The Indianapolis Colts (5-3) have emerged as a strong playoff contender in the AFC, but in order to remain on track in the season's second half they have to take advantage of games against teams like the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7).
Indianapolis received some great news on Monday when it was announced that head coach Chuck Pagano is in remission, another step in the right direction in his battle with leukemia. He's not out of the woods yet, but it's a positive sign as the Colts keep fighting "Chuck Strong."
Now they must focus on a Jaguars team still firmly in the rebuilding process, but one that has given them some troubles in recent seasons. Jacksonville has won four of its last five against Indianapolis, including a 22-17 triumph in Week 3.
So even though the Jaguars are tied for the NFL's worst record, it will be a tricky test for the Colts. With that in mind, here's all the viewing information for Thursday's clash followed by a game preview.
Where: EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.
When: Thursday, Nov. 8 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Watch: NFL Network
Listen: WFNI 1070 AM (Indianapolis) or WOKV 690 AM (Jacksonville)
Live Stream: NFL.com
Betting Line: Colts -3 (Vegas Insider)
Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
Colts: Coby Fleener (out, shoulder), Jerraud Powers (questionable, toe), Robert Mathis (probable, knee), Dwight Freeney (probable, ankle), Andrew Luck (probable, knee) and Donald Brown (probable, knee)
Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew (out, foot), Rashean Mathis (questionable, groin) and Blaine Gabbert (probable, shoulder)
What's at Stake?
The Colts are on a three-game winning streak, placing them as the No. 5 seed in the AFC with eight weeks left. Based purely on how the two teams have played, they should win the game relatively easily, but recent history paints a different picture.
Since the Jags have held their number over the past few seasons, it's more of a mental battle than a physical one. The Colts have to find a way to take care of Jacksonville in what amounts to a critical game for them in the playoff race.
The Jaguars have transitioned into the role of spoiler. They have holes in just about every area and the absence of star running back Maurice Jones-Drew certainly doesn't help their cause. All they can do now is attempt to knock off some playoff hopefuls, like Indianapolis.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Cecil Shorts
Shorts is a 2011 fourth-round pick who caught just two passes in his rookie campaign. So it's no surprise he entered the season without much, or any, fantasy hype, but he's developed into Jacksonville's only reliable fantasy performer with MJD sidelined.
He's scored 27 points over the last three weeks and has 230 more yards than highly-touted rookie Justin Blackmon, who has the same number of catches. It's a testament to Shorts' big-play ability, which gives him fantasy value even in a lackluster offense.
The Colts found that out the hard way in the first meeting. Shorts made just one catch, but it was an 80-yard touchdown to steal the victory from under Indianapolis' feet. With more targets coming his way now, he should be a good play on Thursday night.
What They're Saying
The impact Pagano has had on the Colts while fighting leukemia has been noticeable. Cornerback Jerraud Powers said seeing him before last week's game was touching, according to Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.
When he showed up, the whole locker room exploded. You would have thought he would be on the sidelines today. That might be the first time I've ever been touched before a game. It was touching and it was inspiring. We figure, if we can have half the heart he's shown, we can do anything.
Since the Jaguars don't have as much talent as most opponents, they need to make up for it with hard play. Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union reports head coach Mike Mularkey doesn't think he's seen enough of that.
"Some of the intensity … we weren’t as intense as we should have been," he said. "That was a clear message going into the game: We wanted to be physical and play intense throughout. I could see that drop-off."
Colts Key Player: Andrew Luck
As is the case with most rookies, Luck has been through his fair share of ups and downs through the season's first half. But the overwhelming belief after having watched him play eight games is that the Colts franchise is once again in great hands.
The Stanford product is coming off one of his best showings of the season, throwing for 433 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Colts past the Miami Dolphins. There are going to be a lot more games like that in the coming years.
In the first game against Jacksonville, however, he struggled. He complete less than 50 percent of his passes and didn't throw a second-half touchdown in a close game. Luck needs to elevate his level of play this time around for the Colts to win.
Jaguars Key Player: Jeremy Mincey
The Jaguars are the only team in the NFL with less than 11 sacks, managing just eight in as many games. That has allowed opposing quarterbacks to stand tall in the pocket and pick the team's secondary apart, which is one of several problems the team must address.
One player who must step up is Mincey. He has just two sacks and 24 tackles, both well off his pace from last season. In order for the Jags to upset the Colts, they have to get pressure on Luck after watching him make a lot of progress since the last time they met.
On a positive note, both of Mincey's sacks have come over the last three games. The Colts understand the problem he presents if they allow him to wreak havoc in the backfield, so expect them to focus on slowing him down just like they did in the first matchup.
Colts 20, Jaguars 14