Over the past few years, the Indianapolis Colts have absolutely dominated the AFC South. Their comeback victory over the Tennessee Titans last Sunday extended their winning streak against the division to 14-games, by far the longest active such streak in the league and one of the longest such streaks in league history.
Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Colts have had great success as well. They have won the last five meetings between the two teams, and in the six games played during the Andrew Luck era, the Colts are 5-1 and have outscored the Jaguars 178-65. The Colts have averaged nearly 19 points per game more than the Jaguars in their head-to-head meetings over the past three years.
Of course, the driving factor behind all of those wins was the Colts' quarterback. During the Colts' 14-game win streak against the AFC South, Luck has been very good. He has completed 60.9% of his passes for 3,606 yards (7.6 yards per attempt), 28 touchdowns, and eight picks during the span, good for a passer rating of 97.0 while also adding 261 yards and a score on the ground. Luck's offense has put up an average of 29.9 points per game during the streak.
Now, there's another streak in jeopardy: Luck's start streak. He hasn't missed a single game since coming to the NFL, but he's officially questionable for Sunday's game with a shoulder injury that has limited him in practice this week. It is very unclear whether he will play, and there's plenty of reason to doubt. And if Luck's start streak comes to an end Sunday, there's a very real chance that the Colts' division win streak could come to an end as well. Let's dive into the game preview as the Colts prepare to take on the Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium this Sunday.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Offense vs. Jaguars Defense
The Colts didn't sign Frank Gore to make him a workhorse running back, but on Sunday, he might have to be just that. The Colts will either be starting a quarterback with an injured throwing shoulder or a quarterback who hasn't started a game since 2012. Either way, it's not ideal. And with Frank Gore on the roster, the Colts should run it quite a bit on Sunday. Gore has obviously had a fantastic career, but he's shown that he's still able to produce for the Colts this year. He has rushed for 174 yards and two scores while averaging 4.7 yards per carry this year, and against the Titans last week he ran for 86 yards and two scores - earning a game ball for his contribution in the comeback win. Gore has been a huge spark in the run game for this team, and he has looked good so far. The Colts have him on a pitch count and they are a passing offense, but this Sunday might be one when they need to move away from that a bit. So the matchup to watch when the Colts are on offense is the Colts' run game against the Jaguars' run defense. Believe it or not, the Colts' offensive line has actually done a solid job of opening holes for Gore on the ground, and he has made the most of his opportunities. The Jaguars, on the other hand, have the tenth-ranked run defense in the league this year and are allowing just 3.3 yards per carry, which is tied for the second-lowest mark in the NFL. If the Colts can't establish their run game on Sunday with Frank Gore, they could be in for a long day.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Defense vs. Jaguars Offense
The good news about the Indianapolis Colts defense is that they have been much better against the run this year. The bad news about the Colts defense is that they've given up plays in the passing game. They have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 64.5% of passes against them for 806 yards (8.3 yards per attempt, tied for 29th in the NFL), five touchdowns, and three picks for a passer rating of 95.1. Four different receivers have gone for at least 75 yards and a score against the Colts this year. The problem for the Colts has been injuries at cornerback, which have really plagued them so far this season. Greg Toler will be out once again this week, and he hasn't played yet this season. The team is getting Darius Butler back (he's probable), but even then he didn't look good when playing outside against the Bills, as he's much better in the slot. The Jaguars have two dangerous receiving weapons in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, and Blake Bortles has been able to get the football to them at times this season. The Colts haven't been able to pressure opposing quarterbacks and haven't had their top talent at cornerback - that's not an ideal combination. So this Sunday, the Colts going up against Robinson and Hurns will be key. The two have combined to catch 22 passes for 448 yards and three touchdowns this year, notching nine plays of 20+ yards and actually averaging 20.4 yards per reception. The Colts need to be ready to defend them, plus get some pressure on Bortles so he doesn't have all day to throw and make the plays to his receivers.
Why the Colts Will Win
It's not like the Colts don't have any talent outside of Andrew Luck: Frank Gore, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Andre Johnson (maybe?), Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen (he's questionable), and Phillip Dorsett on the offensive side of the football, and then guys like Vontae Davis, Henry Anderson, and Robert Mathis on the defensive side of the football. Plus, let's not forget Pat McAfee and Adam Vinatieri on special teams. The Colts have a lot of weaknesses, but they still have some players. Plus, if Luck can't play, we don't know what to make of Matt Hasselbeck. He hasn't played in a meaningful game for a few years, but he has had success at the NFL level and the Colts brought him back this offseason for a reason. The question for this team is whether they can put it all together for a game without Luck, and that's a legitimate question. But if they figure out how to do that, they might reasonably be able to pull out a home game against the Jaguars.
Why the Colts Won't Win
Division games are never easy, even though the Colts have dominated the AFC South in recent years. And the Jaguars will see this Sunday's game - against a 1-2 Colts team quite possibly without their star quarterback - as their chance to make a statement win against the best of their division. But the main reason that belongs under this section is Andrew Luck. If he can't play, the Colts just aren't a great football team. They've got talent at certain positions, sure, but their offensive line is a mess and their defense is still not great. Luck covers over a lot of flaws, but he might not be there to hide them this weekend. And while Hasselbeck might be able to do an adequate job of filling in, the Colts need a playmaker like Luck. If he wasn't playing against the Titans last week, they would have lost by double-digits. If he's not playing against the Jaguars this week? I don't think any Colts fan should be confident in a victory if that's the case.
I'm not at all confident in a Colts win. There are Colts fans saying, "they should still be able to win with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback," but I'm just not buying it. I think Hasselbeck is a solid backup and might be able to keep it close, but at some point the Colts are going to need the rest of the team to step up as well. That means Frank Gore in the run game. That means the offensive line in protecting the quarterback. That means the defense in keeping the Jaguars' from putting up too many points on the scoreboard. That means Adam Vinatieri making all his kicks, and that means Pat McAfee winning the field position battle. Some of those things will surely happen, but will they put it together enough to get a win against a Jaguars team that could put up a fight? I'm not so sure. We don't know whether Andrew Luck will play, but we do know he's questionable, and I'm operating under the assumption that he won't play. And if Luck can't play, I'm not so sure this Colts team is that much better than the Jaguars. They might be able to make it a close game, but if Luck's start streak comes to an end this Sunday, I think the Colts' AFC South win streak comes to an end as well.