With the Texans losing last night to the Ravens, all the Jaguars have to do Sunday is beat the Colts and they will win the AFC South division. By winning the South, the Jags would guarantee a home playoff game, and likely send the Colts into a cold and uncertain off-season.
For Jacksonville, a team with an incompetent owner and a bumbling head coach, this is the biggest game their franchise has been involved in since the playoff game at New England in 2008 (2007 season). For years they've been hearing strong rumors that the team is moving to Los Angeles. They paid a ton of money to David Garrard, who is routinely booed at home because he hasn't played at a Pro Bowl level despite making All-Pro moolah.
So, for Jags players, coaches, and their fans, this game is a really big deal.
All the momentum is with them. All the breaks, bounces, and positive mojo clearly reside in their camp. And when you match the teams up, the Jags have the better squad. While draft picks like Donald Brown, Fili Moala, and Jerry Hughes continue to underwhelm for the Colts, Jaguars-drafted players like Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Terrance Knighton, Mike Thomas, Rashad Jennings, and Tyson Alualu make plays for their team.
Interesting note on Britton: The Colts opted to take Donald Brown over Britton in the 2009 NFL Draft. Brown is now the third or maybe fourth string back on this Colts team. Meanwhile, Britton has started 22 of 30 potential games at right tackle for the Jags, and has played very well. Britton was placed on IR with a shoulder injury back in October. Like taking Jerry Hughes over Indiana left tackle Rodger Saffold, I wonder if Polian will admit he made a mistake drafting Brown over the Brooklyn-native Britton. Would this team be 7-6 and fighting for its playoff life with Britton and Saffold book-ending Peyton Manning's o-line?
What nether-verse have we been transported into when the friggin' Jaguars draft better than Bill Polian and the Colts?
So, when you look at the match-ups kids, the Jags should roll the Colts this Sunday. The one X-Factor in the equation is Peyton Manning. Despite this weak, injured, and flawed Colts team heading into a make-or-break game, the old adage that 'with Manning, you always have a chance' was never truer than this week.
Consider the game earlier this season.
Despite the Jaguars rushing for 174 yards, converting 69% of their third downs, and going 3-3 in the redzone, the Colts still had a chance to win that ballgame. The reason they had that chance was Peyton Manning. True to form this year, he got little to nothing from his running game (58 yards rushing, 3.1 a carry). Peyton had to throw the ball up 46 times, but he completed 71% of those throws and the Colts were 70% on third down.
Manning's finest moment in the game was, after the Colts defense choked late and allowed an 8-yard TD pass from David Garrard to Maurice Jones-Drew with roughly five minutes remaining, Peyton drove the offense 65 yards in 8 plays to tie the game 28-all on a one-yard TD pass to Austin Collie with 1:21 to play.
Of course, on the next series, the defense choked again (aided by poor clock management from Colts head coach Jim Caldwell), allowing the Jaguars to attempt (and make) a game-winning 59-yard field goal.
This Sunday, players Joseph Addai, Austin Collie, and Dallas Clark will not play in this game as they did in the last one. All three were vital to Indy playing so well on offense back in Week Four. This week, Javarris James, Blair White, and Jacob Tamme are who Manning has to make due with.
All signs point to the Colts defense once again playing poorly, allowing Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings to run all over them. They let Chris Johnson run wild last week at Tennessee. The only reason it wasn't much of a factor was because the Colts had built a 21-0 lead by the time Johnson started getting going. That lead was a direct result of Titans turnovers.
Later this week, Matt Grecco will give you all our game preview, but if you want the whole thing boiled down to its most basic elements, the contest comes down to turnovers. If the Jaguars turn the ball over, they lose. If the Colts turn the ball over, they lose. It's literally that simple.
The Colts simply do not have the toughness or the desire to stop the run. If they did, they'd have done it by now. And while the injury excuse applies to the safety and wideout positions, d-line has been injury free all year, and they've been pushed around regardless. Daniel Muir has seriously regressed, and Fili Moala isn't as good as his draft stock suggests he should be. We also still don't know why Antonio Johnson isn't playing.
So, for the Colts to win, Manning must be Manning and the Colts defense has to come up with some turnovers. If they don't, then we welcome in the 2011 off-season in mid-December for the first time since Jim Mora strolled the sidelines.