When the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts met in Week 8, the season was both very much alive for the two AFC South rivals. Indianapolis took home the late victory on a Vick Ballard touchdown, and the season hasn't been the same for either club.
At 3-3 at that point, the Colts have ripped off five wins in six games and are now in a position to contend for one of the final two wild-card spots in the AFC. By comparison, Tennessee was 3-4 at the time of that matchup, and now sit at just 4-8 after losing 4-of-5.
Indianapolis continues to show poise and faith in young talent during close games. Rookie QB Andrew Luck has played like a No. 1 pick that is ready to win the NFL Rookie of the Year award, and maybe even contend for the league MVP award in the process.
The Colts need a win against the Titans with two games against division rival and conference leader Houston still on the schedule. Here's an early look at the matchup this Sunday, and what you can expect from this once-fierce rivalry.
When: Sunday, December 9 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium; Indianapolis, Indiana
Betting Line: Indy -6 (according to Bovada)
What's At Stake?
For Tennessee, it's bragging rights. QB Jake Locker is still looking to put together strings of consistent starts. He hasn't been able to fight injury and inconsistent play enough to make a name for himself during his sophomore season. A big win over a team clearly in high spirits would help get Tennessee back on the right track.
Indianapolis has more to lose than ever. In command of its own destiny, getting to nine wins would clearly be more favorable than having to split games with Houston. It's a huge under-the-radar game for Indianapolis to avoid a let down after its late win over Detroit in Week 13.
Injury Report via ESPN (as of 12/4/12)
LB Colin McCarthy — Out (concussion)
DB Robert Johnson — IR (foot)
WR Kenny Britt — Probable (knee)
WR Damian Williams — Questionable (hamstring)
OT David Stewart — IR (leg)
S Tom Zbikowski — Out (leg)
RB Donald Brown — Left Week 13 (knee)
Fantasy Start, Sit and Sleeper
Luck and Titans running back Chris Johnson are obvious starts this week, as both have considerable advantages against the defense they are playing. Luck has been great, and the Titans are one of the worst fantasy defenses against opposing QBs.
Johnson has a chance to eclipse 100 yards, a mark he missed by just one against the league's 25th worst run defense in fantasy football. There's a lot of starts in this game, including WRs Kenny Britt and Reggie Wayne.
Sit Donald Brown and Kendall Wright, two guys that have struggled the past few weeks with the latter seemingly unable to get into rhythm with Locker. Look for Week 13 hero Donnie Avery to be a sleeper pick for your flex spot this week.
What They're Saying
Titans beat reporter Jim Wyatt is reporting that Tennessee is looking at every advantage they can to knock off the Colts after the Week 8 matchup between the two. Former Colts offensive help is in the building, and there's no doubt it will be of assistance, even if Indy isn't running the same scheme anymore.
Former Colts OC Tom Moore has been brought in by the #Titans to provide advice. Moore attended Thursday practice— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) November 29, 2012
Mike Chappell of the Colts' writing team reports there will be no fine for this week's latest installment of "What did Suh do?" It isn't a big blow to the Colts by any stretch, but it could be an indication Ndamukong Suh is losing favor with almost everyone in football.
ESPN reporting no fine for Lions Ndamukong Suh for whatever happened vs. #colts. Cites league source. apparently no video on incident.— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) December 4, 2012
Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star reports that the offense is churning along quite nicely for the No. 1 overall pick. It's something to keep an eye on down the playoff stretch, though, with so many young players in big spots.
A 459-yard effort at Detroit bumped the Colts' offense to third in the NFL with a 392.1-yard average. That's noteworthy when considering the Colts rely on so many rookies with quarterback Andrew Luck, running back Vick Ballard, wide receivers T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. Luck has already won more games than any No. 1 overall pick in NFL history and is on pace to shatter league rookie records for pass attempts, completions and yards.
Tennessee Player to Watch: RB Chris Johnson
CJ2K has looked more like his old self the second half of the season. His yards per carry is back up to 4.9, and the zone read scheme looks like the way to go as long as the East Carolina product is lining up in the backfield.
Against a weak run defense, Johnson can help his team get a win by making a statement early in this game and forcing the Colts into score mode. Additionally, the Titans will need a running horse with the lead. Let's see if Johnson is up to the task against a team he's traditionally struggled against.
Indianapolis Player to Watch: QB Andrew Luck
Luck is the man in Indianapolis right now. His season keeps getting better and with close to 3,600 yards and 17 touchdowns he continues to win football games.
We all know his interception numbers keep in the middle of the pack when it comes to elite QBs. But Luck has more wins than QBs named Brees, Newton, Romo, Griffin III, and every other rookie QB this season.
Keep doubting the No. 1 overall pick—he keeps playing like he's been a No. 1 fantasy pick for the last five years.
Key Matchup: Both O-Lines against pass rush, injury
These are two offensive lines that have struggled somewhat in 2013. Tennessee needs the offensive line—that just lost Stewart—to make holes for Johnson to make cuts through.
The Indianapolis line must protect a QB that most of the league is now gunning for. Tennessee's pass rush is fairly non-existent, but I still think the teams with the most sacks end up winning this game.
People underestimate Tennessee, but with a solid running game against a team with a propensity to allow points, this one won't be a blowout if the Titans come ready to play. Still, don't bet against Luck at home.
Indianapolis 30, Tennessee 27
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.