NFL fans receive a rare treat this week: a meaningful football game on Thursday night. Tennessee is two games behind after blowing a golden opportunity to cut Indianapolis’ two-game lead in half last week, and at this point they are the sole threat to the Colts in the AFC North. These two will face off twice over the next 17 days; the Titans need a victory to not only keep the division title in their sights, but to also keep pace with the 5-4 Jets for the last AFC playoff berth.
Indianapolis Colts (6-3) at Tennessee Titans (5-4)
When: 8:30 pm ET on Thursday, November 14
Where: LP Field in Nashville; natural grass surface
Weather: Clear and cool, with no chance of rain; about 40¬į with almost no wind (6 mph)
Television: NFL Network
Announcers: Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock
All-time Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts vs Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans: Colts lead 23-13
Last meeting: Colts won 27-23 on Dec. 9, 2012 at Indianapolis
At LP Field: Colts lead series 7-4
Last week: Titans lost to Jaguars 29-27; Colts lost to Rams 38-8
Odds: Prior to Sunday’s game the Titans were listed as a 1-point favorite, but by the conclusion of those games the Colts were a 2¬Ĺ to 3-point favorite depending on where you shop; they have settled in at 3-points most places. The over/under is 42¬Ĺ give or take a half point, and the most common money line is Tennessee +130 or Indianapolis -150.
Tennessee has not fared too well against Indianapolis lately; losing eight of the last nine meetings. In 2011 the Titans turned the ball over three times and lost to Dan Orlovsky and an 0-13 Colts team, 27-13. Last year Tennessee gave up two late 80-yard drives at home to lose 19-13 in overtime, and then blew a 20-7 halftime lead to lose 27-23 at Indy. After turning the ball over a season-high four times Sunday, the Titans have now turned the ball over 13 times in the last five games; during their 3-1 start to the season they did not have any turnovers. The pressure is on the Titans here because a loss could drop them three games behind the Colts in the division and two games behind the Jets in the wildcard race, with six games left to play.
Quarterback ‚ÄĒ advantage Colts
Even though Andrew Luck is coming off a bad game (three interceptions in the loss to the Rams), he still has 14 touchdowns to six interceptions on the year, and a penchant for coming through with clutch throws at vital times. I will begrudgingly admit that Ryan Fitzpatrick looked good last week (22/33, 264 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT), but let’s not forget that was the Jaguars he was facing. On the season Fitzpatrick has thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns (4), with most of those picks coming at critical moments; he still has a propensity to make bad decisions at the worst possible moment.
Tennessee RB Chris Johnson looks to get it going against the Colts Thursday night
Running Back ‚ÄĒ even
Chris Johnson had a huge game two weeks ago against the Rams (170 yards from scrimmage, 2 TD), but that is appearing to be an anomaly. Johnson has rushed for 39 or fewer yards in each of the five other most recent games and is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry on the season. The offensive line looked awful last week, constantly being pushed around by the Jaguars; it doesn’t help that Tennessee is down to their third center, Chris Spencer. As bad as the Titans are running the ball, the Colts may even worse though; they rushed for just 18 yards last week, with their running backs combining for two yards on nine carries.
Wide Receiver and Tight End ‚ÄĒ advantage Titans
The Colt receivers have struggled ever since they lost Reggie Wayne. T.Y. Hilton is good and has stepped up nicely in Wayne’s absence (14 receptions, 251 yards, 3 TD in the last two games), but he needs help. Darrius Heyward-Bey needs to contribute more; he is averaging just 26 yards per game and has only one touchdown this year. Kendall Wright (50 receptions, 580 yards) has been solid, and Nate Washington (468 yards) and Delanie Walker (312 yards, 4 TD) make nice complimentary pieces for Tennessee.
Offensive Line ‚ÄĒ advantage Colts
Both of these units could use upgrades. In pass protection they’re both average, but in the running game Tennessee is bad; why the Titans continue to run up the gut rather than kicking it outside more often baffles me. Chris Spencer is the third starting center this season, and he struggles mightily with his run blocking. Indy tackles Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherlius are more than adequate.
Defensive Line ‚ÄĒ advantage Titans
Defensive tackles Sammie Hill and Jurrell Casey (7 sacks) are an excellent tandem, wreaking havoc inside for Tennessee. Colt LG Hugh Thornton will have his hands full blocking Casey; Thornton has already allowed a team-high five sacks and ten quarterback pressures.
Linebacker ‚ÄĒ advantage Colts
Robert Mathis (13¬Ĺ sacks), Jerrell Freeman (75 tackles), Pat Angerer and Erik Walden are very productive. I’ll be very curious to see how Mathis does against LT Michael Roos; over the last 11 games between these two Roos has done very well, with Mathis accumulating only one sack during that time. The Titans need to get more production from Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers with Moise Fokou (knee) out.
Defensive Back ‚ÄĒ advantage Titans
The key matchup for this game will probably be Tennessee CB Alterraun Verner versus Hilton; Verner leads the NFL with five interceptions. With Trent Richardson and Heyward-Bey becoming such non-factors in the Colts offense, it will be up to Verner and safety Michael Griffin to limit Hilton. Indy CB Greg Toler (groin) has been sorely missed, and CB Vontae Davis has given up some big plays recently.
Both of these teams are coming off huge upset losses; will they be motivated and play with a chip on their shoulder? Does Tennessee come out deflated knowing their prospects look dim if they have to rely on Ryan Fitzpatrick? The Indianapolis defense has allowed at least 24 points in four of the last five games, and five TD passes of at least 30+ yards in the last three games.
Pick ‚ÄĘ Colts 24, Titans 17
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