Colts Can Clinch Playoff Appearance with Victory over Jacksonville
INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Saturday knows what to expect.
And Saturday, a three-time Pro Bowl center, is far from alone this week as the Colts prepare to play their second game in five days, a road game against a division rival.
Yes, Saturday said, the Jacksonville Jaguars are under .500.
And no, they haven't reached preseason expectations.
They won't be making the playoffs, either.
But Saturday said none of that will matter Thursday because the Colts that night will be seeking not only their eighth consecutive victory, but their seventh consecutive playoff appearance. And they'll be trying to accomplish that in the Jaguars' home stadium.
The Jaguars, Saturday said, won't want that to happen. Not a bit.
"We can get one step closer," Saturday said as the Colts (10-4) prepared to play the Jaguars (5-9) at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday at 8:15 p.m.
"If we win out, we know we're in the playoffs. It's a big game for us. Jacksonville, they would like nothing better than to knock us out of the playoffs, or at least hurt our chances significantly.
"So I can promise you they'll be ready to play."
Indianapolis, the five-time defending AFC South champions and a playoff team each of the last six seasons, can clinch not only a postseason appearance, but the No. 5 seed in the AFC with a victory at Jacksonville.
The Jaguars, who made the playoffs as a Wild Card team last season, beat the Colts, 23-21, in Indianapolis in Week 3, but lost four consecutive games before beating the Green Bay Packers, 20-16, in Jacksonville Sunday.
Jacksonville is out of postseason contention.
"You get what you earn in this league," Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio said. "I think for us, it's an opunity to play a divisional opponent, to take a chunk out of them so to speak, to slow them down on their pursuit of what they're trying to do.
"We're really left to just play the spoiler role right now. We're not in it ourselves to be able to participate in the post-season. We know that, but we do have a collection of guys here that have pride, that are professionals, that have played very hard, and we want to finish the season strong and build toward the future.
"So that's what we're left with right now and that's how we're going to approach it."
Said Colts linebacker Freddy Keiaho, "It doesn't matter what their record is. It's a rivalry game and they're going to play hard."
The Colts also can make the playoffs if two of the AFC's 9-5 teams – New England, Baltimore, the New York Jets or Miami – lose one of their next two games. They also can clinch a playoff spot with a victory in the season finale at home against Tennessee (12-2).
The four division winners from each conference make the playoffs as the Nos. 1-4 seeds, with the next two teams from each conference with the best records making it as wild cards and entering as the Nos. 5-6 seeds.
Because the Colts cannot finish higher than the No. 5 seed, Head Coach Tony Dungy said this week a victory over Jacksonville likely would mean a similar approach to past seasons in the season finale against Tennessee. In past seasons, the Colts have rested some players late in the season when their playoff seeding had been determined.
"If that happens, then we'll play it like we've played all of those games in that situation," Dungy said. "We'll rest the guys that need rest and play the guys that need to play. If we don't win this week, then next week becomes a must win and that's how we'll approach it.
"We're looking at this as being a playoff game for us getting ourselves in."
The Colts' seven-game winning streak not only moved them to the top of the AFC playoff chase, but marked a drastic change in momentum from early in the season. Indianapolis not only lost four of its first seven games, they lost two games on the road in late October by double digits – at Green Bay and at Tennessee – the first time in Dungy's seven seasons they had lost back-to-back games by 10 or more points.
Still, Saturday said this week he didn't doubt the Colts could recover and get to the brink of another postseason appearance.
"I had my suspicions," Saturday said. "Even at 3-4, we had had a lot of things happen to us. We didn't play nearly as well as we knew we could. We came out in that Green Bay game and played a really poor game. Tennessee's a great team. They were hot and playing well, but I still felt like we had the quality guys that would turn it around.
"Obviously, I'm really excited about the seven-game win streak and I'd like extend that out."
Doing so this week will be difficult for several reasons. Not only are the Jaguars a division opponent, they have more victories over the Colts since 2003 – four – than any team in the NFL except the New England Patriots, who have beaten the Colts five times during that span.
They are also playing on the road just four days after a 31-21 victory over the Detroit Lions.
"It's a big game for us," Saturday said. "It's never easy coming off a Sunday game and playing Thursday, but everyone pretty much as to do it sometime throughout the year. This is our chance. But I think we have a good group of guys who know how to handle the situation, take care of their bodies and get the rest and also get the preparation work that's needed on a short week."
Said Colts tight end Dallas Clark, "The good thing is, we've played these guys. They're in our division and we kind of know them a little better than if they were an NFC opponent. That's kind of an advantage.
"That helps, but there's still a lot of preparation you need to get in in a short time."
And while that makes things trickier this week than normal, Colts defensive end Raheem Brock said the Colts have enough veterans to negotiate the situation.
"It's tough," Brock said. "For the younger guys, it's tougher, but for those of whose have been here, we've been through things like this before. Like I've said before, 'Games like this are won back in April, May and June when we're working on fundamentals and things like that.'''