INDIANAPOLIS – It’s about as big as you are going to get between two non-divisional teams in the month of December.
The winner of Sunday’s matchup between the Colts (8-4) and Raiders (7-5) will be in the AFC playoffs with three weeks remaining. The loser will be needing help, and potentially a lot of it, to get back into the postseason.
Here are 7 things to watch for as the Colts take on the Raiders in Week 14:
1. Protecting 17
On paper, the Raiders are one of the worst pressure teams in the NFL.
But this key is high on the list more so from a health standpoint for the Colts. However, the Colts got great news on Thursday with the return of Anthony Castonzo (knee) to practice. It goes without saying what Castonzo means, especially with Philip Rivers playing through a toe injury.
If the pass protection from the Colts has more shaky moments like we saw in last week’s second half, this offense will have to lean on the ground game.
2. Plan For Darren Waller
NFL fans better know this name.
Any list with the best tight ends in the NFL has to have Waller on it. He had 90 catches and 1,145 yards last season. He’s backed that up with 77 catches for 742 yards and 7 touchdowns this year.
No Raider gets more consistent targets than Waller and he’s easily the best tight end the Colts will see all season long.
3. Be The Bully
This is the third straight year that the Colts have faced the Raiders.
Particularly in last year’s matchup, the Raiders thoroughly controlled the line of scrimmage and just bulled the Colts in the trenches.
Las Vegas hasn’t been great up front this season and the Colts need to prove that is a strength for them.
4. Young Backs
As long as health cooperates, Sunday will be a matchup of two high draft picks at the running back position—Josh Jacobs (No. 24 overall in 2019) and Jonathan Taylor (No. 41 overall in 2020).
Jacobs, who had a nice rookie performance last year against the Colts, is dealing with an ankle injury and his status for Sunday remains up in the air.
Taylor is coming on—rushing for 163 yards on 28 carries in his last two games—and the Colts should have the opportunity to feature him this weekend.
Simple, yet very difficult to achieve.
On both sides of the ball, the Colts have struggled to find that consistency as of late.
We should fully acknowledge that achieving this is not an easy task, but teams that are January worthy, and make runs there, do that. It’s time to see the Colts get back there in the most important stretch of the season.
6. Raiders Familiarity
As we mentioned above, these teams are now meeting for a third straight season.
The familiarity between the two teams has added another layer this year with the Raiders having new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who is a mentor to Matt Eberflus. Also, Marinelli’s influence has led to specific defensive building by Chris Ballard.
Some interesting chess matches to watch between these two coaching staffs on Sunday.
7. Hilton Doing It Again
Frank Reich admitted earlier this week ‘it just felt right’ to see T.Y. Hilton get back to doing what we are used to The Ghost doing.
Again, Hilton’s lack of production in 2020 should never have been solely pinned as a ‘he’s over the hill’ at the age of 31.
Was last Sunday the start of Hilton finishing his first contract year off on a high note?
Bowen’s Prediction: Colts 30-23. Man, is this a big one. A win on Sunday for the Colts would be a major step forward in securing a playoff spot this year. A loss though and the Colts will be sweating it out through the remainder of the regular season. The Raiders have been such a Jekyll and Hyde team this season—looking absolutely terrible the last two weeks, yet still having some big time wins this year. With the Raiders still a bit banged up and having struggled recently, I’ve got the Colts heading to Sin City, protecting Philip Rivers, continuing to get Jonathan Taylor going and finding a critical victory.
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