Oh my, this doesn't look too good. Both the Indianapolis Colts and the Las Vegas Raiders have a shot at the playoffs but they also have not looked so hot lately as they trudge into this game needing wins to help their tenuous postseason hopes.
Indianapolis (8-4) comes in having split their last two games, a 45-26 pummeling at the hands of the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans and a wafer-thin 26-20 win over Houston in which Deshaun Watson fumbled a snap at the two-yard line to end the game. Please pet your nearest horseshoe.
Las Vegas (7-5) also took an ugly loss two weeks ago, an inexcusable 43-6 thumping to Atlanta, and then a last-second miracle win over the lowly New York Jets, 31-28, which saw them score on a 46-yard bomb with five seconds to play. (And yes the Jets actually sent the house on that fatal final play).
The end result is the Colts are currently the No. 7 seed in the AFC playoffs but have the Raiders a game behind them and nipping at their heels. This should be an outstanding game between two hungry teams... no matter how crappy their recent past has been.
Indianapolis at Las Vegas
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 13 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Indianapolis -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The mirror QBs
Oddly, Philip Rivers and Derek Carr are eerily similar, at least on paper this season. Their quarterback ratings are close – 104.1 for Carr, 96.0 for Rivers. Both are hitting 68.1 percent of their passes and average exactly 7.7 yards per pass attempt. And of course, neither QB is likely to take off for a 30-yard scamper or have a play drawn up for a designed run around the end. Because of their QBs, the Colts are 10th in scoring at 27.3 points per game and the Raiders are 11th at 26.9.
The underlying factor to this matchup is the defenses each operative will be going against. The Colts D can be a tough draw at times. Not dominating, but tough. The Raiders? Meh, they're definitely more of a sieve, especially with four defensive backs looking iffy to play this week (Johnathan Abram, Isaiah Johnson, Damon Arnette and Lamarcus Joyner). Give the advantage to Rivers and Co. here.
2. The Raiders' new go-to guy
Okay sure, rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs III came up with the catch of the day last Sunday to beat the New York Jets with five seconds left, but tight end Darren Waller had one of the most epic days in NFL history. Waller went nuts on the Jets, racking up 13 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns becoming just the fourth tight end ever to go for 200 yards or more in a game. Move OVER Mike Ditka. He leads Las Vegas with 77 catches for 742 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Colts linebacker Darius Leonard will be given the task of seeing that Waller doesn’t come close to duplicating that performance. Leonard is a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine who can run like mad and will need to be effective in the drop zones. Interestingly, the Colts have given up the third-fewest receiving yards and just one touchdown catch to tight ends this season.
3. Raiders' O-line vs. the Colts' D-line
It's not a sexy matchup but this is really the win-or-lose matchup of this game, in many ways. Carr is one of the better-protected QBs in the league, suffering just 15 sacks so far. And because of this comfort zone he plays in, the Raiders also are one of the best offenses on third down, converting 49 percent of their opportunities, good for third in the NFL. The Colts did manage a safety on Deshaun Watson last week, but still are middle of the road in sacks with 28. The Colts got all-everything defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and end Denico Autry back last week. Buckner responded with two sacks and three QB hits. That's how important he is.
The Raiders are used to facing Philip Rivers, after his long tenure in the same division at the controls for the Chargers, and there ain't much love lost there. The Raiders are specialists in getting Rivers riled up and off his game. But the wily QB has done a better job of playing Cool Hand Luke this season. Las Vegas has stumbled its way down the stretch and appears to be the most unconvincing playoff contender in the NFL at the moment. Okay sure, maybe the Raiders were looking ahead to this game, but I can't help but recall how close they came to losing to the lowly Jets. So gimme Rivers and the bucking horses.
Prediction: Colts 30, Raiders 28
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.