This may be the final week of the regular season, but for the Colts – and Texans – Week 18 is a playoff game.
Not literally, of course. But the stakes are the same as an actual playoff game: The winner's season will continue while the loser's will end regardless of what happens elsewhere around the league.
No single game in the 2023 season has had, or will have, bigger implications (that's why it's the first primetime game both the Colts and Texans will play this season). But for the Colts, those win-and-in implications are not coming with a top-down change in the message from head coach Shane Steichen.
"For us, we just understand what's at stake," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "These are the type of games you play for. It's not really any much more motivation, anything more that needs to be said to get you ready to prepare."
For veterans of past playoff pushes – the Colts won win-and-in games in 2018 and 2020 and lost one in 2021 – keeping a consistent message, even with a season on the line, is key this week.
"I probably deliver the same message," defensive end Tyquan Lewis, who's been with the Colts since 2018, said. "I always say, we don't need no pretenders, we don't need no superheroes, we just need the best versions of ourselves and we'll be all right."
Problems often arise for teams when they change things ahead of critical games – and teams that stick to their process and collective mentality, like the Colts are working to do this week, usually give themselves the best chances to win.
"Teams that try to do something different or try to play a different way out of their scheme, it never bodes well for them," center Ryan Kelly said. "For us, the message from Shane is it's obviously a big game but it's obviously the next one. Trust what we do, do what we do – the small things – all week better than we've ever done them and then trust what you go out there and do on Saturday night."
This keep-everything-the-same mindset was echoed across the Colts' locker room on Tuesday. The stakes of the game or the primetime spotlight on it don't change the work the Colts will put in this week to get ready for Saturday – and that's just how Steichen and the leaders on the team want it.
"I don't think you make it any bigger than it already is," wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. "Everybody knows what type of game it is and how much it means. So try not to put any more pressure on that and do that we've been doing and keep it the same, and just know we're prepared."
And, as running back Jonathan Taylor pointed out: The Colts didn't have much margin for error in December, especially after losing to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14. Week 15's Saturday game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was a playoff pivot point – the Colts earned a key head-to-head tiebreaker over Pittsburgh by winning it – and then Week 17's win over the Raiders was, based on the weekend's results, an effective lose-and-you're-out game.
"It's a healthy balance making sure everyone understands the magnitude, but also knowing that hey, it's kind of been like that the past few weeks," Taylor said. "As long as we continue to win games, we'll continue to control our own destiny. So nothing different here except, this is now, this is the one. It got to the point where it's win and get in.
"Same mentality, but this time it's everything you got – and it's been like that the past few weeks."