KEYS TO THE GAME:
The Colts still have key injuries at receiver and offensive line, but they're also excited about the reserves who have stepped up to make significant contributions. The downfield passing game has returned with rookie WR Anthony Gonzalez emerging opposite Reggie Wayne. And with the Raiders allowing 4.8 yards per carry, RB Joseph Addai will be given more than his fair share of touches to do damage on the road.
The Raiders' best hope is to pound away at the Colts' undersized front seven and slowly wear them down while controlling the clock. RB Justin Fargas will likely get plenty of assistance from rookie FB Oren O'Neal, who has been a punishing lead blocker.
Rookie QB JaMarcus Russell is expected to get at least a series or two after being inactive last week.
Raiders: QB Daunte Culpepper (quadriceps) is likely to be deactivated this week.
The Colts have clinched a playoff spot for the eighth time in nine seasons, including each of the past six. They clinch the AFC South with a win or a loss by Jacksonville. ... With a win, the Colts will become the first team with five consecutive seasons with at least 12 wins.
By knocking off the 4-9 Raiders, the Colts could become the first team in the NFL's 88-year history to win 12 or more games in five consecutive seasons. They went 12-4 in 2003 and 2004, 14-2 in 2005 and 12-4 last season. They currently share the record of four straight 12-win seasons with Dallas (1992-95).
Indianapolis can clinch the AFC South by winning this week against the 4-9 Raiders. They can clinch the AFC's No. 2 seed, a first-round bye and home field in the divisional round if they win and Pittsburgh (9-4) loses to Jacksonville (9-4).
For most of the season, though, the Colts have played without the services several starters (including defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland, strong-side linebacker Rob Morris, wide receiver Marvin Harrison, and defensive end Dwight Freeney).
While there's a chance that Harrison (knee) will be back at some point before the start of the playoffs, McFarland (knee), Morris (knee) and Freeney (foot) are all sidelined for the remainder of the year.
And some of the team's other key players -- running back Joseph Addai (shoulder/chest), weak side linebacker Freddy Keiaho (elbow/concussion/inner ear), defensive tackle Raheem Brock (ribs), offensive tackle Ryan Diem (ankle/knee), offensive tackle Tony Ugoh (neck), tight end Dallas Clark (concussion), and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (thumb) -- have also missed considerable practice and game time during the season.
Despite the rash of injuries, Indianapolis has gotten quite a bit of help from its bench in 2007. Veteran role players such as outside linebackers Rocky Boiman and Tyjuan Hagler, offensive tackles Charlie Johnson and Michael Toudouze, tight ends Ben Utecht and Bryan Fletcher and defensive end Josh Thomas have been aided by rookie defensive tackles Ed Johnson, Keyunta Dawson, Quinn Pitcock in helping to fill the gaps.
"It's been great to see. You talk about that really from the start of mini-camp, that we're going to try to pick a 53-man team that's going to be good for us, guys that are going to develop into their roles, and everybody has to be ready to play. It has been great to see guys like (running back) Kenton (Keith) come on and really know that you can count on them when they go in there," said Colts coach Tony Dungy.
"Offensive linemen, defensive linemen, Keyunta Dawson and Quinn Pitcock played really, really well (against Baltimore). Different guys have had to step in and play, and we have some other guys now. (Recently acquired cornerback) Keiwan Ratliff, I think we can get him involved in what we're doing. He's a guy that we like and (we'll) see if he can grow into the system. But that's what you need, and you never know who's going to be that critical guy game in and game out."
One of the most interesting developments has been the continued progress of Gonzalez, the Colts' first-round draft pick last spring. Slated to be Indianapolis' slot receiver this season, he missed some playing time recovering from a dislocated thumb after being moved to an outside receiving spot in taking over for Harrison.
The former Ohio State standout hadn't played outside receiver this much since high school. But he has continued to become more acclimated to his new and expanded role in the Colts' passing offense.
"We went through a stage there when we had Marvin out, Dallas was out for a little bit. We were moving people around and guys were playing at different spots. But we've been able to settle down. Anthony (Gonzalez) has gotten comfortable in his role outside and we're running the ball well. I think guys understand what they have to do," Dungy said.
"We are looking forward to getting Marvin back and being able to slide Anthony back inside and really get to our full compliment. But I can't say enough about what guys have done who have stepped in. Charlie Johnson, Michael Toudouze, Kenton Keith, Bryan Fletcher. It just seems like everybody who has gone in has contributed."
At some point, Dominic Rhodes stopped concerning himself with the way he wanted things to be and started dealing with things the way they were.
Rhodes followed a mediocre-to-below-average sixth regular season with the Indianapolis Colts with an excellent postseason, and in so doing envisioned a role as a feature back in his free agent year.
During the Colts' run to the championship, Rhodes led the NFL with 306 yards on 62 carries, averaging 4.9 per try, including a 21-carry, 113-yard effort in a Super Bowl win over the Chicago Bears.
This came after gaining 641 yards on 187 carries, a 3.4-yard average, during the regular season, during which he gradually lost ground in his own backfield to rookie Joseph Addai.
Following a DUI arrest within two weeks of the Super Bowl, Rhodes' options dwindled and he signed a two-year contract with the Raiders. The Raiders host the Colts Sunday at McAfee Coliseum.
"It was time to go, man," Rhodes said. "I had been there for six years and I wanted to see something different. I enjoyed being there, I enjoy all my teammates, my coaches, they taught me a lot about football. It was time to experience something new."
In Oakland, something new wasn't anything like Rhodes envisioned. He first served a four-game suspension for violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy triggered by his DUI -- something the Raiders knew about before they signed him.
The thinking was Rhodes would provide a surge after four games after LaMont Jordan carried the load to start the season.
Then, in the fourth game, Justin Fargas gained 179 yards on 22 carries after Jordan tweaked a back injury. Jordan had 424 yards in four games at the time he was hurt.
Suddenly, Rhodes had been pushed to the back of the pack.
"I knew I would have to compete for the starting job, but when I missed my first four games, Justin stepped in and he's been doing a great job," Rhodes said. "Like the old saying goes, 'Don't ever give a guy an opportunity.' That's kind of where it is right now, and I never got my opportunity. But I'm ready when they need me."
Coach Lane Kiffin hinted this week Rhodes was getting a serious look, saying it had nothing to do with the Colts as an opponent. Jordan gained just 21 yards on 11 carries after Fargas sustained a rib injury last week.
The possibility exists that if Rhodes moves up to No. 2, and Fargas struggles with his ribs, he could get more rushes against his former teammates than he has gotten all year.
"Look, when you leave a team, you want to show them you can still play," Rhodes said. "It's your friends, you want to show them you've still got something."
PREDICTION: Colts 37-20