8:20 PM ET, December 17, 2009
EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL
Having wrapped up the AFC's No. 1 seed for the playoffs, the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts have very little at stake over the next three weeks.
Although Colts coach Jim Caldwell insists that finishing the regular season undefeated isn't a top priority, he plans to play his starters Thursday night against a Jacksonville Jaguars team that likely needs to win its final three games to make the postseason.
Indianapolis (13-0) captured its sixth AFC South title in seven years following a 35-27 win at Houston on Nov. 29, then wrapped up home-field advantage with a 28-16 victory over Denver on Sunday. The Colts set NFL records for consecutive regular-season wins (22) and victories in a decade (114) with their latest victory.
Indianapolis became the seventh team in league history to start 13-0 and could take a shot at a 19-0 season -- something that has never been achieved. Colts players and coaches have repeatedly denied any desire to focus on a perfect record, but Caldwell has not shown signs of letting up.
"We're going to approach the 14th game exactly like we did one through 13. We're going to prepare just like we did for the first 13 and we're going to play just like we did the first 13," Caldwell said. "The only thing that would deter anyone from playing is a health issue.
"We're not going to assign numbers, in terms of plays, for anybody. We didn't do that for the first 13 games, and we're not going to do it for No. 14, either."
Unlike the Colts, the Jaguars (7-6) have plenty riding on their three remaining games.
With a 6-3 conference record, Jacksonville would earn a playoff spot by winning all three contests. A loss would result in the Jaguars needing help to avoid missing the postseason for the eighth time in 10 years.
"We know that we have to win out," guard Uche Nwaneri said. "That's really the only way to ensure that we'll be in the playoffs. You don't want to leave it to needing to win this and hope these people lose or these people lose. We control our own fate. We still have that fortunately.
"It's going to be a tough, three-game season. But this is what you play football for, for opportunities to force yourself into the playoffs."
Although Jacksonville, which hasn't lost back-to-back games since opening 0-2, controls its postseason fate, it must defeat a Colts team that hasn't lost since Oct. 27, 2008, to maintain that situation.
Indianapolis beat Jacksonville 14-12 in the teams' Sept. 13 opener, and the Colts are 12-4 against the Jaguars with Manning at quarterback. The three-time league MVP, 28 of 38 for 301 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the September meeting, passed for 4,354 yards with 30 TDs and 11 picks in those 16 games.
Manning is looking to get back on track following a shaky performance against the Broncos. He threw three early touchdowns, then three interceptions, before leading the Colts on a late TD drive to preserve the win.
His 47.6 completion percentage was a season low and his three INTs were his most since a career-high six at San Diego in November 2007.
Manning will face a Jacksonville team that ranks 26th in passing defense, allowing an average of 239.5 yards.
With an offense that revolves around the run, the Jaguars typically need Jones-Drew to play well to be successful. They are 6-2 when Jones-Drew rushes for at least 76 yards, although one of those losses came Sept. 13, when he ran for 97 yards and a TD.
Indianapolis has been vulnerable against the run lately, yielding an average of 119.7 yards in the last three games.
"We don't have any cushion," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "Now we know we've got to win out. We have hope. We're going to fight the good fight."
More from ESPN.com
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After the Colts made some key offseason acquisitions, owner Jim Irsay says he's excited entering this season, despite some of the potential distractions facing the team.
Colts-Jaguars: 10 observations
After breaking down film of both teams, Scouts Inc. offers 10 things to watch in this week's Colts-Jaguars matchup.
1. Test this secondary: The Jaguars are a great team to pass against. Their pass rush is terrible, and Jacksonville's defense is also awful on third downs. Plus, you know the ball is going to come out of Peyton Manning's hands very quickly. The Jaguars' best cover man, Rashean Mathis (groin), was inactive last week and probably will not factor in on Thursday night. Manning did throw three interceptions last week, but counting on him to do that again is an extreme long shot.
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|Avg Points Allowed||17.7||23.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||IND|
|Rush Yds Allowed||IND|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Indianapolis leads 12-4|
|Sep 13, 2009||IND 14, JAX 12|
|Dec 18, 2008||IND 31, @JAX 24|
|Sep 21, 2008||IND 21, JAX 23|
|Dec 2, 2007||IND 28, JAX 25|
|Oct 22, 2007||IND 29, @JAX 7|
|Dec 10, 2006||IND 17, @JAX 44|
|Sep 24, 2006||IND 21, JAX 14|
|Dec 11, 2005||IND 26, @JAX 18|
|Sep 18, 2005||IND 10, JAX 3|
|Oct 24, 2004||IND 24, JAX 27|
|Oct 3, 2004||IND 24, @JAX 17|
|Nov 9, 2003||IND 23, @JAX 28|
|Sep 21, 2003||IND 23, JAX 13|
|Dec 29, 2002||IND 20, JAX 13|
|Sep 8, 2002||IND 28, @JAX 25|