INDIANAPOLIS – What is there to play for?
From taking a gander at the AFC playoff standings, the answer appears to be little for the Indianapolis Colts (10-5) when they to Nashville this weekend for their regular season finale.
Chances are less than slim to move up to the No. 3 seed.
Momentum seems to be the common answer around the Colts locker room in what to gain from their Sunday afternoon tilt with the Titans (2-13). Trying to amend for a discouraging Week 16 performance has been a frequent message heard this week.
But there is something a little more the Colts could achieve this weekend.
With a win on Sunday, the Colts would sweep their AFC South slate for a second straight season.
"Yeah, it would be huge," Andrew Luck says of another 6-0 mark in the division.
"Chuck (Pagano) talks about the easiest way to the playoffs is through your division obviously. I think we've done a decent job this year with winning those games and hopefully we can finish it on a high note."
Coming into Week 17, the Colts are riding a 12-game divisional win streak, which is double that of any other team currently in the NFL.
Their dominance over the AFC South is why they are back-to-back division champions.
"It would be exciting for us," tight end Coby Fleener says of extending the AFC South streak.
"Anytime you have a division opponent, you realize the stakes are higher. While the game might not impact the playoffs as far as winning the division, we want to win every game we play."
In order to stretch that mark to 13 games, the Colts do have some games within the actual game they are looking to win.
One of the major keys on the offensive side of the ball this weekend has this team wanting to get off to better starts.
Earlier this season, the Colts controlled the opening 15 minutes, on both sides of the ball.
Lately though, the offense has moved the chains just once on opening possessions since Week 10.
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton knows that establishing a consistent run game remains a key in one final tune up before January.
"It's really good for your confidence, just the fact that you can go out there, you can commit to the run, keep grinding and wear defenses down," left tackle Anthony Castonzo says of establishing the run.
"That's every offensive lineman's dream, getting into a game where it's just run, run, run. Then that opens up the pass as well. Just keeping that balance."
The Colts defense will look to bounce back from a performance that was not up to the standards the unit had been playing with in the previous month.
A win or loss on Sunday won't seal the Colts fate one way or another when the playoffs arrive next week.
Inside the Colts locker room though sit 53 guys looking to win yet another AFC South contest while setting the stage for a January journey.
"This week and this week now, we are getting ready to play Tennessee at a playoff caliber speed," defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois says.
"Like we were telling the young guys, it ain't easy to win a division championship, let alone easy to win a game so cherish that, but not for too long. The next hat you want to get on your head is the AFC Championship. Let's take the momentum from winning the division championship and let's move on. Let's show Tennessee why we are the AFC South Champions."INTERESTING MATCHUPS Titans tight end Delanie Walker versus the Colts defense:It seems like the string of impressive tight ends never ends for the Colts defense. Walker's 847 receiving yards ranks second in the AFC for tight ends and is the reason why he's a Pro Bowl alternate. This will be another nice warmup for the slew of elite tight ends waiting in January.Colts offensive line versus the Titans defensive line: It looks like the Colts will close out 2014 with their 10th different offensive line combination this season. Khaled Holmes will start his second straight game at the center position and he will have his hands full with defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, a force in the Titans interior.Quick Facts
-The Colts have won their last 12 AFC South games.
-Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri turns 42 years old Sunday and is looking to become just the fifth kicker in NFL history to finish a season with a perfect year in field goals made (minimum one attempt per game).
-Colts outside linebacker Shaun Phillips played in 11 games earlier this season with the Titans.
-In the last two games, Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright has 11 catches for 205 yards.
-Titans tight end Delanie Walker ranks second among AFC tight ends with 847 receiving yards.
-Titans offensive tackle Jamon Meredith played four games with the Colts earlier this year.NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on what he wants to see this weekend in Tennessee):
-"Efficiency. Great execution in all three phases. Play with great fundamentals and technique. Eliminate turnovers. Eliminate penalties. Sustain drives. Great situational football. Third down, convert. Get off the field on third down. Control the ball. When you look back at the games that we've won and when we've played extremely well, third down's been big, we played physical in all three phases, big plays. We were one or two in the league for a long time in hitting big plays. Didn't give up big plays; if we did give up a big play, it wasn't for a touchdown on defense. We won our matchups. You could have matchups all over the place. Our corners are going to be matched up on wide outs, offensive linemen blocking pass rushers, and so forth. Those are the big things that we're looking for."Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on how difficult is it to see the penalties and turnovers that the Colts have had this year compared to 2013):
-"Yeah, I mean if you look at the number of passes we've thrown to date, and I think when you drop back more and you throw more passes, you might have a few more interceptions. You don't want them, but the volume probably is a little bit of a byproduct of that. Just go from one year to the next because a lot of the penalties, the ones that are called every year and the most-called ones are the ones that are focus stuff a lot of the times; the false starts and illegal formations, and things like that that really shouldn't happen. The guys know that and we all know that, but there's some that guys are straining their guts out to make a block, finish a play and end up getting called. Part of it too is with the emphasis every year changing from an officiating standpoint, I think from a defensive standpoint, illegal contact, defensive holding, all those things are probably up just because of the points of emphasis are changing every year."
Colts Defensive Tackle Ricky Jean Francois(on the need for momentum heading into Week 17):
-"That's the first and biggest thing. You've got to get the taste out of your mouth. You don't want to go into the playoffs with a bad taste in your mouth. We want to go out there and like I said, we want to play playoff-football caliber this week; not next week, but this week, and that's our goal. We're going to go out there and play like we're in the playoffs and the playoffs were starting now."
Titans Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt(on if the Colts look different from what he saw earlier this year):
-"They've got some different players that are playing. I know they're banged up a little bit just like we have been at times, but that's no different. I see a team that's dangerous on both sides of the ball. Defensively they're playing physical, creating pressure with their front. Their secondary is good. They play tough and are good playing the ball. Offensively, they have weapons, and the quarterback is playing really well. I hear what you're saying but I don't see that when I look at it on the tape."Titans Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt(on the type of strain from playing three quarterbacks this year):
-"Well, we've played a number of tackles, a number of different receivers, quarterbacks, you name it. The biggest thing, especially the first year of being together, is continuity, and we haven't had that. We've had our struggles. We've missed some plays, missed assignments. We haven't worked as smoothly as a unit as we would have liked. Part of that is because it's our first year together and part of it is because of the injuries and having different players in there. Whenever you make changes, especially at the quarterback spot, every guy is different. Every guy has a different feel for the game, different skillsets. That makes it little bit more problematic, but our guys are still playing hard, and we're trying to get better."Titans Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst(on the team's perspective heading into this game):
-"I mean it's a competitive league and we look at it as an opportunity to go compete against a damn good football team for sure. It's a division game and moving forward years in the future, we want to go in there and win the football game. That's our goal is to go win. We know we have a challenge in front of us for sure, and we also understand that, you know, the same thing for them. They're going to continue to play this year, and although this one doesn't mean a lot for their position, I'm sure they're going to be playing hard just like we will. So you go out there, you represent yourself, you represent the organization and we plan to play hard and fight and try to win the game."