INDIANAPOLIS – A trip to Minnesota greets the Colts in Week 15, with two teams clinging to slim playoff hopes.
With a banged up offense, the Colts will take on the NFL's top scoring defense on Sunday afternoon.
What are the key ingredients to victory, presented by Papa Johns, when the Colts (6-7) take on the Vikings (7-6) in Week 15?
1. Luck's Health
-Andrew Luck is very confident he will play in Week 15. But the quarterback did miss all of Wednesday's practice, the first time he's done that since Week Three of the season. An elbow injury popped up on the injury report after Luck took a season-high 13 hits last Sunday. Luck's health and effectiveness will be something to keep an eye on this Sunday.
2. Who's Blocking For No. 12?
-With LG-Jack Mewhort on injured reserve, the Colts have some more questions up front. The answer isn't easy with RG-Denzelle Good still in the concussion protocol and RT-Joe Reitz missing time this week with a back injury. Jonotthan Harrison should be ready at left guard, but the right side is still up in the air going into the weekend. Joe Haeg will find himself at one of those spots as the Colts take on a terrific defensive front.
3. Improvements Against The Run
-Houston gashed the Colts for 181 rushing yards. The Colts liked what youngsters Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison gave them in starting roles last week, but they know the run defense has to improve. Minnesota ranks last in rushing offense this season, as they continue to play without Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson.
4. Pass Catchers Find Separation
-One week after a career-high passer rating against the Jets, Andrew Luck had his second lowest rating of the season versus the Texans. Last Sunday, Luck and the receivers were rarely on the same page---a far cry from how in sync they were against New York. With Donte Moncrief missing practice this week, it's looking like the Colts are going to need Philip Dorsett to step up in aiding T.Y. Hilton.
5. Continued Secondary Shuffle
-In sending four players to injured reserve this week, the Colts officially saw half of their starting secondary head to IR (CB-Patrick Robinson and S-Clayton Geathers). What it means is bigger roles for cornerback Rashaan Melvin and corner-turned-safety Darius Butler. The secondary must win early on Sunday with quarterback Sam Bradford getting the ball out much quicker since early November, when Minnesota had to make an offensive coordinator change.
6. Don't Wonder What If?
-The playoff odds for the Colts have shrunk below 10 percent. But with the AFC South without a clear dominant team, the Colts need to do their part in forcing the other teams to go win the division. If the Colts can win out, a major question considering their inability to string wins together in 2016, they will need Houston to go 1-2 (at best) down the stretch and Tennessee go 2-1 (at best) in order for Indy to miraculously win the division.
7. Short Week Coming
-Of the three AFC South teams still in contention, the Colts have the toughest schedule to finish the 2016 season. After a road game in Minnesota this week, the Colts will then travel cross-country to take on the Raiders (10-3), a team still with aspirations to be the AFC's No. 1 seed, a week from Saturday. With Christmas next weekend, the Colts (and most of the NFL) will play on Saturday in Week 16.