INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts are guaranteed of a second straight season without consecutive losses, and the NFL's only team to do that from 2012-13 should be proud.
A team that has stuck to Chuck Pagano's process has 60 minutes to finish strongly with a chance to reach 11-5 and maintain momentum heading into the playoffs.
His resilient team started quickly and endured a rough patch before winning three of its last four games.
The Colts have a chance to close out December in style while entertaining aspirations for January, and here are SEVEN VICTORY KEYS:
TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS – The last two games, Indianapolis has rushed for 152 and 135 yards while having a near perfect rush:pass blend. It has been a good offensive response to a rough period when the offense didn't function well. Jacksonville has had trouble this year stopping the run consistently. Allowing 135.2 yards per game, the Jaguars rank 30th. The Colts ran for 157 yards and a 5.2 mark in the first meeting (click here). The Jaguars have allowed 198 and 182 in their last two outings. Keeping run game momentum heading forward could be a key for Indianapolis beyond Sunday.
NO MORE MO-JO – The last time these teams met, Indianapolis limited Maurice Jones-Drew to 23 yards on 13 rushes. It was a superlative performance against one of the most potent rushers ever to face the Colts (1,412 yards; 10 rushing TDs, 14 total TDs; eight 100-plus games; 5.2 avg. on 271 carries). The dynamic talent could figure into his club's future, but this moment needs to be controlled by Indianapolis. Jones-Drew only once (2007) has failed to produce a seasonal 100-yard game against the Colts, and he has flipped contests before (including last year in Indy with 177 yards and a 59t third-quarter burst to quickly swing the course of the game). Here's hoping this defense parties like it's 2007.
BALL SECURITY –** Last week was a matchup of the NFL's two stingiest giveaway teams and a key to the outcome was which team would play to its strength. The Colts were 4:0 in the takeaway:giveaway game and now rank at the top of the NFL. Ball security has been a big goal all season, and it is evident with the club on pace to set a franchise record, eclipsing 17 in 2004 and 2008. Those years sported 12 wins and the correlation between ball security and success is obvious. One more turnover-free game sets a club seasonal mark dating back past 1998. Pep Hamilton says if the team doesn't beat itself, it has a chance to beat anyone – finish solidly.
REMEMBER THE SOUTH – The Colts have won six straight divisional games dating back to last year. The Colts started 5-0 in the division in 2005, 2007 and 2009, and they capped unbeaten divisional seasons in 2005 and 2009. Winning the division was a stated goal prior to this year and the best way to end it is keeping the slate clean. Tennessee marred the finale in Indianapolis in 2007 when the Colts' playoff berth was determined. The berth this year is sealed, but the quality of the seeding isn't. Just win, baby.
NO PEEKING –** Indianapolis can move from the fourth to the third seed in the AFC picture with a victory and a loss by either Cincinnati or New England. The Patriots are in the late time slot, while Cincinnati hosts Baltimore (a possible playoff foe) at the same time Indianapolis plays. A loss to Jacksonville implodes any chance to move up a spot, and even getting to the third seed (let alone the second if both Cincinnati and New England fall) has great merit. That was the path in 2006 for the Colts when as the third seed they hosted the AFC Championship game. Pagano has a focused team that heeds instruction to eliminate distractions. Scoreboard watching can mean taking the eye off the ball – something Jacksonville would love.
STOKE THE FANS – This is the 95th straight sellout and the 119th in the last 120 outings. Players know how the 12th Man can impact things and how willing Colts fans are to create a ruckus. Give the fans a late Christmas gift and a 2014 aperitif with a solid performance. Let them know the next time they convene, the stakes are higher.
LINE PLAY AND HEAT – The offensive line has done an admirable job by opening with different alignments in the last five weeks and seven during the season. Perhaps getting a face or two back is possible, and here's hoping a gutty unit can finish in style. Indianapolis had five sacks last Sunday, with four relative different players (Cory Redding, Bjoern Werner, Ricardo Mathews, Fili Moala) getting into the fray. The more players getting sacks and applying the heat, the better it is. Make it a new trend.
QUOTE TO NOTE(Cory Redding on his message to fans for Sunday's game, and beyond)
"We're getting ready for the playoffs with our play on the field. They need to be tuning up to continue to scream and make this stadium as crazy as we can for a home game. The level of play is higher in the playoffs, and they're part of the team. They affect our opponents in more ways they can imagine. The 12th Man has to stand up and scream, and I'm talking the whole time – first down, stand up. Every play we're out there, they need to be loud."