Two of the best quarterbacks in the game meet in a Sunday battle that could have big implications in both the AFC and NFC playoff races as Indianapolis makes the rare trip to Green Bay. Both teams entered the season with lofty expectations but have found that things haven’t quite gone as expected as each enters this game in a bit of a hole in their respective divisions and are facing issues on numerous fronts.
For the Packers, those problems have flipped between offense early and defense lately. The team gave up 33 points last week to Atlanta, including a late touchdown drive, and have seen their normally reliable secondary (which has been really banged up) get picked apart two of the last three games. The offense isn’t doing much better, as Green Bay is down three top receiving threats and its top two tailbacks. The end result has put a ton of pressure on Aaron Rodgers, who has played quite well despite essentially carrying the entire team on his back.
That’s something his Colts counterpart knows all about. Andrew Luck is putting together one of his best seasons in the league even if the team’s record hasn’t reflected that at 3-5. The Indy defense is among the worst in the league against the pass and the run and it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see this game develop into a shootout given the amount of speed each squad has at receiver and how little talent there on the rosters at cornerback.
Either way, it should make for an entertaining matchup between the two in the late game window on Sunday. This is only the fifth meeting between the two franchises since 2000 and a bit of a rubber match with the teams splitting the past four games. Amazingly enough, the home team has won all but one contest in the series since the Colts moved to Indianapolis and that was all the way back in a 1988 game at Lambeau Field.
Indianapolis at Green Bay
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 6 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Packers -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterbacks Mano a Mano
Luck. Rodgers. It’s as simple as that. Two of the best young signal-callers in the NFL are by now veteran hands and familiar with what it takes to get a win even if his surrounding cast isn’t quite as good as the opponent’s. After a few initial struggles, Aaron Rodgers has been playing like an MVP even if defenses have to key on him with every snap given how banged up the team is with the run game. Andrew Luck does have trusty pal Frank Gore still churning away in the backfield but has been asked to win essentially every game in come-from-behind fashion due to his iffy defense. Perhaps more so than any other contest this week, whichever quarterback out-duels the other should be the one left standing with a victory.
2. Injury Report
As is the case for most teams at this time of the season, the injury report and who actually suits up will play a role in the outcome of this one. The Packers will definitely be without tailback James Starks and tight end Jared Cook on offense to limit options and won’t have Damarious Randall out at cornerback on defense. Ty Montgomery seems likely to play but Randall Cobb once again is questionable, further limiting Rodgers’ targets. The Colts are missing at least one contributor at each level of their defense and the fact that left guard Jack Mewhort is out will hurt the interior run game and protection of Luck.
3. Getting Defensive
While Rodgers may be looking forward to facing off against the Colts defense that has been susceptible to the pass, his teammates in the locker room probably aren’t thrilled at the prospect of facing off against Luck, T.Y. Hilton and company. Green Bay has been solid against the run (second in the league) but have failed to have much luck getting stops on passing downs. A lot of that has to do with injuries in the secondary but it’s a team effort to get to the quarterback as well and the Packers haven’t been quite as productive on that front. Given the defenses for both teams, whoever can come up with some timely stops, or even create turnovers, should have a leg up in this one.
There are a couple of compelling matchups this week in the NFL but it’s tough to think of any of them that have the potential to be as fun as this one. You’ve got two great quarterbacks who are playing at a high level and love to throw the ball around, going up against a pair of defenses that have not been great against the pass in recent outings. While there’s always the possibility things get sloppy as a result of overeagerness, chances are high that this one turns into an entertaining back-and-forth affair between some good offenses.
The Colts are used to playing in such shootouts this season and seemingly have a shot in every game when Andrew Luck and the offense are clicking. There are playmakers that can score quickly in the downfield passing game and Frank Gore still has some quality runs left in him despite his age. If the offense isn’t going, things like last week’s disastrous outing against Kansas City happens but the Packers’ defense is not operating at the same level.
Yet Green Bay is playing at home and is starting to get a bit healthier in key positions. The Packers still force you to be one-dimensional on offense and their own unit behind Aaron Rodgers and company will make you pay no matter how good you are on the other side of the ball. Even in last week’s close loss, you started to see the underpinnings of the team many picked to be in the Super Bowl so expect more of that to continue against one of the AFC’s weaker teams on Sunday afternoon.
Prediction: Packers 33, Colts 24
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.