Coming off of two straight victories and a bye week, Indianapolis begins a three game home stand, that starts with the Jacksonville Jaguars. This will be just the second divisional matchup this season for the Colts. They dropped an overtime game against the Houston Texans back in late September. This will also be just the fourth home game for the Colts. After completing five of their eight away games in the first half of the season, they have a favorable second half schedule that, more or less, allows them to control their own destiny. Five divisional matchups are set over the final eight games, including one against the AFC South leading Texans. Also, they play just one team with a winning record in the final stretch (Miami Dolphins 5-4).
Sunday, Jacksonville arrives in Indianapolis bringing along a four game losing streak, after beginning the season 3-1. They also bring an offense that ranks near the bottom of the league in most categories. Ranking 30th in points per game (16.8), 22nd in total yards per game ( 352.5), and 25th in rushing yards per game (95), the Jaguars struggling offense is just what the Indianapolis defense is hoping to feed on. Tied for 3rd in fumble recoveries and 10th in interceptions, this Colts defense has exhibited a significant hunger the ball this season.
On the defensive side of the ball, it’s a far different story for the Jaguars, as they rank in the top 10 in nearly every category. With stats like Total yards against (1st), passing yards against (1st), points against (8th), the Jacksonville defense will be one of the most formidable opponents the Colts have seen so far.
Where the Colts may find an edge is in the rushing game. Jacksonville is giving up 123.3 rushing yards per game (24th). What is significant about that, is that Indianapolis has compiled 220+ yards on the ground in each of their last two games, and as long as their trio of running backs (Mack, Hines, and Wilkins) stay healthy, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of them slowing down. Marlon Mack especially has been effective lately, as he has raced his way to 258 rushing yards over the last two games.
Indianapolis will certainly have to play their best offensive football of the year in this game. One year ago, the Jaguars came into Lucas Oil Stadium and shut out the Jacoby Brissett led Colts, while decimating the offensive line to the tune of 10 sacks. Now, this Colts offensive line is much improved in 2018. Indianapolis has given up just one sack in their last 4 games. In fact, they’ve given up just 8 sacks all year, which ranks 2nd, behind only the New Orleans Saints. This has not only allowed for the recent running game explosion, but has also given Andrew Luck the time to throw 23 touchdowns, which ranks 2nd in the NFL. The Colts also rank 6th in points per game with 28.6.
Its the classic story of high powered offense vs stout and aggressive defense. In this game, I predict that Indianapolis will try and pound the rock as much as possible. Getting the ground game going early and setting the pace will be essential for the Colts’ success. Limiting mistakes (especially turnovers) will also be critical. The Colts are 1-4 this year when they turn the ball over, compared to 2-1 when they don’t. It’s also notable that if not for an excellent 4th quarter goal line stand by the Eagles, the Colts could be looking at 3-0 in that category.
All in all, I think this one will be a fairly low scoring affair. Defensively, the Jaguars are an imposing team with a lot of Pro Bowl level talent and recognizable names at nearly every position. On the line, Nose Tackle Marcell Dareus will try and plug up the middle while defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell will try to create an intimidating pass rush. In the linebacking core, Middle Linebacker Myles Jack has the speed and athleticism to take away a lot of the underneath passing routes, and cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye will try and keep Andrew Luck from stretching the field with receivers T.Y. Hilton and Chester Rogers.
I’ve got Indianapolis winning an OT nail-biter to get their first AFC South division win.
Jacksonville 17 Indianapolis 20
Picture credit: BleacherReport.com