Only a half game separates the teams in the standings with the Titans at 5-5 and the Colts at 4-5. But with the Houston Texans leading the division at 6-3, neither team can afford to drop further behind.
The Titans enter the game with their offense hitting its stride in a 47-25 win over the Green Bay Packers – the team the Colts hung on to beat two weeks ago.
Tennessee has scored at least 35 points in its last three games, the first time it has done that in franchise history, and second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota appears to be hitting his stride.
Mariota hit 19-of-26 passes for 295 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Packers. He is averaging 238.1 yards passing per game, hitting 64 percent of his throws and has 21 touchdowns to nine interceptions. His passer rating is 99.6.
As a comparison, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck averages 261.9 yards passing per game, hitting 63.7 percent and has 17 touchdowns to seven interceptions. His passer rating is 93.9.
DeMarco Murray (930 yards rushing, eight touchdowns) has been producing at running back for the Titans, just as Frank Gore (592 yards, four touchdowns) has at a more modest pace for the Colts. Tennessee’s Delanie Walker delivers in the Titans' passing game (571 yards, five touchdowns) while Indianapolis relies on T.Y. Hilton (791 yards, four touchdowns).
“Their offense is definitely clicking,” Colts safety Mike Adams said. “They’re getting a lot more explosive. They’re doing some really good things over there, especially their first 15 plays. Once they get you off balance, they just keep going.”
The Titans defense, coming off a five-sack day against Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, ranks 16th in the NFL in total defense. The Colts are 30th. Tennessee is fourth in the NFL with 28 sacks. The Colts are 22nd with 17 sacks.
On paper, the edge goes to the Titans.
But the Colts beat the Titans in Tennessee, and the Titans are winless in eight previous trips to Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Tennessee is playing really good football right now,” Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri said. “Having them at home is always a nice thing. Hopefully, our crowd will get loud and crazy and give us a little bit of an advantage that way.”
Given the volatility and mediocrity of the AFC South, it’s impossible to make a definitive statement about how the division will shake out.
But for the Colts to win it, they almost surely need to beat all three AFC South opponents the second time around. That would put the Colts at seven wins. They’ll need to win at least two of the other four games against the Steelers (home on Thanksgiving night), Jets (road Monday night game Dec. 5), Vikings (on the road Dec. 18) and Raiders (on the road Christmas Eve).
They cannot afford home losses to division teams.
“I always preach to my guys, control what you can control,” Colts tight end Dwayne Allen said. “We can’t control the Way Houston goes out and plays or how Tennessee plays or anyone else in our division. All that we can control is the way that we prepare for each game and go out. If we focus on that enough, the chips will fall our way and that’s where we’re focused.”
The Colts’ win on the road over Green Bay, even though it hung precariously in the balance at the end, gave the players a great frame of mind entering the bye week.
The fact Tennessee put a whipping on the Packers puts that Colts’ victory in slightly different perspective. Those aren't the powerhouse Packers of years past.
Speaking of facts, the Colts have yet to win consecutive games this season. They could right that wrong this week, and start to make a believable case for being back on the race for the playoffs. With injured players such as Adams back on the field, the Colts could be their healthiest in some time.
With this year’s team, however, would anyone be surprised by another sub-par performance?
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.