The 2014 regular season will conclude on Sunday with a full slate of NFL action, and across the league teams will be playing division opponents in very meaningful games. The Colts, however, are 10-5 and have locked up the AFC South title, and they're playing perhaps the worst team in the NFL in the Tennessee Titans. While it's not likely to be a game that gets a lot of attention, it's an important one for a struggling Colts team to be able to work out some of their issues as they head into the playoffs. Let's take a look at our preview for the game:
What Happened Last Week?
The Colts were blown out last week, losing 42-7 to the Dallas Cowboys on the road. The Colts racked up just 229 yards of offense and just seven points - which came when the game was already decided. Indy was down 28-0 before Andrew Luck threw his sixth pass, and that's a recipe for disaster (Luck was pulled in the third quarter). The Colts rushed for just one yard on ten carries. The Colts couldn't stop the Cowboys' offense at all. Put it all together and it was one of the most miserable games the Colts have had in a while.
The Titans also lost, falling on Thursday Night Football to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Tennessee jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, but Jacksonville stormed back to score the next 21 points in the game, going on to win 21-13. The Titans fell into last place in the division for the first time this season.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Offense vs. Titans Defense
The Colts have been struggling on offense - that much is clear. The reasons people give for that vary and, in reality, are likely a mix of many things, but one thing that everyone agrees on is that the offensive line has to be better. Andrew Luck can't keep getting hit like he has been and the line has to do better run blocking as well. The Colts have done some shuffling along the line recently, partly due to injury and partly due to performance. The benching of Jonotthan Harrison in favor of Khaled Holmes at center falls into the latter category, and Holmes will make his second career start at center on Sunday. Of course, the Colts will be going against a Titans' defense that has players such as defensive end Jurrell Casey and linebacker Derrick Morgan who can get to the quarterback. Morgan has sacked Andrew Luck 2.5 times and Casey has sacked Luck 2 times, and they'll be looking to wreak havoc on a Colts' offensive line trying to get things worked out. And if the Colts can't protect Luck, they won't see their offense get back in sync. This is a major area to watch.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Defense vs. Titans Offense
Arguably the best player on the Titans' offense this season has been tight end Delanie Walker, and one of the biggest weaknesses of the Colts' defense is defending the tight end in the passing game. On the season, Walker has caught 56 passes for 847 yards and four touchdowns, and in the Titans' week four game against the Colts he was their leading receiver, catching five passes for 84 yards and a score. Through fifteen games this year, the Colts have allowed opposing tight ends to catch 76 passes for 910 yards and ten touchdowns, allowing 12 yards per catch and allowing 75% of the passes thrown to tight ends to be caught. That's not good. The Colts struggle to cover the tight end and the Titans have a good one in Delanie Walker. Especially if Jerrell Freeman doesn't play (if the Colts decide to take it slow with his injury), this will be a major area to watch.
Why the Colts Will Win
The Colts are 10-5 and the division winners and the Titans and 2-13 and in the running for the first overall pick. On paper, this one shouldn't be close, and if the Colts play like we know they're capable of this game will be a blowout. The have more room for error this week than last week, and even with some struggles they'll likely be able to overcome them to win. And with Andrew Luck at quarterback and a team that will likely be motivated by a humiliating loss last week, the Colts should have something to play for (pride) even if they're already locked into the playoffs.
Why the Colts Won't Win
There are really two ways that the Colts wouldn't win this game: one, if they decide to rest their starters (and even then, Matt Hasselbeck is a good backup quarterback) or two, if they play as poorly as they did last week. If the Colts haven't gotten anything worked out since that embarrassment a week ago, then the Titans will have a great shot at winning the game, thanks in large part to the Colts' beating themselves.
I don't expect the Colts to work everything out this week. They've been struggling and I think there will continue to be some on Sunday, but this is a perfect week for the Colts to work on those things in advance of the playoffs. I do think they'll get back on track a bit offensively and that their defense will continue their good play against good opponents, and I think the Colts ail end the regular season with a win.
Colts 27, Titans 16
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