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One of the better matchups of Week 14 plays in Sin City, as the 7-5 Las Vegas Raiders will host the 8-4 Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are still fighting for an AFC South title, moving into a tie with the Titans for first place with four weeks to go, but sit in the seventh seed ahead of the Raiders, who, after snapping their two-game losing streak, can jump the Colts for the AFC's final Wild Card spot with a win.
Here is a preview for Sunday's game between the Colts and Raiders, a matchup with massive playoff implications. Currently, Indianapolis is a three-point favorite on the road.
After losing quarterback Andrew Luck to a sudden retirement and undergoing a year of transition, the Colts entered 2020 confident they could return to the playoffs. Led by the veteran Philip Rivers, Indy rebounded from a Week 1 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars to win their next three games. Their best stretch came in November, when they upset the rival-Titans on the road and followed it up with a nail-biting overtime win against the Green Bay Packers.
The Colts' success has been tied to their defense, as well as decent performances from Rivers, who has more than 3,200 passing yards, and the rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, who has more than 600 rushing yards. Now, with four weeks remaining, headlined by a Week 16 bout at the one-loss Steelers, Indy will need to fend off several teams to get back to the postseason.
Statistically, the Colts have a top-10 offense when it comes to points scored, averaging 27.3 points per game. Their yardage is about league-average, with a 15th-ranked 378 yards per game. They are 11th in passing but just 21st in rushing, and the difficulty running the football sometimes hurts them for short-yardage third downs. In fact, only three teams have a lower third-down percentage than Indy's 36.8.
Defensively, Indianapolis has been consistently solid. They rank 10th with 22.8 points allowed on 335 yards allowed, the fifth-fewest in the NFL. They're just about equal when it comes to defending the pass and run, and have an average mark on third-down defense. The Colts also boast 28 sacks and the third-most interceptions with 13, along with the league's fourth-best turnover differential.
In their first season in Las Vegas following years in Oakland, the Raiders have surprised some in their quest to make the postseason for the first time since 2016. They started the year going 3-3 while facing a brutal schedule, beating the likes of the Saints and Chiefs but losing to the Bills and Buccaneers. But they have won four of their last six, the latest being a miracle victory over the winless Jets in the final seconds.
Vegas' success is the result of some good play from their stars; quarterback Derek Carr, running back Josh Jacobs, and tight end Darren Waller. Carr has thrown for more than 3,000 yards, while both Jacobs and Waller have close to 800 rushing and receiving yards, respectively. As the season winds down, Vegas will need all of these three players to be at their best on Sunday against the Colts and in two weeks versus the Dolphins, another team fighting for the same playoff spots they are.
With just under 27 points per game, the Raiders are 11th in points per game, one spot below Indianapolis. They're also one spot below their opponents this week, with 375.5 yards per game, ranking 11th. They sit 17th in passing yards and 10th in rushing yards, averaging 121 yards on the ground per game. But they have a significant advantage over the Colts in third-down percentage, with their 48.7 percent success rate the third-best in football.
However, Las Vegas' defense leaves a lot to be desired. Their near-29 points allowed is the fifth-highest mark in the NFL, while their 385 yards allowed ranks 21st. They have been below-average against both the pass and run, while their third-down defense is a paltry 51.7 percent successful, the fourth-worst rank in football. The Raiders also have difficulty getting to the quarterback, putting up just 15 sacks but earning a solid 10 interceptions.
Indianapolis' record against the spread is 7-5, one game short of their 8-4 overall record. They do have matching 4-2 records on the road, however. Interestingly, the Colts have won five of their last seven games against the Raiders, but have covered in just three of their previous 11 games against the Silver and Black. The Colts are also just 2-6-1 ATS in their last nine games against the AFC West.
Meanwhile, Las Vegas is 7-5 both straight up and ATS, while they're 2-3 at home but 3-2 ATS. They have covered in four of their last six games, and five of their last six games against teams in the AFC. However, the AFC South has been an exception, as the Raiders have won just one of their previous five games against a team from that division.
A couple of injury situations to monitor between now on kick-off include Rivers and offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo for Indy and Jacobs for Vegas. Jacobs missed last week's game against the Jets, while Rivers will likely be playing through his toe injury for the remainder of the season.
Although Rivers is with a new team, he has a lot of familiarity with the Raiders from his days with the Chargers. On the other side, the Raiders have familiarity with him, beating Rivers and L.A. twice last season. I am going to make the assumption that Jacobs plays, picking the Raiders to pull off the home upset and move into a postseason spot.
Betting Pick: Las Vegas Raiders (+3).