Colts aim to stay alive in playoff chase at Oakland
The Oakland Raiders clinched an AFC playoff spot and are focused on earning a first-round bye.
The Indianapolis Colts are in a precarious position and could miss out on the postseason for the second year in a row.
Yet the Colts have thrived on the road and seek their fifth straight victory on enemy soil as they attempt to save their season when they visit the Raiders on Saturday (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).
Indianapolis (7-7) sits one game behind the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans in the AFC South and is two games behind the Miami Dolphins in the wild-card derby. But the Colts' chances to win the division or claim a wild-card are exceptionally bleak.
In the AFC South, Indianapolis must win both its last two games to have a chance. The Colts would need the Texans to lose their last two contests -- including one against the Titans -- and have Tennessee lose Saturday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Miami Dolphins (9-5) currently possess the last AFC wild-card spot and the Colts would need the Dolphins, Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens to all lose their final two games.
Of course, beating Oakland (11-3) might be the biggest hurdle of them all.
"It's sort of a one-game season for us," Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck said. "I know from our perspective as an offense they're a really good defensive unit. They force turnovers, they've got good edge rushers and they've got good cover guys. It will be a great challenge."
Luck is bothered by minor shoulder and thumb injures and doesn't expect to be hindered on game day.
In fact, Luck (3,631 yards, 27 touchdowns) is likely the healthier of the two starting quarterbacks.
Oakland star Derek Carr is playing with an injured right pinkie finger that has affected his play.
Carr is enjoying an MVP-caliber season with 3,705 yards and 25 touchdown passes against just six interceptions but he is just 36-of-71 passing for 330 yards over the past two games. A telling sign is that the Raiders' offense is also operating nearly exclusively out of the shotgun to prevent the center snap exchange from irritating Carr's injured finger.
"We're doing the best we can to put us in the best position to win," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "Since Derek hurt his finger, we're 3-1. We want to keep winning these games and one of the factors in winning these games is ball security. That's a real vital issue.
"As we know the pinkie and the thumb are really your locking mechanisms to hold onto a football and so when you got a pinkie or a thumb that's injured, you just have to be as smart as you can to secure that football, because that's important to the way that we win these games. That relates to everybody, not just the Raiders."
Carr has re-energized the Raiders and last Sunday's win in San Diego clinched the team's first playoff berth in 14 years. Oakland has the second-best record in the AFC behind the New England Patriots (12-2) and also holds a one-game lead in the AFC West over the Kansas City Chiefs (10-4).
Carr was one of seven Raiders named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday. The other selections were defensive end Khalil Mack, safety Reggie Nelson, receiver Amari Cooper and three members of the offensive line -- center Rodney Hudson, left guard Kelechi Osemele and left tackle Donald Penn.
The Colts garnered just two selections in receiver T.Y. Hilton and punter Pat McAfee as Luck was passed over.
Hilton ranks second in the NFL in receiving yardage (1,248 yards) and has caught 81 passes.
Indianapolis running back Frank Gore needs 109 yards over the final two games to become the first Colts' player since Joseph Addai (1,072 in 2007) to reach 1,000 rushing yards. Gore, who is in his second season with Indianapolis, topped 1,000 yards eight times during his 10-year tenure with the San Francisco 49ers.
"Some guys have just been able to prolong their careers and play at a high level, and he's one of those guys," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said of Gore. "Really talented. Has a great nose for that yard, that hidden yard. He knows how to make people miss. He knows how to run behind his blocks. I think he's a really good player. That's why he's been a good player for a long time.
"The other part is he looks fresh. His feet, his legs, he doesn't look like an older back late in the year."
A productive day by Gore could slow the Oakland pass rush headed by Mack. He had a streak of eight consecutive games with at least one sack halted against the Chargers last Sunday and has 11 sacks on the season.
Nelson has four interceptions and his 34 picks since 2007 are most in the NFL.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano is well aware of the Oakland talent and knows it will be one big task to keep his team's season alive.
"We know their record, it speaks for itself," Pagano said. "It's a confident team, very aggressive in all three phases and they've learned how to win. They're playing with a great deal of confidence."
Updated December 21, 2016