The Stakes: Win And You’re In
Oakland Las Vegas Raiders come to Indy wanting to desperately to gain ground for a playoff bid, while the hosting Colts have a “win-and-you’re-in” scenario. A loss for the Raiders means they are all but eliminated from the playoff race. This could be the deciding game for the fates of both teams’ seasons this late in the season.
Both teams enter week 17 with heavy hearts and determination. The Raiders are mourning the late John Madden, the legendary broadcaster and former head coach for the Raiders. The Colts are mourning the loss of center Ryan & Emma Kelly’s daughter Mary Kate due to complications in the pregnancy. While the fight for survival of the season is motivation enough, both teams will be extra motivated to win for their grieving members of their franchise. With heavy hearts they both franchises shall muster the strength to move forward in honor of their lost.
Along with the off the field stakes with this game, the cloud of COVID hangs over this game. The Raiders and Colts have both had many starters put on the COVID reserve list leading up to this game, but thanks to new COVID procedures adopted by the NFL, both teams have the opportunity to gain these key players back. Carson Wentz and Braden Smith were game time decisions depending on their symptoms (Wentz has been cleared to play), while the Raiders will be welcoming back many of their starting LBs and a starting safety for the game. However the Raiders will definitely be without their best weapon on offense: TE Darren Waller. The Colts might not have either of their top tackles in the game, as along with the aforementioned Braden Smith, left tackle Eric Fisher could also miss the game but due to a knee injury that he is day to day with and is questionable heading into the game.
The Raiders have had a tumultuous season off the field, with Jon Gruden being axed due to mediocre performances over the last few years and leaked emails as part of the Washington Football Team’s investigation of criminal allegations & with up and coming WR Henry Ruggs III being arrested after his infamous DUI that killed another driver. Despite those controversies, interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia has kept the team afloat, with a 5-5 record in his stead. To summarize the Raiders this season: they have been good but not great and still have a ways to go. And yet should they win out, they will be on the precipice of making the playoffs under the leadership of an interim Head Coach for most of the season. That feat has not been accomplished since the 2012 Colts were lead by Bruce Arians while Head Coach Chuck Pagano was dealing with cancer. This Raiders team has been gutsy enough to hang in the playoff race with all that has gone on this season, and should be respected as opponents.
The Colts main recipe for success is to feed Jonathan Taylor. The MVP candidate Running Back has been a dynamic playmaker this season, and should be given ample opportunity to do the same vs the Raiders. Last season he had his first 150 yards game as well as his first multiscore game vs the Raiders including a beautifully blocked 62 yard scamper of a TD. This season the Raiders have had an interesting season vs the run. After starting off as one of the worst run Defenses in the NFL, they have been much improved in the last 2 weeks, holding 2 top 10 rush attacks (Nick Chubb on the Browns as well as Javonte Williams + Melvin Gordon on the Broncos) to just 110 rushing yards combined. JT is coming off of arguably his worst game of the season vs the Cardinals on Christmas Day (but still got over 100 rush yards) but with the return of most if not all of his starting OL he should bounce back in a big way.
The Raiders biggest strength on Defense is their pass rushing duo of Maxx Crosby & Yannick Ngakoue. Yannick leads the team in sacks with 9 sacks and Maxx is the leader in QB Hits with 26. They lead the charge for the 12th ranked pass rush in terms of pressure rate, despite blitzing under 12% of the time (last in the NFL). The Raiders have confidence in their front 4’s ability to disrupt QB’s rhythm, so while unlike the Arizona Cardinals misdirection in their blitz heavy scheme the Raiders will win based on the one on one matchups and drop more players into coverage more frequently. Again, the Colts OL will be crucial in this matchup. Should Fisher be unable to go, Matt Pryor could have the opportunity to slide in at left tackle.
The Colts Defense will also welcome the return of Darius Leonard, Khari Willis, George Odum, & Rock Ya Sin this week off of the COVID-19 Reserve List. With all of them missing on Christmas, the Colts streak of games with a turnover ended at 16, but the Raiders Offense should give them some opportunities to return to their ballhawking ways. The Raiders 22 giveaways rank 22nd in the NFL and while they are middle of the pack in INTs thrown by Derek Carr, they are tied 4th in fumbles lost with 10 on the year. Whether it is Darius Leonard’s game winning chop at the ball vs the Muscle Hamster in 2018 or the Kenny Moore II’s INT of the year in 2020, the Colts turnovers vs the Raiders have certainly been highlight worthy. Expect the Colts to make a game-changing turnover or two vs the Raiders and rebound soundly in this regard.
With Darren Waller out, the Raiders will rely upon several really solid playmakers to carry the load. Josh Jacobs is a really good RB and should be used in a solid committee attack, and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow has been rock solid from the Slot. Vs Jacobs, the Colts run Defense is a very stout unit, allowing only 4.1ypc to RBs on the year. Renfrow will have a tough task vs the Colts top CBs, as Pro Bowl CB Kenny Moore II will patrol the Slot and has been phenomenal this season. Should Renfrow move to the outside he will either be pressed physically at the Line of Scrimmage to knock him off the route by Rock Ya Sin or deal with a blazing fast speedster and his closing speed in Isaiah Rodgers. The Colts Defense can matchup very well vs the Raiders best playmakers, which could give the Colts a big edge in this game.
— ColtsOnHardKnocks (@ColtsOnHBO) December 30, 2021
GAME MVP: RYAN KELLY
While Jonathan Taylor running wild and Carson Wentz and many defensive playmakers coming off the COVID-19 Reserve List will be crucial, the heart and soul of this game will be Ryan Kelly. The Colts have a history of fostering a family community in the locker room to uplift each other even in the darkest times of their lives. Through this pain and grief comforted by the support of an entire organization comes an inner strength and perseverance that can be unmatched. While Kelly’s play will be crucial, the inspiration he brings to the Colts today shall be a rallying cry for every member of the active roster. The stronger the bonds forged with one another, the more motivated they are to fight for each other. Should the Colts win vs the Raiders, expect the game ball should go to the Kelly family.
Final Score Prediction: Colts 28 – Raiders 14