The AFC playoff picture is a massive jumble of teams separated by just a game with two remaining. The Las Vegas Raiders are currently tied for the final playoff spot at 8-7 with the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, and Los Angeles Chargers. Just above them in the fifth and sixth seeds are Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots at 9-6.
This is what makes Sunday’s contest between the Raiders and Colts one of the biggest in Week 17, as it will play a significant role in helping to somewhat clear up the playoff picture in the AFC. For the Raiders, a victory over the Colts would be massive in getting them to the postseason, and now the Colts just lost a huge piece of their team ahead of the game.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Colts quarterback Carson Wentz has been placed on the reserve/COVID list and will miss the game:
With Carson Wentz out Sunday, Indy’s playoff hopes now figure to rest with QB Sam Ehlinger. https://t.co/Kap2JlIZk9
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 28, 2021
The Colts, like many other teams across the NFL, have been decimated by the recent outbreak, though it hasn’t stopped them from still finding ways to win. Nevertheless, the loss of Wentz is a major one, and the fact that Sam Ehlinger, a rookie sixth-round pick from Texas, will now be making his first career start represents a considerable change in preparation. Wentz has thrown for 3,230 yards and 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions this season.
But the Raiders must be careful not to let up at the quarterback change. The Colts are already a primarily run-based team built around outstanding running back Jonathan Taylor, and stopping him remains the top priority. In addition, the Colts were without the majority of their offensive line in their Week 16 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, and if they can get most of their starters back there, the Raiders could have a tough time keeping the Colts run game in check.
Ehlinger also brings a running aspect that Wentz doesn’t, as he rushed for nearly 2,000 yards in his four years at Texas and could be difficult to game plan for as there isn’t much tape. The Raiders’ playoff hopes are in the balance when they head to Indianapolis this week, and regardless of who is the quarterback, they must be completely locked in to come out on top.