The Colts' XXXVII reasons
Thirty-seven reasons why the Jags will knock off the undefeated and AFC-top-seeded Colts on Thursday night.
I. Maurice Jones-Drew has been in a funk since fantasy football geeks cursed him for his kneel-down against the Jets a month ago, but said geeks will be so preoccupied with getting enough blue body paint for the opening of Avatar, they will forget to renew the curse before Thursday.
II. On Sunday, Indy set the record for most consecutive victories (22) and most wins in a decade (114). The Colts also secured a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They have 34 days until their next meaningful game. Players are human. And they are ripe for a gigantic letdown.
III. The Colts will rest their injured starters. Why? Because that's what Tony Dungy's mentor, Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll did in 1978 when Dungy won a Super Bowl with the Steelers. Noll's decision in 1978 allowed Dungy, a backup, to contribute to the team's third world championship by starting the last two games of the season. You cannot imagine what a huge impact that had on Dungy, and, I'm sure, his successor, Jim Caldwell. The idea being: If we're gonna make history, we're gonna do it as a team, a family, and it will be up to everyone on the roster -- not just the stars.
IV. As a kid, Jags veteran wideout Torry Holt worked long hours in the tobacco fields near Greensboro, N.C., where avoiding snakes gave him his moves and harvesting those plants gave him his hand strength. More than 13,000 receiving yards later, how do you root against that?
V. On Miami's final six drives in Week 12, the Jags' defense, led by no-name 'backers Daryl Smith and Justin Durant, forced two turnovers and four punts.
VI. A big early lead by the Colts could actually play right into the Jags' game plan by forcing Indy to sit its starters sooner than they wanted and leaving plenty of time for the Jags to throttle the Colts' B Team.
VII. Be honest, couldn't you see the Jags crushing the Colts and then pounding the Patriots and then losing to the Browns to miss the playoffs for the ninth time in the last 11 years?
VIII. This past weekend, I missed breaking two hours in a half marathon by 210 seconds. So, I'm kinda due.
IX. Manning's "glute" was listed on the Colts' injury report last week. Honest.
X. Mike Sims-Walker, the Jags' leading receiver who has been bothered by a bad calf, was a full participant in practice on Tuesday.
XI. No way QB David Garrard goes 0-for-3 -- again -- in potential game-winning drives in the fourth quarter like he did against Miami. Not if he wants to keep his job, anyway.
XII. As bad as the Jags' passing defense is (239 ypg), the Colts are only 12 yards better.
XIII. Manning deserves the MVP award every year, that's no secret. But he doesn't need this game for his 2009 MVP campaign, since he's not getting it. It's Drew Brees' award by a landslide, people.
XIV. This time of year, nothing trumps desperation. And you can't get more frantic than Jacksonville. The team has missed the playoffs eight of the last 10 years and its supposed leaders, like Garrard and coach Jack Del Rio, are out of excuses. But the game also transcends records, standings and playoff scenarios and could likely determine the long-term viability of the NFL in this market -- a place where the Jags have had seven games blacked out after losing 17,000 season-ticket holders in the last year. This is as much about the future of pro football on the First Coast as it is the AFC South.
XV. The Jags average 40 more yards per game rushing (128 to 88) than the Colts and their banged-up back, Joseph Addai, which could be a big deal if it translates into time of possession and keeping you-know-who off the field.
XVI. The Colts have given up an average of 120 yards rushing their last three games.
XVII. At one point on Sunday against Denver, Manning was 6-of-18 for 54 yards, three picks and a single TD. He has thrown three picks in a game only twice in the last seven years. Guess who has as many picks (13) as the Broncos. Yep, the Jags.
XVIII. Manning also had a season-low 47.6 passer rating.
XIX. Yes, Indy has won seven of the last nine games between these two teams, but the last four were all decided by seven points or fewer.
XX. During the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, my older brother and I sneaked into the Playboy party through the kitchen.
XXI. The Jags held Indy to a season-low 14 points in Week 1. And the longer the season goes on, the more finesse teams yield to the physical ones.
XXII. Jacksonville hasn't lost back-to-back games since starting 0-2, and the Jags have rebounded from each of their last four losses with a win.
XXIII. You can learn a lot of math in four days. Which means the Jags, who had 12 men on the field twice and 10 men on the field once at critical stages during their loss to the Dolphins, might actually line up correctly this week.
XXIV. The Colts tried to camouflage their hobbled secondary by changing up personnel and rolling coverage over the top of Denver's Brandon Marshall, and the dude still caught an NFL-record 21 passes.
XXV. There's very little chance that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will be able to pass a special law by Thursday making Tim Tebow the Jags' quarterback.
XXVI. Maurice-Jones Drew has 14 touchdowns -- the most in a single season in Jags history. And he needs to pad that a bit for safekeeping.
XXVII. When I wrote this, it was 20 degrees in Indy and 70 in Jacksonville.
XXVIII. Reggie Wayne had 10 catches for 162 yards in the first game, but he hasn't had more than 50 yards receiving in a month.
XXIX. Be honest, by the time you watch the 378th commercial in which Peyton Manning is pretending to be warm, fun and accessible, a little part of you will be rooting for the Jags, too.
XXX. If the Jags win out, they're in.
XXXI. Just three of the Colts' 13 wins have come over teams more than one game over .500. The Jags are -- gulp -- 7-6.
XXXII. Peyton is already a hero. I mean Jacksonville mayor John Peyton who reformed the city's football booster group ("Touchdown Jacksonville") and not only rallied to get the team's first sellout of the season but also kicked in $150,000 for something called the Ultimate Tealgate Party.
XXXIII. Indy coach Jim Caldwell has said the Colts will not change their approach, but GM Bill Polian has been saying for weeks that the team will rest its injured starters. Guess who wins that battle?
XXXIV. I was in Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 9 for the Colts' 20-17 win over the Texans and I still can't figure out how they won.
XXXV. Even though they didn't practice Monday, the Colts were still forced to file an injury report. They listed 29 players.
XXXVI. All-world defensive end Dwight Freeney's messed up abdomen needs rest. So does DE Robert Mathis' quad, OT Charlie Johnson's foot and cornerback Jerraud Powers hammy. If your ultimate goal is another Super Bowl ring and not some pretty record, it would be negligent to play these guys if they're hurting.
XXXVII. As I'm sure you've noticed, I went to the trouble of using roman numerals, therefore giving this list an air of scholarly authority as compared to other lists that use just regular old numbers. Enjoy the upset.
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and the author of the memoir "Noah's Rainbow" and "Breaker Boys: The NFL's Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship." And his work will be featured in The Best American Sports Writing 2009 anthology. The Flem File appears every Wednesday during the NFL season with updates on Mondays and Fridays.
ESPN.com: Help | Press | Advertise on ESPN.com | Sales Media Kit | Interest-Based Ads | Corrections | Contact Us | Site Map | Jobs at ESPN | Go.com