Colts search for confidence-building win over Titans

(SportsNetwork.com) - When it comes to lines of Week 17 questioning, most teams would prefer the phrase "No. 1 overall draft pick" not be germane to the conversation.

But that's precisely where the Tennessee Titans find themselves as they approach the 2014 finale with the Indianapolis Colts, even if Ken Whisenhunt and his staff prefer not to ponder it just yet.

"That's something there's plenty of time to talk about, worry about," the Tennessee coach said. "We have another week of the season left."

The Titans reach December's end tied with Tampa Bay for the league's worst record at 2-13, and they'd receive the first pick at this point, though a series of tiebreakers - or wins by either team - could change the dynamics by the actual close of the regular season on Monday.

Tennessee has lost nine in a row since a Week 6 defeat of Jacksonville, which is the franchise's longest drought since the Houston Oilers lost 11 straight games on the way to a 2-14 end in 1994.

"It's already one of the bad records in the league, but I mean we just want to win," wide receiver Kendall Wright said. "We just want to win, we're not worried about the record at this point."

It was a miss, but perhaps a nearer miss, last week in a 21-13 loss to the host Jaguars.

Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst's 287 yards were the best of his career, the Titans scored a touchdown on their opening drive for the first time in 14 months and they didn't turn the ball over for the first time in nine games.

"Nobody is giving up," Whitehurst said. "You can see how hard we fight until the very end, and that locker room expects to win (Sunday). That's the way we've been all year and we just have not been able to put it all together yet."

As for the Colts, they simply want to get back where they've been.

Indianapolis has already clinched the AFC South title, but its four-game win streak was rudely snapped last week with a 42-7 drubbing at Dallas. The loss locked the Colts into the No. 4 playoff seed in the conference, which means they'll host whomever loses this weekend's Sunday night game between AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

"It's the National Football League. It's a tough business," Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said. "It's not for everybody. That's why we don't get discouraged. Disappointed, yeah, but discouraged? Never."

The Colts posted what had been a season-low 278 total yards while defeating Houston in Week 15, but saw that number plunge to 229 in the loss to the Cowboys, which also yielded the lowest scoreboard total of the year. Indianapolis generated a single rushing yard in Dallas, and quarterback Andrew Luck's streak of 21 games (regular season and playoffs) with a TD pass was ended.

He also threw two interceptions as the Colts dropped to 1-4 this season against teams who'll also reach Week 17 with a guaranteed playoff spot.

"You want to be confident going into the playoffs and you want to go in feeling good about yourself," Pagano said. "Nobody wants to go through a day like we went through (last Sunday), but you have to bounce back and you have to keep moving forward."

The Colts have won six in a row and 11 of their last 12 against the Titans, and Luck insisted that his focus is indeed on Week 17 and not what comes next. He threw for 393 yards and four touchdowns while defeating Tennessee, 41-17, in Week 4.

"I'm thinking about Tennessee first," he said. "We've got to fix (things) and focus on Tennessee, and then we can worry about the playoffs."

Luck's No. 1 target, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, is probable for at least some work this week after missing the Dallas game with a hamstring injury. He has equaled a career-high with 82 catches and burned the Titans for 105 yards - of a career-best 1,345 all season - in the September victory.

Indianapolis could also stand to improve on defense after allowing 28 first- half points against the Cowboys. Tennessee, conveniently, has scored only 31 points in its last three games.

"We have no choice but to be ready," Colts safety Mike Adams said. "The most dangerous team going into the tournament is the wounded team, and that's us right now."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Welcome Back, Hilton

Neither he nor Luck may play the entire 60 minutes, but it'll be a welcome return to normalcy for the Colts' quarterback to have his favorite target back in the fold. Hilton will likely find himself opposite a sound cornerback in Tennessee's Jason McCourty, but he still should be a go-to option as Luck tries to erase the memory of far too many dropped passes in the Dallas game last week.

Make Them One-Dimensional

The Titans haven't been the 1985 Bears on defense. In fact, they've allowed 142 rush yards per game - which is second-worst in the league. But the Colts don't run the ball well either, so simply keeping Indianapolis to its accustomed level of mediocrity could enhance the opportunity for Tennessee to hang close and maybe force a Luck mistake or two and give itself a chance to win.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Colts have nothing to play for beyond self-preservation and momentum- generation. The Titans, meanwhile, could be playing for a coach's job and to avoid the ignominy of drafting first next spring. That, along with home field, could keep things close in an ideal world. But in reality, it won't be nearly enough. Instead, expect Luck to get a big lead and Matt Hasselbeck to steer it home after halftime.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Colts 27, Titans 13