The Playoffs start 3 weeks early for your Colts in 2010, when the AFC South leading Jaguars come north to snowy Indianapolis (I'm assuming the roof will be closed on Sunday...). The Jaguars sport an 8-5 record, one game up on the Colts, and all they have to do to win the division is win on Sunday afternoon, which is why this is a playoff game for the Colts: Lose and the season is over. Now, technically the Colts could still get a Wild Card spot, but some crazy stuff would have to happen for that to come true, so it's much easier to just say that if the Colts lose, they are done for 2010.
Back in Week 4 in Jacksonville, Josh Scobee hit a 59 yard field goal at the horn to win 31-28. The Colts turned the ball over twice in the red zone, which the Jaguars turned into 7 points of their own. Peyton Manning owned the Jaguar defense, going up and down the field, but those turnovers were the killers. The Jaguars played their typical game of keep-away from the Colts offense, but the Colts actually had a higher Time of Possession per Drive than the Jaguars did.
Jacksonville comes into the game winners of five of their last six games, and are on the verge of their first AFC South title since it started back in 2002. They'd also host their first playoff game since 1999, if they were to win on Sunday. In Manning's career, the Colts are 13-5 against the Jaguars, and have yet to lose both games in a season to them. The last six meeting between the two teams have been decided by 7 points or less.
Enough of the build-up, let's get to the keys, matchups, and a prediction:
Statistical Comparison of Two Teams (Adjusted):
|Avg Start Pos||27.3||31||30.4||15||31.0||14||29.2||9|
|3 and Outs||3.08||6||4.04||12||1.97||1||3.39||24|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.624||4||0.737||23||0.610||3||0.736||24|
|Net Punts Yds/Game||40.20||9||40.19||24||39.25||15||37.75||11|
Some statistical keys:
- I'm going to start with the Jaguars offense, as they are a lot better than they have been in years past, and better than their raw numbers would say. They are best in the league at 3 and outs, which means they keep the opposing defense on the field. Their other drive stats are just a step below that of the Colts, who have been great at that all year. This will be a much taller task for the Colts defense than in previous years.
- Their one weakness is turnovers, where they are 28th in the league. The Colts absolutely must force a turnover or two to win. Turnovers have been the key to almost every game in the 2nd half of the season. It will be again on Sunday.
- For the Colts offense, they'll face another lowly-rated defense that they need to shred once again. They usually only get about 8 drives in a game vs. Jacksonville, and they must score on at least 6 of them.
- The Offense finally found their big plays again last week against the Titans, and it should be much easier than it was last week, as the Jaguars give up lots of big plays. They also are 3rd worst in Yards/Drive, which means the Colts will be able to move the ball down the field.
- The one thing the Jaguars defense does well is RB Success Rate, which they actually did quite well last week against the Raiders, who are much, much better running the ball than the Colts are. While the Raiders had quite a few huge plays, they also had a lot of stuffs. The Colts just need to get to 40% to keep them honest.
Some other keys to the game:
- The Colts chances of winning the game will be inversely proportional to the amount of Cover-2 the defense plays. Jacksonville is notorious for taking every yard of cushion given to them by Colts CBs, sitting down, and gaining 7-9 yards on an out pattern. Or they go 5 yards over the middle in a soft spot to the TE. The Jaguars WRs are a servicable group, but don't have anybody that scares you that a 7 yard cushion is necessary. I really, really hope we see more blitzes and more pressure on Garrard, making him make quick decisions. If the Colts get beat on a big play, no big deal; it just gets the Colts offense back on the field quicker. This is the only team I'll advocate this defense for, but it is critical for a Colts win.
- The return of Austin Collie. While it isn't official yet, all signs point to Collie returning this week. Getting the three top WRs back on the field for the first time in 5 weeks will be a big boost to the offense.
- Forcing the Jaguars into 3rd and long situations. Notice I didn't say passing situations, because I don't ever assume a pass on 3rd and 8 against this team.
- Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.
This game will undoubtedly come down to the last possession, and will be decided by 7 points or less. With the Colts' backs against the wall, I see them rising to the occasion, and Peyton Manning will lead yet another game-winning drive to keep the Colts playoff hopes alive. There will be many frustrating head-in-hands moments, but the Colts will be the better team on Sunday. The extra few days afforded from the Thursday night game will be a huge boost as well.
Colts 34, Jaguars 30