clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans Preview

The Indianapolis Colts (7-8) take on the Tennessee Titans (3-12) on Sunday. Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson previews the matchup and gets you ready for the game, plus gives his prediction.

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 NFL regular season comes to an end on Sunday as 20 teams play their final game of the season.  Two of those teams will be meeting in Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, as the Indianapolis Colts host their division rival Tennessee Titans.

The Colts, technically, are not eliminated yet and therefore could still playing next weekend in the wild card round.  Their chances of that actually happening, though, are very slim, as they need to win, need the Texans to lose, and then need seven other games to go exactly the right way in order to win the AFC South and make the playoffs.  In other words, it's probably not going to happen.

In order to have any hope of making the postseason, however, the Colts first need to beat the Titans in a game that is sure to be ugly.  The Titans will be without franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota, who suffered a knee injury two weeks ago.  Instead, it will be Zach Mettenberger getting the start in the regular season finale.  The Colts will also be without their franchise quarterback, as Andrew Luck will miss another game with a lacerated kidney and torn abdominal muscle.  They will also be without their top two backups, as Matt Hasselbeck is out this week with shoulder, rib, back, and jaw injuries, and Charlie Whitehurst was placed on injured reserve this week with a hamstring injury.  That leaves only three options: Stephen Morris, signed off the Eagles' practice squad a week ago, Josh Freeman, signed as a free agent this week, or Ryan Lindley, also signed off the street this week.  Head coach Chuck Pagano said on Friday that he didn't yet know who would start, but I'm not sure it matters a ton - none of the three are great options.  This could be a very, very ugly offensive game from both sides, perhaps meaning the winner could be whichever team is less bad.

The Titans also have something to play for in this contest, as a loss secures the top overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.  With their quarterback already in place, it could be an opportunity to surround Mariota with some talent.

The Colts hold a 28-13 advantage all-time against the Titans, and the opponent is the lone reminder left of the Colts' NFL record win streak against the division.  Indy has dropped their last two AFC South games (to the Jaguars and the Texans) after winning a record 16 in a row, but the Colts' win streak against the Titans is still intact.  The Colts have won eight in a row against Tennessee, including the first matchup this season when Andrew Luck led them on a fourth quarter comeback to win 35-33.

Neither one of the starting quarterbacks from that game will be playing in this one, however, and so it's expected to be a lot less entertaining and a lot more ugly.  Here's a preview of the game, which could very well be the last Colts football we'll see until August.

Matchup to Watch: Colts Offense vs. Titans Defense

Partly as a tribute to Chuck Pagano in what will likely be his final game as head coach of the Colts, I'll identify the key matchup when the Colts are on offense as running the football.  I'm being serious with this one too, though, as the quarterback position is a complete mess.  Adding to that, the Titans have the seventh-ranked pass defense in the NFL, which could make for a pretty miserable game for whichever quarterback ends up starting.  Last Sunday, it was Frank Gore who powered the offensive production, and he will need to do so again this week.  He's 109 yards away from 1,000 on the season, and if the Colts want to win this week they'll need Gore to step up and produce.  I don't expect Stephen Morris, Josh Freeman, or Ryan Lindley to be able to move the football down the field with any sort of consistency, meaning that Frank Gore is really the only part of the offense that I have any confidence will produce.  Of course, the Titans will likely realize that as well and stack the box to try to stop Gore, so it will mean getting Gore lanes to run through.  Ultimately, if Gore can help move the Colts downfield into field goal range a few times, they should be able to win the game.  If we're looking at the most important part of the offense on Sunday, however, it really might be Frank Gore and running the football.

Matchup to Watch: Colts Defense vs. Titans Offense

The Colts this Sunday will be facing a less-than-dangerous Titans offense.  Marcus Mariota, the team's best player at the most important position, is out.  So is Kendall Wright, one of their top receivers.  Starting tackle Taylor Lewan is out as well.  And keep in mind that this is already an average unit, so the Colts' defense should be able to make some plays on Sunday.  The biggest matchup, however, will be winning the battle in the trenches.  It wouldn't be a surprise if the Titans tried to run the ball, but they don't exactly pose a huge threat in that area.  More significantly, then, it will involve getting pressure on Zach Mettenberger.  The Titans' offensive line isn't very good, while Mettenberger is a backup who can get rattled by pressure.  The Colts have struggled to get pressure consistently this year, but against a bad Dolphins offensive line last week, the unit showed up and was a huge reason why the Colts won the game.  They need the exact same thing to happen this week in a similar situation - facing a bad offensive line in a game where their own offense will be inconsistent, the pass rush will need to step up.  Last week gave us confidence that they can, but now it's up to them to do it again for the second straight week.  The bottom line is that the Colts' defense should be able to be successful, but it will start in the trenches.

Why the Colts Will Win

The Titans stink - and by that, I mean they stink worse than the Colts.  And while the Colts will be missing their quarterback, so will the Titans.  Playing at home, with Frank Gore to run the football, some playmaking wide receivers, an average defense, the league's best punter, and an automatic field goal kicker, there's plenty of reason to think that the Colts can win this one.  Add into that the fact that the Colts still have a sliver of playoff hope and that the players will be fighting for their head coach who is very well-liked in the locker room and is likely coaching his last game with the team, and it seems to set up nicely for a Colts victory.

Why the Colts Won't Win

The Colts will be starting Stephen Morris, Josh Freeman, or Ryan Lindley at the most important position in the game.  That will allow the Titans to stack the box and make one of those quarterbacks beat them, which is something very much uncertain to happen.  This game, then, could hinge on one or two huge plays, and if the Titans can find a big scoring play or two, they could come away from Indianapolis with a win.

My Prediction

This should be a very ugly game with a lot of bad offensive football being played (welcome to the AFC South).  With that said, I think the Colts are very clearly the better of these two bad teams and they should have plenty of motivation this week in trying to keep their playoff hopes alive and trying to win one for Chuck Pagano.  The Colts should have all of the motivation in this game and they are the least bad of the two teams.  With Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee leading the way, I think the Colts find a way to win an ugly game.

Colts 16, Titans 10