INDIANAPOLIS – It's December and the Colts control their own destiny in the AFC South.
That's a sentence that has been true for much of the past decade and a half with the Colts winning nine of the 13 AFC South titles.
It's accurate once again in 2015.
Yet, as the Colts enter the final quarter of the regular season, there's company at the top of the AFC South.
With the Texans and Colts both sitting at 6-6 with four games remaining, the clinching of this division won't be as easy as the past two seasons.
"This is different. We've never experienced this," Dwayne Allen said on Monday.
At their team meeting on Monday, Chuck Pagano left his players with something to ponder before they reconvene on Wednesday for practice.*
You can either see it as a sign or a test, *Pagano said to his 6-6 football team.
Houston has won four of its past five games, leaving the Colts no margin for error down the stretch.
"We believe that it is a test," Allen said. "It is a test of our character as a team, and organization. What are we going to do? Are we going to fold it up or are we going to dig down deep and go out there and do what we need to do to get into the playoffs?"
Why does 2015 feel such different from a division perspective?
In the past two seasons, the Colts were deep into the clinching process this time of year.2013: The Colts clinched the division after a Week 14 loss in Cincinnati. Thanks to a weakened AFC South that season, the Colts eventual 11-5 record won the division by four games and allowed for a very early clinching date.2014: A Week 15 home victory over the Texans gave the Colts their second straight divisional title. With the Colts entering that matchup at 9-4, and the Texans at 7-6, even a loss for Indianapolis in Week 15 wouldn't have changed the AFC South picture too much.
Now, in 2015, the Colts can still lock up their third straight AFC crown the next two weeks.
For that to occur, three things need to happen:
- Colts beat the Jaguars (4-8) in Jacksonville on Sunday
- Texans lose to the Patriots (10-2) in Houston on Sunday night
- Colts then beat the Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium next week (12/20)
If one of those things doesn't happen the next two weeks, it will be a much more pressure-packed final weeks of the regular season for the Colts, compared to 2013 and 2014.
Players are clearly embracing the playoff-type football that is alive in December.
"It's exciting. It's December football," Joe Reitz says. "You are in first place and you are playing for a playoff spot. That's what's exciting and that's what makes you want to come to work.
"When you are playing for something fun in December, it's a fun time. I think we are all excited about the challenge we have this weekend."
A great way to put a name with a face!