The Indianapolis Colts (7-4) will take on the Detroit Lions (4-7) in a Midwest showdown this Sunday.
The Lions have disappointed the Motor City fans after making the playoffs last season for the first time in over a decade, only to follow it up with a very substandard 2012 season that has featured questionable player conduct and inconsistent play.
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck is in a fierce competition with Robert Griffin III for Rookie of the Year, while the loss of head coach Chuck Pagano to ongoing cancer treatment has seemingly inspired the team to exceed expectations.
The Lions are clearly out of the playoff race in the fiercely competitive NFC North, while the Colts are still alive in both their division and the wild-card hunt.
There's no question as to which team has performed better up to this point, but it's impossible to disregard a Lions team that is loaded with offensive talent and could click at a moment's notice.
Where: Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
When: Sunday, December 2, 1:00 p.m. ET
Watch: CBS, DirecTV 710
Listen: Sirius 125
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Odds Shark: Detroit -4.5 (Bovada)
The Colts have performed better than the Lions this season by a wide margin, so at first glance it's somewhat shocking that a 7-4 team is an underdog against a 4-7 team.
However, the Colts aren't a superior team talent-wise by any means. In fact, the argument could be made that Detroit is significantly more talented. It's just that the Colts have had better execution and are in a productive rhythm.
But still, the Colts are far from being a juggernaut team like New England or Green Bay, even though the Colts did beat the Packers early in October. You'd be hard pressed to find a single Lions fan or player who isn't viewing this as a winnable game. Combine that with home-field advantage, and it's not surprising why the Lions were given the edge.
Over/Under: 51 (Odds Shark)
Indianapolis is averaging 20.9 points per game while Detroit has averaged 24.3, so Vegas is expecting both teams to score above their heads.
This game could easily enter 50-point territory if the dome atmosphere gives the green light for an aerial battle, but the "under" is still the safer bet.
The Lions have plenty of offensive capabilities and have surpassed 25 points on three occasions in the last five games, despite their current three-game losing streak, so they're capable of contributing their share of points, but the Colts have exceeded 25 points just once in the last six games.
If we get a typical performance out of each team, they won't come close to the 51-point expectations.
Colts Injury Report (ESPN)
CB Vontae Davis (Knee)
DT Josh Chapman (Knee)
Lions Injury Report (ESPN)
CB Jacob Lacey (Foot)
Note: This injury report is from Tuesday, November 27. The first official injury reports of the week will be listed on Wednesday, November 28, and can be viewed at NFL.com.
WR Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions)
Calvin Johnson went on one of the worst cold streaks in his career while catching just one touchdown pass in the first eight games, which was extremely odd for a player that typically lives in the end zone.
But in case you didn't get the memo, Megatron is back.
Johnson has had at least 140 yards and a touchdown in each of his last three games, including a 207-yard performance against Minnesota in Week 10.
Not that anyone ever gave up on a talent like Johnson, but he's certainly a hot asset at this time.
QB Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts)
While the rookie Andrew Luck is certainly a starting-caliber NFL quarterback, his worthiness as a starting-caliber fantasy football quarterback is still being determined.
Luck had a monster game with 433 yards and two touchdowns in Week 9 against Miami, but lately he has been in somewhat of a rut with seven interceptions in the last three games.
Luck is a smart quarterback and has the ability to identify and correct his mistakes. So if you own him, know that he'll snap out of this sometime soon and have another monster game.
RB Mikel Leshoure (Detroit Lions)
Mikel Leshoure missed the first two games of 2012 due to suspension and his entire rookie season due to injuries, but his anticipated return has paid off for Detroit.
In his Week 3 NFL debut, Leshoure rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown, though he has been inconsistent ever since.
However, those inconsistencies are fading away, as Leshoure has five touchdowns in the last four games.
Part of the problem is a lack of carries. Leshoure has been held under 20 carries in every game other than his debut, which is the obvious cause of his yardage deficiency.
But since the Colts rank a mediocre 20th in the NFL against the run (121.2 yards per game), there's a chance that he'll have a bigger role in Sunday's matchup.
What They're Saying
This appears to be a game between a mediocre contender and an underachieving disappointment, making this hardly one of the most attractive games of the week. But if you were expecting a snooze fest, think again.
As Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com points out (via Twitter), Sunday's game will feature the top receiver in from each conference in receiving yardage:
Sunday's Colts/Lions game will feature top WR in AFC (Reggie Wayne, 84 - 1,105 yards) and the top WR in NFC (Calvin Johnson, 73 - 1,257).— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) November 27, 2012
Reggie Wayne is second in the NFL and first in the AFC with 1,105 yards, while Calvin Johnson leads the entire NFL with 1,257 yards.
The windless dome and the slippage-free turf will turn this game into a shootout.
Also, if you feel this is a relatively even-matched game that will come down to the wire, that might be a good enough reason to favor the Colts.
Tim Twentyman also points out that the Colts have a 6-1 record in close games decided by one possession, while the Lions are just 3-6 (via Twitter):
Telling stat: Colts (7-4) are 6-1 in 1-possession games (8 points or fewer). Only Atl. is better (7-1). Lions (4-7) are 3-6 in those games.— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) November 27, 2012
For Lions' sake, they need to win by multiple scores, because the Colts clearly know how to come out on top in close games.
Neither team has an overwhelming advantage in this matchup. Both teams have talent, but they both possess clear and blatant flaws.
Since neither team stands out, it forces us to look at factors such as raw talent and home-field advantage, which both favor Detroit, but it's also likely that this game could be determined by discipline and execution, which favors Indianapolis.
The Colts are less talented than the Lions in many ways, especially on offense, but smart football and a team-wide focus has resulted in a 7-4 record that few would have predicted for them at this point in the season.
Ndamukong Suh's recent traffic ticket—one of many roadside incidents during his young NFL career—has come under scrutiny lately (according to the Detroit Free Press), and the Lions had multiple arrests leading up to the season.
There's no question which team is more focused and disciplines, and for that reason, the Colts should come away with a road victory.