4:15 PM ET, December 24, 2005
Indianapolis (13-1) at Seattle (12-2) Saturday 4:15 pm EST
SEATTLE (Ticker) -- A preview of Super Bowl XL may be staged in the Pacific Northwest on Saturday when the Indianapolis Colts face the Seattle Seahawks
But the game may turn out to be just a dress rehearsal for the Colts, who already have clinched homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
That is not the case for the Seahawks, who can seal homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win over the Colts or a loss by Chicago at Green Bay on Sunday.
Both the Colts and Seahawks would love to meet again in Super Bowl XL on February 5 in Detroit.
Indianapolis is headed to the playoffs for the fourth straight year under coach Tony Dungy and advanced to the AFC championship game two years ago. After becoming the fourth team in the 86-year history of the NFL to get to 13-0, the Colts will be favored to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since the franchise moved to Indianapolis.
The Seahawks have made the postseason for the fourth time in seven seasons under coach Mike Holmgren and matched a franchise record for wins. But they have not won a playoff game since 1984 - the NFL's longest drought.
Seattle enters Saturday's contest with a franchise-best 10-game winning streak. The Colts are coming off their first loss of the season, yielding 453 yards in a 26-17 defeat to San Diego.
"It was humbling to lose a game the way we lost it," Colts starting left tackle Tarik Glenn said. "It just gives us a sense of urgency and a wakeup call."
But a wakeup call is not necessary for the Colts until the weekend of January 14-15, when they host their first playoff game. The Seahawks will be hosting a game that weekend as well, but are not yet assured of having the NFC championship game at home if they advance that far.
While Dungy could not be faulted for substituting liberally and resting some starters on Saturday, Holmgren will not have the same luxury.
Two injured starters - defensive end Robert Mathis and defensive tackle Corey Simon - did not play in the loss to San Diego and likely will be sidelined again. The Colts also will not have starting right tackle Ryan Diem, who will miss the last two games with a sprained knee.
Don't expect Dungy to give AFC leading rusher Edgerrin James (1,465 yards) more than 15 carries. But the Colts should get a steady dose of Shaun Alexander, who leads the NFL in rushing with 1,668 yards and has 24 touchdowns, three shy of tying the single-season record set by Priest Holmes of Kansas City in 2003. Alexander gained 172 yards on 26 carries in last week's 28-24 win at Tennessee.
Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck deserves the starting quarterback spot on the NFC Pro Bowl team. He leads the conference with a passer rating of 96.3, completing more than 64 percent of his passes for 3,215 yards and 22 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
Last week, Hasselbeck was nearly flawless, completing 21-of-27 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
The return of wide receiver Darrell Jackson has come at the right time for the Seahawks. After missing nine games with a knee injury, Jackson caught six passes for 72 yards, including the go-ahead four-yard touchdown, in the win at Tennessee. Last season, Jackson set career highs with 87 catches for 1,199 yards.
As usual, Indianapolis' Peyton Manning leads the NFL in passer rating (104.3). He has completed more than 67 percent of his passes for 3,626 yards and 28 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.
No team has a better receiving tandem than the Colts with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Harrison has 80 catches for 1,127 yards and Wayne 81 for 1,034. Indianapolis has scored a league-high 409 points, two more than the Seahawks. Only Chicago has allowed fewer points than the Colts (206). Seattle has given up 235 points.
Series: The Colts lead, 5-3, and won the last meeting, 37-24, in 2000.
Next week: Indianapolis hosts Arizona, January 1 Seattle visits Green Bay, January 1
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Seahawks have more incentive
The Colts and Seahawks are the only two teams in the NFL that have currently clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs, and the Colts are the only team to have already sewn up home-field advantage throughout. So, it begs the question -- just how hard will these two teams play in Sunday's essentially meaningless meeting in Seattle?
Indianapolis RB Edgerrin James will look to get back on track after being stymied in the loss to the Chargers last week. Seattle RB Shaun Alexander (1,668 yards) has even more motivation to run hard, as he looks to put distance between himself, Giants RB Tiki Barber (1,577yards) and James (1,465 yards) in the race for the league's rushing title. If nothing else, when the starters are still in during the first half, it will provide a sneak peak of what could be the matchup for Super Bowl XL.
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