A pair of first-year head coaches lead opposing teams in Sunday’s must-win New Year’s Eve showdown at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Indianapolis Colts control their own destiny, tied for the AFC South lead with two games left in the regular season. Most fans would take this scenario approaching 2024, would it not have been for the ugly 29-10 blowout loss in Atlanta on Christmas Eve.
According to ESPN, the Colts enter Week 17 with a 13.3% chance to win the division and a 47.6% chance to make the playoffs. With a win, their playoff probability boosts to 69%.
The Las Vegas Raiders are 4-3 since Interim Head Coach Antonio Pierce replaced Josh McDaniels midseason and have internally destroyed their last two divisional opponents. In Week 15, the Raiders set a franchise scoring record with a 63-21 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, which led to the sudden firing of Brandon Staley. In Week 16, the Raiders knocked off the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead as their stout defense returned a fumble and an interception for touchdowns in consecutive games.
All five AFC teams posting 8-7 records are vying for the playoffs with their backup quarterback taking command of the offense down the home stretch of the season. Colts’ Gardner Minshew has started each of the last 10 games since rookie Anthony Richardson suffered a sprained right AC joint and underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. Minshew faced his worst struggles of the season against the Falcons, posting a 58.5 passer rating, which was among the five worst scores in Week 16.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are reeling after dropping four consecutive games in December. Trevor Lawrence suffered a sprained right AC joint in the blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7) in Week 16, his third injury this season, and will likely miss Sunday’s home game against the Carolina Panthers (2-13).
Houston Texans rookie C.J. Stroud returned to practice on Wednesday for the first time since suffering a concussion in the Texans’ Week 14 loss against the New York Jets. The Texans face the Tennessee Titans in a rematch, after winning the Week 15 affair in overtime as Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked a walk-off 54-yard field goal as time expired.
The Pittsburgh Steelers named third-string QB Mason Rudolph the starter for Sunday’s road affair against the Seattle Seahawks (8-7). Kenny Pickett suffered a high right ankle sprain, but mentioned to the media on Wednesday he feels healthy enough to play just three weeks post ankle surgery.
Jake Browning leads the Cincinnati Bengals into Arrowhead for a must-win rivalry game against the Chiefs. Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending torn ligament in his right wrist, which will likely require surgery according to head coach Zac Taylor.
Below are the remaining schedules for the five 8-7 teams in the AFC:
Jaguars: vs Panthers (2-13), @ Titans (5-10)
Colts: vs Raiders (7-8), vs Texans (8-7)
Texans: vs Titans (5-10), @ Colts (8-7)
Steelers: @ Seahawks (8-7), @ Ravens (11-3)
Bengals: @ Chiefs (9-5), vs Browns (10-5)