Fresh off of clinching its first playoff berth since 2002, Oakland returns home to face Indianapolis, a team that is still in the postseason conversation. The Raiders (11-3) now have their sights set on an AFC West title, while the Colts (7-7) must win (and get plenty of help) to maintain any hope of winning the South.
Last week, Oakland’s defense had one of its best performances in a 19-16 road victory over San Diego. The Raiders held the Chargers to just 263 total yards, as Bruce Irvin had a big game with two sacks and a forced fumble. Oakland leads Kansas City by one game in the AFC West and can win the division with a win over Indianapolis and a Chiefs loss to the Broncos on Christmas night.
The Colts appear to be a longshot at best to get in the playoff considering they trail both the Texans and Titans by a game. But Indianapolis is coming off of one of its most dominating wins of the season after drubbing Minnesota 34-6 on the road. The Colts scored on five of their first six possessions to jump out to a 27-0 lead and never looked back.
Saturday will mark the 14th time the Colts and Raiders have met with Oakland holding a slim 7-6 advantage. The two teams last met in Indianapolis in 2013, a game the Colts won 21-17.
Indianapolis at Oakland
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 24, 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Oakland -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Indianapolis’ balanced attack
Many people believe that Indianapolis’ offense is just quarterback Andrew Luck and the passing game. While that could be true, the Colts have had more success when they run the ball efficiently.
Last week against Minnesota, Luck handed the ball off on 40 of 68 snaps. Since Luck was drafted No.1 overall in 2012, the Colts are 24-3 when the team has 30-plus rushing attempts in a game.
While Luck finished with 250 passing yards against the Vikings, the running game produced 161 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries. The yardage total tied a season high for Indianapolis and was the most the Vikings have given up. With Oakland giving up 116.9 rushing yards per game, the Colts could once again have success on the ground with Frank Gore and Robert Turbin leading the way.
2. Derek Carr
Despite dealing with a finger injury the last few weeks, the Raiders’ quarterback led this team to another fourth-quarterback comeback win, this time in San Diego. His final stat line wasn’t that impressive (19-for-30, 213 yards, TD), but the important thing is he once again found a way to help his team wind up victorious.
Carr has been operating primarily out of the shotgun or pistol formation since he injured his pinky finger last month on a bad snap from under center in a win over Carolina. That could be troublesome for Indianapolis, who ranks near the bottom of the NFL in passing defense (261.4 ypg). Look for Carr, fellow Pro Bowler Amari Cooper and tag-team partner Michael Crabtree look to take advantage of a Colts secondary that has had to deal with a rash of injuries this season, and it shows on the stat sheet.
3. Colts’ offensive line
Indianapolis’ front line has long been an issue ever since Luck was drafted, but the group is coming off of a strong showing last week in which the Colts’ offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage against Minnesota. The Vikings have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, but Luck was not sacked and was hit just twice all game, and Indianapolis ran for 161 yards as well.
Minnesota has had some injuries along its defensive line, but Indianapolis’ show of strength up front was impressive nonetheless. But the Colts will face an entirely different challenge on Saturday going up against Khalil Mack and the rest of Oakland’s front seven.
While Mack’s sack streak ended at eight games last week, Bruce Irvin stepped up and recorded two sacks and a forced fumble in the win over San Diego. All told, the Raiders sacked Philip Rivers three times and held him to just 206 yards with two touchdowns and an interception on 17-of-30 passing.
Indianapolis’ offensive line has performed much better during the second half of the season, giving up just nine sacks in the last six games. This is after surrendering 31 in the first eight games. If the Colts want to keep the momentum going on offense, the line will need to keep up its recent strong play against a pass rush that features Mack, one of the leading contenders for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Last week, Oakland’s defense was able to slow down a San Diego offense that is among the NFL’s most productive. The Raiders will need a repeat performance at home on Saturday against an equally potent Indianapolis attack. Oakland’s offense has managed just 32 points over its last two games, so the Raiders can’t rely strictly on Derek Carr and company to win this game.
Indianapolis might be a .500 team, but the Colts are better than their record indicates. Five of their losses have been by a touchdown or less and only one has been to a team that does not have a winning record (Jacksonville). Oakland also is no stranger to close games, as eight of its 11 wins have been by seven points or fewer.
Neither team has a great defense, so it will most likely come down to which unit can make a play in a critical moment. In that respect, the edge goes to the Raiders, thanks to the presence and playmaking ability of All-Pro Khalil Mack.
Prediction: Raiders 30, Colts 24
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.