COMMENTARY | The Indianapolis Colts (10-5) host the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11) in Week 17 of the NFL on Sunday. It may seem like a boring way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but there are a few things for Colts fans to watch as the NFL's playoff picture is set.
The Colts currently sit in the No. 4 playoff spot in the AFC as the South Division champion, which translates to a home game on Jan. 4 or 5 against the No. 5 seed -- the Kansas City Chiefs. Regardless of how Sunday's game against the Jaguars turns out, Indianapolis can do no worse than the No. 4 spot.
They can do better, though.
If the Colts win and the New England Patriots or the Cincinnati Bengals lose, the Colts will climb into the No. 3 seed. They'd still play at home on Jan. 4 or 5, but it would be against the No. 6 seed, which could be the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers or Pittsburgh Steelers.
If the Colts win and the Patriots and the Bengals both lose, Indianapolis would be the No. 2 seed in the AFC, giving them a first-round bye and a home game on Jan. 11 or 12.
Cincinnati Bengals (10-5) vs. Baltimore Ravens (8-7)
Cincinnati plays at the same time as the Colts, and the Ravens are battling for a playoff spot, so the Bengals will be getting Baltimore's A-Game. The Ravens won the first game between these two teams in an overtime nailbiter, so they present the best chance for the Colts to move up.
Indy fans, then, will want to keep one eye on the Bengals-Ravens score while watching the Colts game -- and be rooting for Baltimore.
New England Patriots (11-4) vs. Buffalo Bills (6-9)
New England plays later in the afternoon. There's no way they lose at home to the Bills. The Patriots play at the same time as the Denver Broncos, and those two are vying for the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, so the Pats have every reason to smoke Buffalo, which is exactly what they'll do.
Colts fans never root for the Patriots, so we'll all cheer for Buffalo to win. Just don't count on anything but a Bills beat-down at the hands of New England.
Realistically, Colts fans can relax after the early games and plan on a Jan. 4 or 5 playoff date at Lucas Oil Stadium. When all the dust settles, my money is on a No. 4 seed and a rematch against the Chiefs.
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11)
If the Colts overlook the Jaguars, however, and stumble at home, it doesn't matter what Cincinnati or New England do. Don't get all giddy remembering back to the Colts' 37-3 demolition of Jacksonville back in Week 4 and assume that the Week 17 matchup is a "gimme" for Indianapolis.
The Jaguars suffered eight straight whompings to start the season, but they've gone 4-3 in the second half of the season. Indianapolis has also gone 4-3 over that stretch.
The Colts have a maddening habit of playing to the level of their competition. They beat teams like the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Broncos and Chiefs, but they get blown out at home by the St. Louis Rams and lose to the Dolphins and Chargers. They barely beat the Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans (twice). It's a little scary that they're facing a 4-11 team this week.
Jags running back Maurice Jones-Drew is likely playing his last game for Jacksonville, so he's going to be motivated to put on a good show for his pending free agency. I'm sure he also knows that the Colts have the fifth-worst run defense in the NFL.
Still, Jacksonville has the worst offense in the league -- both in terms of points per game and yardage per game -- and a defense that allows the third-most points per game in the NFL. They'll also be without their starting quarterback and their star receiver, Cecil Shorts, both of whom are lost to injury.
The Colts should win this game comfortably, but given Jacksonville's success of late, Indy's habit of playing to the level of its competition, and Jones-Drew's situation, it's anything but a certainty.
The author resides in central Indiana and is a longtime follower of the Indianapolis Colts.
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