The Indianapolis Colts are thinking big heading into their regular-season finale after rediscovering their winning formula in the past two weeks.
With an outside shot at a first-round bye, the Colts can head into the playoffs having matched their season-best winning streak if they can rout the Jacksonville Jaguars again Sunday.
Following a 2-3 stretch in which every loss was a blowout, Indianapolis (10-5) defeated Houston 25-3 on Dec. 15 before winning 23-7 at playoff-bound Kansas City last Sunday.
Now the AFC South champions can claim the No. 2 seed and a bye next week if they win Sunday while Cincinnati loses to Baltimore and New England falls to Buffalo. If only one of those teams loses, the Colts move up to the AFC's third seed if they beat Jacksonville.
"Teams who've won the Super Bowl in the past got hot at certain points in the season," defensive end Cory Redding said. "They had their difficult times. They had parts where they were losing. If you look at the Ravens last year, they were playing great. Middle of the season, they started getting injured. Then they went into a slump and then man, got to the playoffs and got hot. Look what they did."
The Colts certainly appear to be headed in the right direction after moving past their recent first-half troubles. They've outscored the Texans and Chiefs 33-10 in the first 30 minutes after falling behind by a combined 114-24 margin over their previous six games.
"We now have momentum going into the playoffs," said linebacker Bjoern Werner, who has two of Indianapolis' nine sacks over the past two weeks. The defense has forced six turnovers in that span while allowing an average of 263.0 yards.
The offense, which slumped after Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne suffered a season-ending knee injury Oct. 20, has piled up 76 points over the past 10 quarters thanks in part to a rejuvenated running game.
Since averaging 78.5 rushing yards in a six-game stretch, the Colts have totaled 287 in their last two victories while controlling the clock for more than 71 minutes. They held possession for more than 30 minutes once in their prior six contests.
"We've got a lot of great things going on right now and certainly controlling the clock is one thing that will play a key factor down the stretch here and in the playoffs," coach Chuck Pagano said.
While Trent Richardson remains mostly a disappointment, averaging 2.9 yards per carry in 13 games since being acquired, Donald Brown has stepped up. He's rushed for 300 yards and 6.1 per carry with five total touchdowns in the Colts' five wins since the start of November, compared to eight carries for 11 yards in three defeats.
Brown ran for 65 yards despite getting only three attempts in a 37-3 win at Jacksonville on Sept. 29. Richardson had 60 yards and a TD on 20 carries.
Andrew Luck completed 21 of 35 for 257 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in that contest, and he's playing well heading into this meeting. Since connecting on 57.8 percent of his attempts with two TDs and five picks over a four-game span, Luck has completed 64.3 percent with seven touchdowns and one INT over his last three while getting sacked just twice.
The Colts would seem to be best served establishing the run against Jacksonville (4-11), which has given up a total of 380 rushing yards while dropping its last two games.
However, those losses came by a combined 11 points after the team had won three straight. The Jaguars have won three in a row away from home and now seek their longest road winning streak since 2005.
They've come out on top in their last two trips to Indianapolis, including a 22-17 victory last season as Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 177 yards and a touchdown.
Jones-Drew only has one 100-yard effort this season while averaging a career-low 3.5 per carry.
Marcedes Lewis missed most of this year's loss to the Colts due to an injured calf, but the veteran tight end enters this matchup looking to set a franchise record with a touchdown catch in a fifth consecutive game.
"I think we're finding out more his hands and his ability to make plays," coach Gus Bradley said. "But I think he's in a zone where he feels real confident in his abilities. He's stepping out of the normal box he felt he was in and that's really cool to see with him. He's playing with a lot of confidence right now."
The Jaguars are last in the NFL in scoring (15.8 points per game) and total offense (290.1 yards per game).
The Associated Press News Service
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