The Indianapolis Colts are not used to being in this position.
Normally, entering this time of year they are sitting comfortably on top of the AFC South and fans are already discussing whether the team will and should rest their starters toward the end of the year. This year, the final four games will make or break the Colts' 2015 season.
The Colts sit in first place in the South division thanks to a tiebreaker, as the Colts and Texans both are 6-6. The other two teams in the division could be a tough challenge depending on how their quarterbacks play, as the Jaguars' Blake Bortles and the Titans' Marcus Mariota have both shown growth this year. And as far as quarterbacks go, the Colts enter the final stretch of the season without theirs, as Andrew Luck is sidelined with a lacerated kidney and the timetable for his return is still uncertain.
The Colts will play three AFC South games in the final month of the season, along with a road trip to Miami the weekend after Christmas to face the Dolphins. First up is the Jaguars on the road this Sunday, and then they face the Texans in Indianapolis the following week for a game that could very well be the AFC South championship game.
If the New England Patriots defeat the Texans on Sunday night, then the Colts could clinch the division with wins in their next two games over the Jaguars and the Texans. But wins over those two division rivals are no guarantee, despite the Colts' NFL-record 16-game division win streak suggesting otherwise. The Texans are making a strong second half push to try to take the division, while the Jaguars nearly beat the Colts in Indianapolis earlier this year (they would have if it weren't for their kicker) and could pose a threat once again with a dangerous offense.
For the Colts, they know their entire season - everything they've worked toward this offseason, training camp, and first 13 weeks - depends on these final four games. Win, and you clinch the division and give yourself a shot in the playoffs at reaching your ultimate goal. Lose, and you watch the postseason from home with major changes guaranteed to take place.
"Everything is right there out in front of us and we're going to attack each day with everything that we have," head coach Chuck Pagano said on Monday. "We're sitting in Vegas and I don't know if you got 50-grand in front of you, 100-grand, 150,000, 200, 500. Everybody is a little bit different in that room. I have 50 bucks, we're putting everything in. We're putting all our chips in, we got a month left to go. It all starts this week and all we need to be is 1-0 come Sunday afternoon about 4:05 Eastern Time, that's the goal and we don't have any other choice and that's the decision we made."
The AFC South division that has been mocked this year is shaping up for an interesting finish over the final month of the season - though, if the Colts have anything to say about it, they'll take care of business in the next two weeks and take away some of the drama from the discussion.