There are so many cliches in sports that it’s hard to keep up. “Every game is a playoff game,” “we treat every game like it’s our last,” etc. Sometimes, though, they’re true. And for the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts is the absolute definition of a must-win game if they have any hopes of making the playoffs.
A win would not only give them the tie-breaker over the Colts, but it would also move them back into the playoff picture — whereas they currently sit one game behind Indianapolis, Miami and Tennessee.
For the Raiders, there is some good news heading into this Sunday’s game: first, some expect Josh Jacobs, Johnathan Abram and Trent Brown all to be available — which would provide a huge boost both on and off the field. Also, the Raiders are finally back home after two straight early morning East Coast games.
With that in mind, here are my five observations and two predictions…
1) While the Colts defense has the reputation of being one of the league’s best, the last three weeks have presented them some issues. While they’re fifth on the season in yards allowed per game, they are 29th over the last three weeks — seeing their total go from 319 yards per game to 404. The good news for the Raiders is that a large portion of that increase has come through the air, meaning Derek Carr should be in for a big week if things break right.
2) As mentioned above, Jacobs could be back for this one — which will present an interesting dynamic against a stout Colts run defense. If Jacobs and the Raiders can exert their will against the Colts, the Raider offense should be able to put up massive numbers. But if Deforest Buckner and Co. can force the Raiders to become one-dimensional? Watch out.
3) I’ll admit that Phillip Rivers has played better this season than I expected — with just nine interceptions on the year (compared to 20 last season). In his last four games, he has thrown 8 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions, while going over 285 yards every week. So which Rivers will we see Sunday: good Rivers? Or the Rivers who threw three interceptions in one game against the Raiders last year and looked completely washed?
4) Clelin Ferrell is coming off his best game as a Raider, and Sunday is an opportunity to show that it wasn’t a fluke. If the Raiders are going to win Sunday, they’re going to need their pass rush to make Rivers uncomfortable. In the game in which Rivers threw three picks, the Raiders also sacked him five times. In the second matchup, however, they only got home one time and Rivers didn’t turn the ball over.
5) One thing to watch on Sunday — whether Brown plays or not — is how comfortable Carr looks in the pocket. The past few weeks, it feels like the pass rush has started to get to him and cause him to lose some accuracy. If the Raiders give Carr time, he should be able to carve up the Colts defense in what should be an old-fashioned shootout.
1) I think this game is going to come down to the Raider receivers on offense. We know the week Darren Waller had, but I imagine that the Colts will do everything in their power to make someone else beat them — whether it’s Nelson Agholor, Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards or Hunter Renfrow. On Sunday, I think they will. I think those four guys will combine give the Raiders more than 180 total receiving yards with a touchdown. If you’re a betting person, though, good luck guessing who’s going to get what!
2) I know the Raiders have looked bad two weeks in a row, but they’re at home now, they’re far healthier than they have been in weeks, and I still don’t believe in Phillip Rivers. I think the Raider defense is improved, and while I don’t think Abram is a future star, he’s light years better than Erik Harris and Jeff Heath — so he’ll make a difference. Same goes for Trent Brown and Josh Jacobs.
Predicton: Raiders 34, Colts 24