The Playoffs are in reach. They are right there for the taking but one major hurdle remains. A win today will go a long way towards the Colts clinching a 8th straight playoff bid.
On paper the Oakland Raiders match up well against the Colts. They rank 2nd running the football and are top 5 against the run. That leads to their offensive strength (one of the most dangerous in the league) vs. the Colts biggest defensive weakness and their defensive strength vs. the Colts definite offensive strength (best in the league). Advantage Raiders.
Hang on though. Just remember Oakland fans, the Jags matched up well against the Colts too...a whole lot of good that did them. Plus, two of Oakland's (and the league's) better defenders are hobbled by injury. Richard Seymour, a menace from Peyton Manning's past, is suffering from a pulled hamstring while shutdown cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is hobbled by ankle problems.
With the playoffs on the line, both teams are facing an absolute must win. For the Raiders, a loss and they are done. The Colts wouldn't be dead but it would put their fate in the hands of Jack Del Rio and the Jags, which is a nauseating thought at best.
In the biggest games, teams win by riding their preeminent players. In what amounts to an early playoff game, the Colts will need to rely on familiar faces and an unheralded defensive front to carry the day.
Here are the players that will rise to the challenge and carry the Colts to victory.
Duh. Everything good (and at times this year bad) starts with the Peyton Manning. 2-2 lifetime against Oakland, the Raiders are one of the few teams against who Peyton does not hold a winning record. After a much publicized slump, Peyton is back on track looking as accurate as ever. Still the loss of Collie will undoubtedly hurt the Colts' precision passing game. With Asomugha fighting an ankle injury look for Peyton to target and test him often.
The Raider interior defensive line is vicious. While Richard Seymour may get more publicity (most of it deservedly so) 6-6, 300 pound Tommy Kelly is having a superb year having already registered 7 sacks. With Seymour's 5.5 quarterback take downs, the two have combined to be amongst the league leaders in sacks for interior defensive linemen. When they come off for a break the 335 pound former starter John Henderson backs them up meaning there will be little respite for Saturday or the offensive line. For the Colts unit to keep Peyton upright and the Colts' passing game humming, Saturday will have to be both sharp calling out the defensive coverages and stout pass blocking against the much bigger Seymour and Kelly.
After an off week against the Jags, look for Reggie Wayne to bounce back big time, especially with Asomugha not 100 percent. If Asomugha looks slow and shows even the slightest of limps, Peyton will target Reggie all day and will try to open up the field by taking a few shots deep. 15 catches is a certain possibility for Wayne today.
After a heroic effort last week, the Colts will be tested again. This test in the form of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush might even be tougher, as Bush and Mcfadden combine to form a thunder and lightening, power and speed approach.
If the Colts want to control the game, everything will start up front. Eric Foster and Fili Moala will have to maintain the same terrific energy they played with last week, especially in the absence of Daniel Muir. If they can gain penetration and at least slow down the Oakland runners on the line of scrimmage, they will make the job of the linebackers and safeties that much easier.
Facing a weak receiving core and an mediocre Quarterback in Jason Campbell, expect the Colts to bring down 8 and even 9 guys into the box on a regular basis to control the line of scrimmage and prevent the Raiders from dominating time of possession.
Final Prediction: With pride and their reputation at stake the Colts will continue their winning ways and should roll to another hard fought victory. Colts 31 Oakland 20.