The Indianapolis Colts are 10-4 and have already clinched the AFC South division. While there are still some aspects of seeding for the playoffs that still have to be figured out and which the Colts are still playing for, their primary goal in the final two weeks of the season has to be getting ready for the playoffs. This Sunday provides them with easily their best chance at doing that since the middle of November (over a month ago), as they'll take on the Cowboys in Dallas this Sunday. Dallas is 10-4 as well and they actually have plenty to fight for - first and foremost, they're fighting for a playoff spot! They will provide the Colts with a playoff-worthy test for the final time until January, when it actually matters. Let's take a look at the matchup.
What Happened Last Week?
The Colts struggled mightily on offense, posting their lowest yardage and point totals of the season. But a defense that held the Texans' offense to just three points all day was good enough for a 17-10 Colts' victory that locked up the AFC South. Andrew Luck completed just 18 of 34 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns with a pick and Boom Herron rushed for 60 yards on eleven carries, but it was the defense that powered the way for Indianapolis. They forced two turnovers, held the Texans to 5 of 16 on third down and 0 for 3 on fourth down, and held them to 289 total yards - while, as previously mentioned, allowing just three points (the other seven were courtesy of a pick-six). It wasn't pretty, but the Colts notched their forth win in a row.
Dallas notched perhaps their best win of the season a week ago by defeating the Eagles 38-27 to take over first place in the NFC East. Tony Romo completed 22 of 31 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns without a pick, DeMarco Murray rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns, and Dez Bryant caught six passes for 114 yards and three scores. The Dallas defense recorded four sacks and forced three turnovers while holding the Eagles to just 294 yards of total offense. The Cowboys have now won four of their last five games.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Offense vs. Cowboys Defense
This week the matchup to watch while the Colts are on offense are the tight ends against the Dallas defense. The Colts have a tremendous tight end duo in Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, and they could factor into the offense very prominently on Sunday. Star receiver T.Y. Hilton is officially questionable with a hamstring injury (and I doubt he plays), and regardless he'll likely not be at full strength nor play as much as normal (if at all). Furthermore, Reggie Wayne has been dealing with injuries this season and there's still the chance the Colts will want to get him some rest (though we'll see if that actually happens). Either way, they'll likely be looking to their tight ends in the passing game. Even Chuck Pagano noted this on Friday, saying that, "having a guy like Coby (Fleener) and a guy like Dwayne (Allen), they give you flexibility as far as being in-line tight ends and then flexing them out. You guys know we've displaced them from a formation standpoint, got them out in space. It's great to have guys that can go do that and move around." On Sunday, I'd expect that to happen. The Colts will try to get Fleener (who is second on the team in receiving yards) and Allen (who leads the team in touchdowns) involved on Sunday, and that will certainly be a matchup to watch. The Colts have plenty of weapons, but with their top weapon not at full speed (and perhaps not playing at all), they'll need to look at their options, and the tight end duo is one of the most dangerous the Colts have if used correctly. On Sunday, I'd expect the Colts to look at both Fleener and Allen in the passing game.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Defense vs. Cowboys Offense
There are a number of match ups to watch when the Colts are on defense, such as the potential matchup (depending on Davis' health status) between Vontae Davis and Dez Bryant, or the matchup between Jason Witten and the Colts' linebackers, but it's hard to argue against the top matchup to watch being the Colts' run defense versus DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys' run offense. Of course, we also have to note that there's a chance that Murray won't play, as he's officially questionable after having hand surgery this week, but all indications seem to point to him likely playing. He's the league's leading rusher and provides an incredibly dangerous test for a Colts' defense that has been exposed on the ground earlier in the year. When Jonas Gray rushes for 201 yards on the defense, there's reason for concern when facing Murray. Additionally, the Cowboys have what I believe to be the best offensive line in the NFL (though one starting lineman is doubtful and another questionable) and that just adds to the challenge of trying to stop Dallas' run game. The problem that the Cowboys' offense brings are the multiple ways that they can beat you, but if we have to choose one area as the most important matchup, it's the matchup of the Colts' run defense against DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys' line, and their run game.
Why the Colts Will Win
There's been a lot of talk recently about how the Colts have already clinched the division but the Cowboys still have something to play for, but at the same time the Colts have been hearing a lot of talk locally about how unimpressive they have been. About how they've yet to beat a really good team this year. About how, if they don't improve, they'll have a quick exit in January. I'm not saying that the Colts have more to play for than the Cowboys (they don't), but the assumption that they have nothing to play for is inaccurate. Mainly, the Colts want to make a statement in advance of the playoffs that they can go on the road against a good team and win - a statement both to the public and to themselves. With Andrew Luck under center and a defense that has a lot of confidence from their play recently, there's reason to think they could go to Dallas (where the Cowboys are just 3-4) and pull out a win.
Why the Colts Won't Win
The Cowboys' offense presents a really tough test because of the number of players they have to utilize to beat you. Whether it's Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, or that offensive line, the Cowboys have a very talented offense. The Colts' four losses this year have come to the four best offenses they have faced, and the Cowboys fit right into that category of very good offensive units. And while the Colts' offense will likely break somewhat out of their recent slump, with T.Y. Hilton either missing the game or not at full strength (again, he's officially questionable) they won't be nearly at full strength, having lost their second most important player on that side of the football (behind only Luck). The Cowboys really need a win and are at home, and there's also plenty of reasons to think they'll pull out a win.
The Colts' offense has been struggling recently, but I think they'll get out of it somewhat this weekend. It's the defensive side of the football that worries me, and they really haven't shown much this year against good offenses that gives me confidence. I think that this one will be a high-scoring affair, and especially with two of the most important Colts hurting (T.Y. Hilton and Vontae Davis are both questionable), the team playing on the road, and Dallas having much higher stakes, I think that the Cowboys will out-score the Colts in an exciting, competitive game in Dallas.
Colts 24, Cowboys 30
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