat for an AFC Wild Card berth. But with a pair of playoff-tested AFC North teams (Pittsburgh and Cincinnati) sitting at 7-5, the Colts have little-to-no margin for error. Especially with two games against Houston remaining on the schedule.
Tennessee managed to stay afloat through Week 7 this season, but the wheels have been coming off ever since. They've dropped four of their last five games, a streak that began with the aforementioned overtime loss to these very Colts.
With Indy needing a win, and Tennessee looking to play spoiler, things could get interesting at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Let's take a closer look at how it might play out:
When: Sunday, Dec. 9th, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
TV: CBS (check local listings)
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Spread: Indianapolis -5 (via VegasInsider.com – LVH)
Despite the 8-4 record, Football Outsiders grades the Colts remarkably low in their weighted DVOA rankings. Like, "sixth-worst team in football" low.
But as fraudulent as the numbers suggest Indianapolis is, it's hard to ignore how good they've been at home. Their only loss came to Jacksonville in Week 2––before Andrew Luck really found his footing––and their profile of wins includes games against Minnesota, Green Bay, Cleveland, Miami and Buffalo.
Here's the problem: They won those five home games by an average of four points. And only once––against Buffalo, whom they beat by a touchdown––would they have covered a five-point spread.
It's painful taking Jake Locker, on the road, against a 5-1 home team. I feel you on that one. But it seems like the smart play.
Over/Under: 48.0 (via VegasInsider.com)
At first glance, this number appears to be a smidgen too high. After all, just five weeks ago these same two teams combined for 26 points in regulation.
But upon further review, it makes sense.
Much ado has been made about how bad the Titans' defense has been this year (for good reason), but the Colts have actually been worse. And significantly so.
They're rated 31st in defensive DVOA, allowing teams to ravage them both through the air (where they rank 30th) and on the ground (where they rank 31st). Only the Oakland Raiders, who rank last against both run and pass, finish below them in total defense.
We know the Colts will be able to move the ball on Tennessee. But the Titans, inept offense and all, should be able to move the ball similarly well on Indianapolis.
Take the over.
Tennessee Titans Injury Report (via USA Today—as of 12/6/12)
|TE Jared Cook||Neck||Probable|
|WR Lavelle Hawkins||Ankle||Probable|
|RB Jamie Harper||Ankle||Probable|
|T Michael Roos||Knee||Questionable|
|DE Kamerion Wimbley||Toe||Questionable|
|LB Colin McCarthy||Concussion||Questionable|
|T Byron Stingily||Back||Questionable|
|WR Damian Williams||Hamstring||Doubtful|
Indianapolis Colts Injury Report (via USA Today—as of 12/6/12)
|LB Justin Hickman||Hamstring||Probable|
|DE Cory Redding||Ankle||Questionable|
|T Joe Reitz||Undisclosed||Questionable|
|T Tony Hills||Chest||Questionable|
|S Tom Zbikowski||Knee||Out|
Fantasy Big Plays
Tennessee Titans: RB Chris Johnson
As alluded to earlier, only the pitiful Oakland Raiders have been worse against the run than Indy this year.
The Titans had to abandon the run against Houston last week, but prior to that, Johnson has racked up 100-plus total yards in six consecutive games. One of which was a solid, albeit underwhelming, performance against the Colts in Week 8.
Johnson hasn't exactly reverted to CJ2K form, but his bounce-back year has been mighty impressive nonetheless. With momentum at his back and the league's best turf under his feet, Johnson could run wild in this one.
Don't be surprised if he's the top-scoring running back in Week 14.
Indianapolis Colts: WR Reggie Wayne
Think Reggie Wayne likes playing at Lucas Oil Stadium? Check out his scoring by week when the Colts play at home:
|Green Bay (10/7)||13||212||1||29.8|
What's more, Tennessee is the second-worst team in the league against an opponent's No. 1 receiver (h/t Football Outsiders).
Wayne had 7 catches for 91 yards when they played in Nashville. In the dome, he's got a chance to put up even bigger numbers––and maybe even add a touchdown to boot.
Start him with the utmost confidence.
Key to Victory
Late-Game Quarterback Play
The Colts are 7-1 in games decided by seven points or less. A large part of that has been the emergence of Andrew Luck as a clutch late-game playmaker.
Tennessee hasn't been too shabby in close games either: They're 3-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less. But two of those wins came in games started by Matt Hasselbeck; Jake Locker is only 1-1 in close finishes.
If the numbers tell us anything, this one will come down to the wire. And if that's the case, the outcome will likely come down to which young QB steps up down the stretch.
I hate to beat a dead
Colt horse, but Indianapolis has to be the worst 8-4 team in recent memory. They might have four games on Tennessee in the standings, but they aren't four games better on the field.
Expect a high-scoring affair that, as alluded to in the section above, will likely come down to which quarterback makes plays down the stretch.
I don't mind Locker as much as some people do, but you'd have to be crazy to pick him over Luck in that scenario.
Predicted Score: Indianapolis 34, Tennessee 30