After falling out of a first-place tie in the AFC South last week with a Thursday night loss at Houston, the Indianapolis Colts will try to accomplish two objectives with a Sunday win against the Titans: Stay in the hunt, and keep Tennessee from drawing closer to the front-running Texans.
At 6-5, Indianapolis is even with the Titans in the division, one game behind Houston. With the Texans hosting 10-1 New England on Sunday night, the odds are decent that the winner of this game could be tied for first place with four games left.
That would be an interesting proposition for both teams, but particularly so for Tennessee. The Titans play Houston twice in the season’s final three weeks. But Titans coach Mike Vrabel isn’t terribly concerned with the future, only with cracking the Colts’ code.
Indianapolis has beaten Tennessee in 14 of the teams’ past 16 matchups, including a 19-17 victory in Week 2 at Nashville.
“I don’t think whatever we have done against them before I was here or while I have been here is going to have much bearing on the game on Sunday,” Vrabel said. “The focus is going to be on this Colts team, our team here trying to go on the road against a division opponent. And the chance to get to 7-5 is the most important thing.”
Tennessee routed the Jacksonville Jaguars 42-20 last week, blowing open a 7-3 game by scoring four touchdowns in six snaps in the third quarter. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill ran for two touchdowns and passed for two more, playing to a 155.8 passer rating.
Tannehill has pumped up the Titans’ attack since taking over for Marcus Mariota after a Week 6 loss in Denver. Tennessee has averaged 29.4 points per game with Tannehill at the controls.
“Guys made plays for him (on Sunday),” Vrabel said of Tannehill’s performance. “We ran the football, and the quarterback was decisive.”
While the Titans rolled, Indianapolis endured a tough 20-17 loss to the Texans despite doing most of the things it wanted to. The Colts controlled the ball for more than 33 minutes, getting 104 rushing yards and a touchdown from Jonathan Williams, and led 17-13 in the fourth quarter.
However, DeAndre Hopkins’ second touchdown catch early in the fourth was a score Indianapolis couldn’t overcome. And the Colts could be more short-handed for this game than they were last week. Tight end Eric Ebron (ankle) is out for the year, leading rusher Marlon Mack (hand) is out for a second straight week, and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf) was limited in practice Wednesday.
Hilton, who played only 25 snaps at Houston, is hopeful that three extra days of rest will allow him to shoulder a bigger load in a key game.
“Hopefully, he can progress during the week, and then we’ll see what kind of load he can handle on Sunday,” Indianapolis coach Frank Reich said.
The Colts were hoping to get back wide receiver Devin Funchess from a clavicle injury that has kept him out since Week 1, but Reich ruled him out for this week. Funchess could return for a Week 14 contest at Tampa Bay.