“Thursday Night Football” has taken its lumps over the last couple of years. Players hate it. The quality of play is noticeably poorer than that on Sundays. The matchups are typically uninteresting. I wish I could tell you this Thursday night matchup (also the last of the 2017 season) between the Colts (3-10) and Broncos (4-9) will be different — but I’d be lying. But, hey, good news! Sky Cam is back! Watch the mediocrity from a bird’s-eye view!
Thanks to the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants, the Colts aren’t technically the worst team in football. So they got that going for them, which is nice. Head coach Chuck Pagano is undoubtedly out of a job when the season ends as the Colts’ roster continues to be in complete rebuilding mode under new general manager Chris Ballard. With the team out of playoff contention, winning does nothing for the Colts at this point in the season. It’s time for Ballard to see what young talent he has to work with going forward and prepare for the NFL draft — and maybe try to keep Jim Irsay from tweeting. Good luck, Chris!
Remember when the Broncos were picked to be a contender in the AFC West at the beginning of the season? Eight straight losses and not having a reliable quarterback can really derail a season, can’t it? Just as the Colts, winning any more games this season only hurts the Broncos’ chances of obtaining a top draft pick next spring. But as Herm Edwards reminds us, “You play to win the game”... unless you want a top-five draft pick.
Denver at Indianapolis
Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 14, 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC/NFL Network
Spread: Denver -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Trevor Siemian
While winning this game doesn’t really do anything positive for either team’s future, Siemian (above, right) could use the morale boost. After winning the starting quarterback job in Denver a season ago, 2017 was supposed to be his validation year. Instead, he’s been benched twice, played through injury for most of the year, and thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.
Last week, it finally clicked for Siemian as he threw for 200 yards and a touchdown (no picks) while completing more than 60 percent of his passes (18-of-31) for the first time since Oct. 22 as the Broncos rolled the Jets, 23-0 for their first win in nine tries.
It will be interesting to see what kind of leash head coach Vance Joseph gives to Siemian the rest of the way with 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch rehabbing from an ankle injury. If Siemian can scrape together a couple of more wins and get Denver to a more respectable record, he’ll likely ensure he has a job, somewhere in the NFL, in 2018.
2. Indianapolis’ offensive line woes continue
As soon as Andrew Luck was deemed too hurt to play, this was a lost football season in Indianapolis. Of course, general manager Chris Ballard had to make it look like the Colts were still trying, so he acquired quarterback Jacoby Brissett via a trade with New England right before the start of the season. And as hard as Brissett has tried to keep this team competitive, the mess of a roster left behind by former GM Ryan Grigson was just too much for Ballard to turn into anything useful in 2017.
Now it’s time for Ballard to take stock of what he does have and go from there. Luck will eventually be healthy sometime next spring, if he ever comes back from Europe — which, do you blame him? I don’t, really. But it would be nice when Luck did return that the offensive line was addressed in an effort to at least protect the franchise’s premier player who could end up with more shoulder surgeries than playoff wins at this rate. Indianapolis has given up more sacks than any other team in the NFL (52), and it’s not close (Arizona is next with 44). And this comes after owner Jim Irsay insisted the offensive line was "fixed" this summer. Mix these issues together with the fact that the Colts face Von Miller (right), one of the best pass rushers in NFL history on Thursday night, along with Brissett still getting a feel for the quarterback position, and it could be a long, long night for the home team.
3. What exactly are we playing for here?
NFL players and coaches are a prideful bunch. As they should be. You don’t make it to the top of any profession without a healthy sense of self-worth. And that is exactly why that makes Thursday night’s game so intriguing for both teams.
As previously mentioned, a win doesn’t help either team in the long run as both teams were officially eliminated from playoff contention in Week 14. So how do you tell NFL players and coaches their three remaining games are better for their franchises being losses? Now is not the time to win, but the time to take stock of what each team has coming back next season and what holes need to be plugged before 2018.
For the Broncos, the quarterback situation is the biggest question mark. Brock Osweiler was never the answer and won’t be back next year, the jury is still out on Siemian, and general manager John Elway still has no idea what he has in Lynch. If the QB play ever stabilizes the Broncos are still just a few minor tune ups away, especially on offense, from completing again in the AFC West.
The Colts are a whole other story. Outside of Luck, whose long-term health is still a concern, what exactly do the Colts have going for them heading into next season? Looking at that roster and all its flaws, it’s hard to say much of anything positive. The defensive cupboard is barren, the worst unit in the league with no one currently playing (rookie Malik Hooker is out with a knee injury) that is an absolute must-have player going into 2018. Offensively, it doesn’t look too much more promising. The line is a mess, T.Y. Hilton is inconsistent, and Frank Gore is likely heading toward retirement.
Life in the NFL is never guaranteed, not for any player or coach. It’s a dangerous game with serious consequences, as lives can change in an instant for better or worse, especially for the players. So no matter what a team’s record is, a majority of players are always working towards that next paycheck to take care of themselves and their families. That’s good enough for me to watch, no matter how little the game may mean for either team in the big picture.
The Colts simply don’t have the horses on either side of the ball to compete. Despite the Broncos’ myriad of issues, they are still stout against the run (tied for third), which will make it tough on 34-year old Frank Gore, who is coming off of a 36-carry effort in the blizzard in Buffalo this past Sunday. That leaves Jacoby Brissett and his 35.7 QBR matching up against Von Miller and a Denver defense that’s coming off of its best effort of the season (shutout of the Jets).
Prediction: Broncos 21, Colts 13
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.