NFL forecast: Luck will lift Colts in Nashville showdown

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

December 29, 2018 11:37 PM
Andrew Luck owns a 10-0 career record against Tennessee, and the Colts are rolling at 8-1 in their past nine games.
© USA Today Sports Images

Against long odds, Andrew Luck has led the Indianapolis Colts to the brink of the playoffs. Luck overcame a career-threatening shoulder injury and brought his team back from a 1-5 start to the season, so this is just another step in his comeback.

In an all-or-nothing AFC South showdown in Nashville, the stage is set for Luck.

The injury questions now surround the opposing quarterback. The Tennessee Titans hope to have Marcus Mariota on the field despite a nerve injury that numbed the right side of his body last week. With a playoff spot on the line, expect Mariota to give it a shot.

It would be foolish to count on heroics by Mariota or backup Blaine Gabbert, so the Titans will bank on running back Derrick Henry, the league’s No. 2 scoring defense and home-field advantage. But the defense is missing tackle Jurrell Casey and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, and Casey’s absence is especially critical.

Henry has been a workhorse in four December games, averaging 20 carries and 133 yards. The Colts will counter with a top-10 run defense (102.2 yards per game) that contained Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott the past two weeks. Indianapolis has one of the league’s most improved defenses in the second half of the season.

The Colts caught a lucky break when Josh McDaniels backed out of their coaching job and Frank Reich was the second choice. Luck is rolling (67 percent completions, 36 touchdowns) in Reich’s offense.

I usually prefer quality home ‘dogs, but I’ll side with the public and play the 3-point road favorite Sunday night. (The South Point and Westgate offered -3 on Saturday.) Luck owns a 10-0 career record against Tennessee, and the Colts are streaking at 8-1 in their past nine games.

Four more guesses for Week 17 (home team in CAPS):

* GIANTS (-6) over Cowboys: Jason Garrett said he plans to play his starters, which would be a dumb move, but Garrett is not known for making all the right moves. Dallas is locked into a home wild-card game and this one is meaningless. Ending a losing season with a win does mean something to New York coach Pat Shurmur and Eli Manning. The Giants, who have covered seven straight on the road, should get a rare home cover if the Cowboys come to their senses and treat this like a preseason game.

* Browns (plus-6½) over RAVENS: With the AFC North title on the line, the Ravens (9-6) need a win Sunday to reach the playoffs for the first time in four years. Baltimore has a Super Bowl-quality defense but also could miss the postseason with another Week 17 flameout. Lamar Jackson, the last pick of the first round, is 5-1 as the Ravens’ starter and just had his first 200-yard passing game (204) in a 22-10 victory over the Chargers. He averaged 146 passing yards in the previous five games. Baltimore’s No. 1-ranked scoring defense (17.5 points per game) forced Philip Rivers into his worst outing of the season. Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 pick and another former Heisman Trophy winner, is on a roll. The Browns have won three in a row and five of six, with Mayfield totaling six TD passes and one interception during the three-game streak. He passed for 342 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland’s 12-9 overtime victory over the Ravens on Oct. 7. Mayfield’s toughest test yet will come on the road against a blood-thirsty Baltimore defense. I’ll take the square 'dog and call for the Ravens to win on a Justin Tucker field goal.

* BILLS (-5) over Dolphins: This is not being played in the heat and humidity of Miami. The Dolphins are 1-5 in their past six trips to Buffalo and 1-5 ATS in their past six road games this season. The Dolphins won the first meeting 21-17 on Dec. 2 despite being outgained 415 to 175. Josh Allen and the Buffalo defense will get revenge.

* VIKINGS (-5) over Bears: The pressure is on Kirk Cousins to put the Vikings (8-6-1) in the playoffs. Minnesota needs to beat the NFC North champs to earn a wild card. What makes this situation especially tricky is Chicago’s shot at the No. 2 seed. The Bears will be scoreboard watching Sunday afternoon while the Rams, currently the second seed, play the 49ers in L.A. Bears coach Matt Nagy plans to play to win, but Nagy is reserving the right to bench starters at halftime if the Rams are blowing out San Francisco. Cousins played well in the Vikings’ recent wins over Detroit and Miami, but his reputation is all about inconsistency and a tendency to choke in the biggest games. In a normal week, it would be easy to take the Bears and the points. Obviously, this is an abnormal week, and the chance exists that Nagy could opt to bench some starters.

Last week: 3-1-1 against the spread

Season: 41-36-3

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