Bill Parcells has famously said "you are what are." If that's true, then the Jacksonville Jaguars are an AFC contender with a good chance to reach the divisional round of the playoffs or beyond.
Since losing to Indianapolis on Oct. 22, the Jaguars (8-3) have won three of four games. The Colts have gone 3-2 since winning in Jacksonville and maintain a one-game lead over the Jaguars in the AFC South standings.
An Indianapolis win would give the Colts a 4-0 record in the division and a two-game lead over Jacksonville in the overall standings. A Jacksonville win, however, would give the two teams identical records with four games to play.
It makes me nervous when a team that's playing well has a chance to make a statement in a big game. That's the scenario for Jacksonville, which has everything to gain with a win. The Colts have lost only two division games in the RCA Dome since 2002, so if Jacksonville wants to dethrone the Colts, they'll have to earn it.
It's worth appreciating what the Colts have done to get in this position with five games to play. Despite injuries that would have most teams in a tailspin, the Colts have been able to cobble together a 9-2 record, which is good for the second-best record in the AFC.
The Colts have three defensive starters — DE Dwight Freeney, DT Anthony McFarland and LB Rob Morris — on injured reserve but reserves like Ed Johnson, Josh Thomas and Tyjuan Hagler have filled in admirably. And when Hagler and fellow LB Freddy Keiaho went down, Rocky Boiman and Clint Session helped out, too.
AP Photo/John Bazemore
The one constant has been QB Peyton Manning, who hasn't been at his best without all his weapons, but has ably led the decimated offensive unit. Manning has made due with players like RB Kenton Keith and WRs Aaron Moorehead and Craphonso Thorpe. Moorehead has since been placed on the IR, but Keith has proven himself as a contribution to the Colts' running game.
If the Colts can get past the Jags, the schedule gets slightly easier the rest of the way: a road date with the imploding Ravens, followed by a trip to Oakland, before finishing the season with home games vs. Houston and Tennessee. Jacksonville, meanwhile, hosts Carolina, then travels to Pittsbugh before hosting Oakland and visiting Houston to end the season.
With an extra few days to rest over the Thanksgiving weekend, the early injury reports sound promising for the coming weeks, and Indianapolis should be close to full strength for the Jacksonville game. If the Colts can keep everybody healthy — and win this week's showdown with the Jaguars — a 14-2 record and a first-round playoff bye is a possibility.
That likely won't be enough to take the AFC's top seed from the Patriots, but it sure beats playing on wild-card weekend.
Speaking of the Patriots
It was refreshing to see a team other than the Colts give the Patriots a game this week, as Philadelphia came up short in an inspired effort against New England Sunday night. That sent the mainstream media into a flurry, wondering if it's possible the juggernaut could, in fact, be beatable.
The Patriots will face some tests in the final few games of the season, but will play their next four games at home vs. the Ravens, Steelers, Jets and Dolphins. New England then visits the New York Giants to end the season.
Of those teams, the 8-3 Steelers are most likely to derail the Patriots undefeated season. But it might be fitting if Eli Manning and the Giants could blemish the Patriots on the season's final weekend.
Eli struggled last weekend with his older, more accomplished brother looking on, but if the Patriots come to the Meadowlands with a 15-0 record, the rest of the football world will be watching, too.