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Colts vs. Titans Week 7 preview: AFC South lead on the line

The Colts can take over the lead in the AFC South with a win in Nashville on Sunday.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Jenna Watson/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

DraftKings Sportsbook has the Colts as 2.5-point dogs as they travel to Nashville with a chance to claim the AFC South lead after five of their six division games.

The NFL is strange. Early-season darlings fade fast while basement dwellers spring into the light. Most teams are still trying to figure things out. At this point, that’s the case with both the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans.

The Colts entered the season with high expectations. The roster appears as strong as it has been in many years. There are weaknesses to exploit, like an offensive line still figuring things out and a receiver room without much proven experience. On the other hand, players like Jonathan Taylor, Michael Pittman Jr., Quenton Nelson, Shaquille Leonard, Kenny Moore, and a host of others are seemingly in or entering their prime years. As with every season since Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement, the answer has always been elusive without stability at the game’s most important position.

It’s why the Deshaun Watson saga is not only so heavily discussed but why NFL franchises were willing to throw caution to the win with the bad publicity and moral issues facing the young star. Numerous NFL fans abandoned their teams during that courting process, and many players were impacted by how the process drove the market or slowed it down.

When Matt Ryan made his intentions known to the Atlanta Falcons, it gave Indianapolis a chance for what appeared to be an easy and clear upgrade. With Ryan’s veteran leadership, could the Colts not only find themselves back in the playoffs but could they capitalize on the team’s other young talents to make a run?

Just a few weeks into the season, the wheels appeared to be coming off. Matt Ryan was fumbling at a record pace. The offensive line, considered one of the best units in the NFL, was performing like one of the league’s worst. Jonathan Taylor had no running room and was getting hit in the backfield on almost every attempt.

The run-heavy Indianapolis Colts, a team built to lean on a league-leading investment in the trenches, had one of the league’s worst offenses. When Jonathan Taylor got hurt, any air left in the fanbase’s balloon faded away. It was time to throw out Frank Reich, and maybe Ballard too, for heading into the season so poorly prepared on the offensive line.

Naturally, two wins against the feared AFC West and a payback game against the Jaguars have changed the mood. No Jonathan Taylor? No problem. Deon Jackson was a revelation, and the offensive line looked like it was starting to figure things out. Rookie receiver Alec Pierce has stepped into a more prominent role, and the young tight ends are starting to look like real weapons. Even oft-injured Parris Campbell had a productive day last weekend.

What does it all mean? The Titans were expected to be a playoff team. Derrick Henry was returning from injury. This gave the franchise back its best weapon, but key injuries, including left tackle Taylor Lewan, and a surprising draft-day trade have left Tennessee looking for answers.

There’s far too much time to declare the winner of this game the odds-on favorite of anything, even winning the AFC South Division. However, as the 2022 season moves deeper into the heart of the schedule, teams will need to start figuring things out. Is this Colts team going to continue on a trend of offensive improvement? Can Matt Ryan build on last week? Will Jonathan Taylor see the same running room as Deon Jackson did? Will Alec Pierce get even more involved in the offense? Is Jelani Woods still progressing? Will the defense get recover after an off-game?

It’ll come down to the run defense doing a much better job keeping Derrick Henry in check than the Jaguars' backfield a week ago. The defense will also need to keep Ryan Tannehill from running all over them, as he may average more rushing yards on scrambles and designed runs against the Colts than any other team. The offense needs to show some balance, get Jonathan Taylor going for the first time this season, and build on the passing attack it flashed a week ago.

These games are always close, but the Colts can find themselves in a powerful position if they come away with a win. They’ll have a 1.5-game lead in the division and send the Titans into the rest of their schedule, after its bye, with a tough slate ahead. If the Colts lose, they’ll be 1.5-games behind the Titans, back to .500 on the season, and will need to defeat the Commanders just to keep pace.

BETTING NOTE: You can’t predict much with sports betting, so take this with a grain of salt, but DraftKings Sportsbook has the Over/Under on Tannehill's rushing yards is 8.5. I just can’t imagine him not hitting that with the current state of the Titans' offense.