The Indianapoils Colts are 5-6 with five weeks remaining in the season, meaning that they’ve given themselves very little margin for error in their playoff push. That five-game stretch begins this Monday night, as the Colts travel to face the New York Jets (3-8).
The Jets have had a rough season, but they’re still a challenging opponent to face. The Colts are 0-2 against the Jets in the Chuck Pagano era, having lost 35-9 in 2012 and 20-7 last year on Monday Night Football at Lucas Oil Stadium. And though the Jets are just 3-8 on the season, they’re a good defensive team that is particularly strong against the run.
The Jets rank fourth in the league in rushing yards per game allowed, and they’re 12th in total yards per game allowed. The defense is led by an intimidating front seven that can create problems for opponents in running the football, so it will be interesting to see how the Colts manage the game in that regard. Frank Gore has had a productive season rushing the football, as he’s rushed for 670 yards and four touchdowns on 3.8 yards per carry (he’s accounted for 874 total yards and seven total touchdowns), but the Colts’ offensive line hasn’t proven to be a unit that can win consistently at the line of scrimmage against a good defensive line like the one the Jets have. Regarding the Jets’ defensive line, Chuck Pagano said this week that, “this is as good as we will see.”
That could shift the pressure to Andrew Luck, which isn’t a bad thing for the Colts, nor is it a rare thing either. The Colts’ offense (as much as Pagano would like it to be otherwise) is built around Luck, and that hasn’t changed since he arrived in Indianapolis. Luck is having a good season, having completed 62.9% of his passes for 2,827 yards (7.5 yards per attempt), 19 touchdowns, and eight picks for a passer rating of 93.9 (he’s also rushed for 246 yards and a touchdown while averaging 4.8 yards per carry). That puts him on pace for a career-best season in completion percentage, as well as 4,241 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 12 picks. It has been a really good bounce-back season for the Colts’ quarterback, and they’ll need him to bounce-back against the Jets on Monday too. Of all the teams Luck has played multiple times, he’s been the worst against the Jets, as he has a passer rating of just 52.0 in two career games against New York (with a 1-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio). In order for the Colts to have a chance on the road in primetime against the Jets this week, they’ll need Luck to step up.
The good news for the Colts is that this game pits their offensive strength against the Jets’ defensive weakness. The Jets rank 22nd in the league against the pass, and their most notable player, Darrelle Revis, hasn’t looked much like the Revis we’ve become used to seeing. So the Colts could have favorable matchups with wideouts T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief. Hilton has caught 60 passes for 942 yards and five scores and is on pace for a career season. Moncrief has caught 24 passes for 251 yards and five scores, having caught a touchdown pass in each game he’s finished (so he’s on a streak of four straight games with a touchdown reception). And that’s not even mentioning guys like Phillip Dorsett, Jack Doyle, and Dwayne Allen, who are also threats in the passing game. If the Colts are going to win this game it will likely be through the air, and the good news is that the Colts have the quarterback and the weapons to make those plays through the air.
Can the Jets match it? That’s been a struggle all year. They’re averaging just 17.8 points per game, which ranks 28th in the league - so, incidentally, this will feature the league’s 28th-ranked scoring offense (Jets) against the league’s 28th-ranked scoring defense (Colts). Riveting, I know. Led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Jets haven’t been great offensively, and Fitzpatrick hasn’t been great either. He’s completed 57.6% of his passes for 2,252 yards (6.8 yards per attempt), but he also has thrown ten picks against 13 interceptions. His passer rating of 72.2 ranks 31st out of 32 qualified quarterbacks this year, ahead of only Brock Osweiler. The Colts are familiar with Fitzpatrick, having faced him in each of the four seasons (in six games during that span). In total, Fitzpatrick has started eight games against the Colts across five different teams, and he was effective in the Jets’ win over Indianapolis last year. The Jets have weapons in the passing game - such as Brandon Marshall and Quincy Enunwa - and will be going against the league’s 31st-ranked pass defense, but the key will be how Fitzpatrick does.
The Jets have had more success running the football than passing this year, led by Matt Forte, who has rushed for 759 yards and seven touchdowns this year while averaging 3.8 yards per rush. The Jets rank 12th in the league in rushing offense, whereas the Colts rank 23rd in defending the run. The Jets will likely attempt to establish the game with Forte early, so the Colts will have to be ready.
To be honest, this will be a good test for the Colts. It might not seem that way initially since the Jets are just 3-8, but here’s what I mean: if the Colts can’t find a way to win a road game in December against this Jets team when Indy is in a critical stretch, they have no business in making the playoffs. The Colts haven’t given themselves much margin for error whatsoever, and with five games remaining all of these games are crucial. So the Colts have to take care of business on Monday night, and the plays should be there to be made. I don’t think it will be easy - because probably nothing will be for this Colts team this year - but I do think the Colts will manage to pull out a victory and raise the stakes even more for next week’s huge matchup with the Texans. The Colts are going to need to improve and have an impressive five-game stretch to make the postseason, and that starts Monday night.
Predicted Score: Colts 28, Jets 23