The Jacksonville Jaguars head north to the Circle City to take on the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC South duel on Sunday afternoon.
The Jags (2-6) are coming off arguably the biggest upset and undeniably the ugliest game in the NFL this season with their 9-6 home win against the Bills last weekend. Watching clips of that game to prep for this article was like preparing for a root canal but without the comfort of knowing you'll eventually be sedated. But a win is a win, especially if you're the Jaguars, even though franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence (15-of-26, 118 yards) left a lot to be desired. Lawrence, head coach Urban Meyer, and the Jaguars get a chance for a big road divisional win this week in Indianapolis, which they will gladly take, ugly or otherwise.
The Colts (4-5) have won three of their last four but still feel like a disappointment after blowing an early 14-point lead at home to the Titans two weeks ago. However, the offense is at least clicking, averaging 27.2 points per game this season (eighth in NFL) and 35.5 points in their last three wins with an 18-point average margin of victory. At a game under .500, the Colts are still on the outside looking in at the playoff race, but they certainly aren't out of it yet. A win against the Jags at home gets them one step closer to making a push.
Jacksonville (2-6) at Indianapolis (4-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 14 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Colts -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Michael Pittman Jr. emerging as next big star
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the emergence of the Colts' Jonathan Taylor as the NFL's next great running back. This week, it's Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.'s turn in the spotlight.
Pittman, in his second season out of USC, has emerged as Carson Wentz's favorite target and a major catalyst for this passing attack. Pittman's 50 catches this year are 20 more than anyone else on Indianapolis' roster and ties him for 10th in the league. The same goes for his five touchdown catches receptions.
Pittman showed flashes in his rookie season but this year has really grown into his own. Most notably Pittman is utilizing his size (6-4, 225) and physicality to his advantage, muscling through defensive backs as he fights for footballs in heavy coverage and in mid-air. We saw that physicality on the game-extending catch he made against the Titans two weeks ago in the fourth quarter when he fought off several Tennessee defenders to snag a pop-up in heavy traffic and keep what would end up being the game-tying drive alive.
The last few weeks, Pittman has been a large factor in the Colts' offensive success. All five of his touchdowns have come within the last five games, including a current three-game scoring streak. Look for Wentz to keep targeting the red-hot Pittman against a Jaguars passing defense that has been exposed all season long.
2. Can either team stop the pass?
Along those lines, this may be the week to pick up Wentz or even Lawrence off your fantasy football league's waiver wire because neither one of these defenses has proven capable of defending opposing passing attacks with any regularity.
The Colts have been marginal at best against the pass this season. Their 2,347 passing yards allowed are the third most in the league, and their 104.4 passer rating allowed ranks 27th. Last week, that wavering pass defense was on full display as the Jets' Mike White and Josh Johnson combined for 398 yards, four touchdowns, and a 107.2 passer rating. Johnson, of Alliance of American Football (AAF) and XFL notoriety, dissected the Colts for more than 300 yards and three TD passes himself after replacing an injured White.
The Jaguars' defense has at least flirted with showing glimmers of hope in their otherwise forgettable season. Sure, they rank 28th in passer rating allowed (104.8), sacks (15) and quarterback hits (40), plus 31st in completion percentage allowed (72.5 percent) and net yards allowed per pass attempt (7.5). But last week, they came alive, stifling the Bills' top-ranked offense to just six points. And in doing so, wreaked havoc on Buffalo's Josh Allen with their own Josh Allen. The Bills quarterback was pressured into throwing two interceptions, posted a 62.7 rating, and was held under six yards per pass attempt. Meanwhile, the Jacksonville version of Josh Allen was a defensive menace, picking off and sacking the other Allen once to go along with eight total tackles and a fumble recovery.
This week, the Colts are looking to clean it up in the secondary and put pressure on Lawrence when he is in the pocket. While the Jags are trying to replicate their efforts from a week ago.
3. Can the Jags Stop JT?
If there is one bright spot for the Jaguars this season, it's their run defense. The Jags rank third in yards allowed per carry (3.8), and their 827 rushing yards permitted is the eighth fewest. They've only allowed two teams to rush for more than 100 yards this season. The last three games, they've stuffed teams to the tune of 72 yards per game. Any way you look at it, the Jacksonville run defense has been stout.
Except for that one time…
Derrick Henry ran for 130 yards and three touchdowns against Jacksonville in Week 5. Of course, no one is Derrick Henry, but if there was anyone else he could be compared to, right now, it's Taylor.
Whether Henry was healthy or not, Taylor has emerged as probably the second-best running back in the NFL, and his punishing style is similar to Henry's. Taylor is among the league leaders in rushing touchdowns (8), yards per carry (5.9), and rushing yards per game (91.2). He has 100-yard games in three of his last four contests, all without logging 20 carries in any game this year. Against the Jets, Taylor was unstoppable, gaining 172 yards on 19 attempts, good enough for nine yards per carry and underscored by an 83-yard touchdown run.
If Taylor and the Colts' offense can get another complementary performance from Nyheim Hines — 74 yards, 12 yards per carry against the Jets — then it will be lights out for the Jags in Indy.
While the Jags are playing better, winning two of their last three contests, the Colts simply are the more talented team and more capable of scoring in bunches. Should the game be another slog, I still like Indy to win thanks to their ground attack with Taylor and Hines.
Prediction: Colts 31, Jaguars 22
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.