Broncos vs. Colts: Nothing at stake except pride
With slumping television viewership impacting the NFL this season, Thursday night's matchup does not have the league office dancing in celebration.
The 4-9 Denver Broncos travel to Indianapolis to take on the 3-10 Colts. Some fans of each club, both knocked out of the playoffs, may be hoping for a loss to improve their draft position in 2018.
In any scenario, 2017 has been a lost season for both teams. Each has a quarterback issue. Both turned the ball over and displayed numerous mental breakdowns. So, Thursday night's game will be about playing for pride.
Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano gave the game and season a summation when he said, "What do you think? It's all perspective. I'm on this side of the dirt. We're not guaranteed anything. We're all on one-day contracts. We get today. We're gonna get after it."
The Colts are a tired group after losing in the snow at Buffalo Sunday. The Broncos snapped an eight-game losing streak by beating the New York Jets 23-0. On a short week, preparation and proper rest will be key to the outcome of the game.
A player who will have a say in how the game turns out will be Colts running back Frank Gore, who is coming off a warrior-like performance against the Bills. Gore ran in awful conditions a career-high 36 times and finished with 130 yards. His rushing total was the most for a Colts player since Donald Brown had 161 vs. Tennessee on Dec. 18, 2011.
Gore has 762 yards rushing through 13 games this season and needs to average 80 yards over the final three games to reach 1,000 for the season. He needs just 275 yards to pass LaDainian Tomlinson and land in the fourth spot on the NFL all-time list. However, gaining yards on the ground against the Broncos will not be easy. Denver has the fourth-ranked defense in the NFL against the run, only allowing 89.5 yards per game.
Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett has had some struggles in his first season with the Colts, but generally performed well considering he didn't join the team until just before the start of the season. If the Colts hope to beat the Broncos, Brissett must play his best football of the year.
The Broncos have the best total defense in the NFL, allowing only 280.5 yards a game. The club ranks second in the NFL in pass defense, allowing an average of 191.1 yards per game.
The Colts' offense needs to strike with the big play to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Hilton has 811 receiving yards this season. If he can average 63 yards during the final three games, he will top the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth time in his career. The Broncos give up 24.2 points a game, which is 24th in the NFL. Hilton has the speed to get behind the secondary and into the end zone.
The Broncos beat the Jets in Week 14 because the offense did not turn the ball over. Quarterback Trevor Siemian was poised and efficient in the pocket. While the ground game is average at best for the Broncos, when the quarterback is steady, the offense is solid.
"There's going to be times in the game you're smart, but you're aggressive at the same time," Siemian said. "There's been a couple of times this year where I've been stupid and aggressive, which you can't be. You just want to have a good process."
The Broncos need Siemian to take advantage of a Colts defense that is ranked at the bottom of the league in several categories. Indianapolis ranks 31st in points allowed at 26.4 a game. The Colts give up 375.3 total yards per game, which is 30th, and 257.8 yards in the air, which is also 30th in the league.
The Colts have three rookies who play prominent roles in the secondary -- Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston and Kenny Moore. The Broncos need to exploit that youth by targeting veteran receivers Demaryius Thomas and Cody Latimer, especially in jump-ball situations.
Updated December 12, 2017