The Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars are set to face off for the second time this season on Sunday at TIAA Bank Field. Back in Week 10, the two teams went toe-to-toe, but it was the Colts who walked away with a 29-26 victory at home.
Now, it will be the Jaguars’ turn to see if they can use home field to their advantage.
That first game could actually be used as a strong representation for how 2018 has played out for both teams — at least so far. In fact, the Colts and Jaguars were expected to be on opposite ends of the win column compared to how things have actually turned out.
Jacksonville was coming off a strong 10-6 season where it had made it to the AFC Championship Game before losing to New England. That success had many believing the Jaguars could be a Super Bowl contender in 2018. With a 3-9 record, that optimistic outlook hasn't materialized.
On the other hand, the Colts were projected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. Star quarterback Andrew Luck had spent the entire 2017 season rehabbing a shoulder injury that prevented him from playing. That, on top of an atrocious defense, led Indianapolis to a 4-12 record, which was tied for worst in the AFC South.
This season has been a completely different story. At 6-5, Indianapolis is just two games behind red-hot Houston for first place in the AFC South. The Colts may not be able to catch the Texans, but they could claim one of the two wild-card spots.
Indianapolis at Jacksonville
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 2 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Indianapolis -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Jacksonville’s changes on offense
Coming into the season, Jacksonville had high hopes for its offense. Blake Bortles was back as the starting quarterback after showing signs of improvement in 2017 and signing a contract extension. Leonard Fournette was hoping he could stay healthy during his second season after being taken No. 4 overall in the 2017 draft. In addition, Nathaniel Hackett was still leading the way as the team’s offensive coordinator.
As the Jaguars welcome the Colts to Jacksonville on Sunday, none of those things have happened. Bortles has regressed to a point where he’s been replaced by Cody Kessler. Fournette, while finally healthy after missing most of the season with a hamstring injury, is suspended for his involvement in a scuffle with the Bills last Sunday.
As if that wasn’t enough, Hackett was relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator earlier this week after Jacksonville’s offense went from sixth in yards per game in 2017 to 22nd entering Sunday's game.
Instead, the Jags' offense will be overseen by interim OC Scott Milanovich with Kessler at quarterback and the combination of T.J. Yeldon and Carlos Hyde in the backfield.
2. Trench warfare — Colts’ OL vs. Jags’ DL
Jacksonville’s defense hasn’t lived up to expectations, but this is still one of the most talented units in the NFL. That notion especially holds true for a defensive line that features Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and Yannick Ngakoue.
The good news for Colts fans is the front office has finally put together an offensive line that can adequately protect Andrew Luck. It took several high-round picks (three first-round and one second-rounder) to do it, but it’s paid off in a big way.
Prior to Week 12, Luck had not been sacked for five consecutive weeks. Dolphins’ defensive end Cameron Wake was finally able to get Luck down on the turf last Sunday, but that's still a far cry from when he was sacked 41 times in 15 games in 2016.
Can Indianapolis' O-line once again rise to the challenge that awaits on Sunday?
3. The battle for the AFC South crown
The Jaguars aren’t going to win the division. That’s pretty much all we know at this point. Sure, the Texans (8-3) should be considered the favorite after winning eight straight games, but let’s not ignore the fact that Indianapolis is on a nice five-game winning streak of its own.
It also plays in the Colts’ favor that they get the Texans next week. That will at least give them a chance cut Houston's lead in half, assuming both teams win on Sunday (Texans host the Browns).
We also can’t completely eliminate the Tennessee Titans. They’re not in a great position (5-6), but there are still five games left to be played and Tennessee will host Indianapolis in Week 17.
Jacksonville’s offense has been atrocious this year. Between the injuries, suspension, poor play and coaching turnover, it’d be hard to imagine a scenario where the Jaguars will be able to outscore this Indianapolis offense. Especially with the way Andrew Luck, who was just named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for November, has been playing.
At the same time, Cody Kessler did have a few bright spots when leading the Jags’ offense earlier this season. If Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon can hold down the fort in the run game, Jacksonville may have a chance to keep this game close.
To think that the Jags may actually win might be a stretch, though.
Prediction: Colts 27, Jaguars 20
— Written by Clint Lamb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ClintRLamb.