Game preview: Colts at Dolphins

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Frank Gore (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 26, 2015) – Five areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts Sunday visit to the Miami Dolphins (FOX59, 1 p.m.):

Flickering hopes: Despite riding a three-game losing streak into South Florida and giving little indication they can avoid their first four-game skid since 2011, the Colts still have a postseason pulse. But it’s faint, and is forcing everyone to dig through the layers of tiebreaker scenarios. However, here’s a bottom-line fact: Houston wins the AFC South Sunday with a win in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans AND a Colts loss or tie to the Dolphins. If the Colts win, the Texans also clinch the division with a victory IF a handful of teams also win. The latter would clinch the strength-of-victory tiebreaker.

Got it? Shame on the Colts for letting things get to this point.

“We signed up for 16 regular-season games and we’re going to finish,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “I told (the players) to finish the race. Call me naïve, but we still have a chance.’’

More from Matt: Pagano gave 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck an opportunity to say enough is enough this week. The NFL’s oldest position player has dealt with rib, back, neck and jaw injuries, and has been knocked out of each of the last three games at some point.

Hasselbeck chose to play on.

“I think (about) who I want to be to the guys in this locker room and the example you want to set,’’ he said. “Everybody is banged up.  Now is the time to be mentally and physically tough.’’

So, Hasselbeck will make his sixth straight start while Andrew Luck continues to miss time with his lacerated kidney, and eighth overall.

Here’s some perspective for what the Colts have asked from Hasselbeck. Since 1984, he and Curtis Painter are the only backup QBs to start at least eight games in a season. And we’re guessing everyone remembers Painter going 0-8 in relief of aging and ineffective Kerry Collins in 2011.

Time to put up or . . . : Pagano didn’t appreciate T.Y. Hilton “airing dirty laundry’’ when the team’s leading receiver criticized the conservative play calling. Hilton lamented the lack of down-the-field opportunities for himself, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett. He had a point – the Colts have 43 pass plays of at least 20 yards after generating 78 a year ago – but seemed to ignore the shoddy pass protection that has forced Hasselbeck and Luck to operate in a perilous passing pocket.

Hilton has a third straight 1,000-yard season, but no one could argue he’s been a consistent threat. He’s been limited to four or fewer catches in eight of 14 games. Miami’s pass defense is vulnerable, ranking No. 27 in yards per game (264.7). It has allowed 31 TDs, second-most in the league, and opposing quarterbacks have compiled a 100.2 rating.

Someone needs to take advantage of Dolphins cornerback Jamar Taylor. According to Pro Football Focus, QBs have victimized him on a weekly basis. When targeting Taylor, they’re 38-of-57 for 575 yards with six touchdowns, no interceptions and a 134.8 passer rating.

Difference-makers: The Dolphins challenge the Colts for the league’s most underachieving team in 2015. They’re 5-9 and being led by an interim head coach (Dan Campbell), new defensive coordinator (Lou Anarumo) and new assistant defensive backs coach (former Colts cornerback Jeff Burris). They’re a mess. But they also feature a slew of difference-makers.

We can debate Miami’s offseason decision to make defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh the highest-paid defensive player in league history ($114 million, $60 million guaranteed), but he’s Pro Football Focus’ third-highest player at his position with 12 “stuffs,’’ defined as making contact at or behind the line of scrimmage. That’s tied for second-most in the league. Linebacker Olivier Vernon has 16 tackles for loss, fifth-most in the league, according to sportingcharts.com.

Offensively, quarterback Ryan Tannehill can be inconsistent, but is a handful when he’s on. Look at his 22 touchdowns. The Dolphins are 5-0 when running back Lamar Miller (781 yards, 4.9 per attempt, seven TDs) gets at least 13 attempts. And wideout Jarvis Landry already has a franchise-record 97 receptions. Landry also is averaging 9.6 yards on punt returns with one TD and 24.7 yards on kickoff returns.

Frank-ly speaking: Frank Gore remains a team-first guy, but also is driven by personal goals. He badly wants to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons. But time is running out. Gore needs 194 yards in closing games against Miami and Tennessee.

“It’s a target,’’ he said. “Just keep fighting for it and do whatever it takes to get it.’’

Miami’s run defense might be conducive to boosting Gore’s chances. It’s ranked No. 29.

Gore needs to average 97 yards per game over the final two, which isn’t out of the question considering his Hall of Fame-worthy resume. But his season-best output was a 98-yard game at Houston in October. His current 14-game streak without cracking the 100-yard mark is the longest drought of his career.

And this is a perfect time to remind everyone the Colts haven’t had a player rush for 100 yards in 48 consecutive regular-season games or reach 1,000 yards in a season since 2007. Each is the NFL’s longest active streak.

With 806 yards, Gore needs 23 to post the most yards in a season since ’07. Joseph Addai finished with 828 in ’09.

Prediction: Dolphins 24, Colts 16.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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