Monday Night Football Preview: Chargers can clinch a playoff spot with a win in Indianapolis

Oct 2, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) attempts a pass during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Monday Night Football Preview: Chargers can clinch a playoff spot with a win in Indianapolis

Los Angeles Chargers (8-6) at Indianapolis Colts (4-9-1)

Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. CT/ESPN

The Los Angeles Chargers can advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2018 with a win over Indianapolis Colts on Monday night. Indianapolis was officially eliminated when the Jaguars topped the Jets on Thursday and is licking its wounds after allowing the largest comeback in NFL history in last Saturday’s 39-36 loss at Minnesota.

The stakes are clearly higher for the Chargers heading into Monday night’s clash at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Colts are trying something new. Quarterback Matt Ryan has been benched, and Indianapolis is turning to 33-year-old Nick Foles, not 24-year-old Sam Ehlinger.

While Colts’ head coach Jeff Saturday spoke publicly about the decision as a shake-up designed to improve the team’s red zone offense, a quick read between the lines of Matt Ryan’s contract makes the reasoning behind the decision more clear. With Indianapolis eliminated from contention, the franchise has everything to lose and nothing to gain by putting Ryan under center. If Ryan fails his physical when camp begins in 2023, he is potentially guaranteed an additional $17.205 million in injury guarantees. The Colts see no reason to take that risk.

While winning games is clearly no longer the main priority for the Colts’ front office heading into Week 16, it is worth noting that players themselves do not tank. Without Ryan or Jonathan Taylor available in the Colts’ backfield, players like Foles, Zach Moss, and Deon Jackson will be fighting hard for job opportunities next season – whether with the Colts or elsewhere.

The Chargers’ approach to Monday night is much simpler. Los Angeles is all-in to win, seeking its fourth victory in five games as its roster steadily gets healthier. Quarterback Justin Herbert finally has a full stable of receivers to throw to. L.A.’s defense gets a big boost this week with the return of star safety Derwin James Jr. After allowing just 15.5 points per game over the last two weeks, a boost from a player of James’ caliber could make Los Angeles a team nobody wants to tangle with in the playoffs.

The Chargers’ defense’s best opportunity to stop the Colts in their tracks might be to take the football away. Indianapolis has turned the football over 27 times, more than any other team in the NFL by a relatively sizable margin. Whether that continues with Nick Foles at quarterback remains to be seen, but it feels safe to say that Indianapolis’ offense does not strike fear into its opponents as currently constructed.

Los Angeles’ offense is one of the NFL’s most talented units overall, and the third-ranked passing offense in the league. Herbert and the Chargers will take on an Indianapolis secondary led by veteran star cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but a unit that is feeling the losses of Kenny Moore II and Shaq Leonard.

On paper, this is a game Los Angeles wins – the Chargers have more to play for and are much healthier. However, the NFL works in funny ways sometimes. The Colts are a team playing for pride with absolutely nothing to lose and are led by a coach presumably auditioning for a job next season.

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