CHARGERS (8-6) at COLTS (4-9-1)
When: Monday, 5:15 p.m.
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
TV/radio: Ch. 7, ESPN; 98.7 FM; 105.5 FM/94.3 FM (Spanish)
Line: Chargers by 4 1/2
Notable injury designations: Chargers: CB Kemon Hall out, hamstring. Colts: TE Kylen Granson out, ankle, CB Kenny Moore II out, ankle.
What’s at stake: The Chargers need a victory to clinch a playoff spot. They won two in a row over teams that were seemingly destined for the playoffs, defeating the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans in their final two games against teams with winning records. Those happen to be the Chargers’ only victories this season over teams with winning records. The Chargers complete the regular season with games against the Rams (4-10 going into Week 16) and the Denver Broncos (4-10 going into Week 16). A victory over the Colts would seem to be a mortal lock given Indianapolis’ four-game losing streak and losses in seven of the past eight.
Who’s better: On paper, this game would appear to be a mismatch, and maybe on the field, too. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has thrown for 300 yards or more in three consecutive games, leading the Chargers on a game-preserving late drive against the Dolphins two weeks ago and a game-winning drive in the final 48 seconds last week against the Titans. The Colts will be starting their third quarterback of the season. Veteran Nick Foles has taken a grand total of two snaps this season and has made only one start in the past two years.
Matchup to watch: Has the Chargers’ defense actually turned a corner? Or did it simply run into two teams slogging through the final weeks of the regular season? The Chargers limited Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to 10 for 28 passing in a 23-17 victory. They also slowed Tennessee running back Derrick Henry, the NFL’s second-leading rusher, holding him to 104 yards in a 17-14 win. The challenge this week for the Chargers will be to contend with Foles and the Colts, a man and a team with a great deal to play for after Indianapolis squandered a 33-point halftime lead en route to a 39-36 loss last week to the Minnesota Vikings.
Chargers win if: A victory for the Chargers isn’t mandatory if they hope to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2018 season, but it certainly will be thought of that way. The Chargers talked a good game in the days leading up to the game, vowing not to underestimate the reeling Colts. This could be a mental game as much as (or more than) a physical one. Herbert has been superb now that he has both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams healthy and back on the field as his top targets. The defense has improved greatly in the past two games, and momentum should not be overlooked. If the Chargers put it all together for a third consecutive game, then they should have a three-game winning streak going into their Jan. 1 game against the Rams.
Fantasy sleeper: Chargers running back Austin Ekeler wasn’t selected for the Pro Bowl despite the fact that he was tied for the NFL lead with Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams with 14 touchdowns going into Week 16, including nine rushing scores. He also has caught a career-high 95 passes, topping his previous best of 92 set in 2019. LaDainian Tomlinson holds the Chargers’ record with 100 catches by a running back in 2003. Christian McCaffrey, then of the Carolina Panthers, set the league record of 116 receptions by a running back in 2019.
Prediction: The Chargers’ back-to-back victories over Miami and Tennessee eased their burden, but they’re still in must-win mode for the remainder of the regular season. It would be difficult to imagine them turning in a clunker against the Colts. But the Colts might have something to prove to themselves and to the league after blowing last week’s game against the Vikings in spectacular fashion. Chargers 28, Colts 17.