Titans ready to dethrone Colts?

In August, the Colts were considered Super Bowl contenders. Today, they are 5-3 and tied atop the AFC South with the Randy Moss Titans and they may have more quality receivers and defenders banged up than most teams have in their lineup. They are a shell of their former selves.

But as long as they have Peyton Manning, the playoff race with the Titans is hardly over. These two will settle this debate with two games in December. By then, the Colts should have defenders like linebacker Clint Session and cornerback Jerraud Powers back and, hopefully, Joseph Addai and receiver Austin Collie, who was knocked out Sunday in Philadelphia for 10 minutes with a concussion. He was up and talking and walking around the locker room after leaving the field on a stretcher.

The Titans are now Randy’s third team this season and fifth overall. Jeff Fisher needs a game-breaker with Kenny Britt down for at least a month with a hamstring injury. It’s a big gamble for the Titans because Moss isn’t a team player, but he is looking for a big future contract.

He has motivation and should respect Fisher, the league’s longest tenured coach. The Titans were one of the few teams he let know ahead of time he would report to. The key questions are does he really have enough in his tank and how will Fisher react when he typically lollygags through a pass route. Moss performs that way too often when he knows the ball is going to someone else, or he assumes the ball is not headed in his direction. It’s the one action that drives football purists totally nuts. He also can be a behind-the-scenes manipulator like he was with Percy Harvin in Minnesota, and Brad Childress has enough players doubting him there, and that’s why he cut Randy loose. Chilly didn’t need No. 84 being a verbal ringleader up north.

The Titans are 1-0 in the division while the Colts are 1-2. It means a lot now, but there is too much football to be played. Still, it hasn’t been easy for Manning, who is heading towards his 201st consecutive start next Sunday against the Bengals. He remains a 65.0 percent passer this season, but he’s been below 60 percent in his last two starts and that’s never good. But the explanation is that he’s working now with now second-stringers like tight end Jacob Tamme instead of his Pro Bowler Dallas Clark and wide receiver Blair White instead of Anthony Gonzalez.

Manning is such a precise passer that he also demands precision route runners. Receivers have to be in their proper place. They must turn for the football at certain exact moments. When they are all on the same page with Peyton, life is wonderful in Indy. Like the sun coming up and Brett Favre showing up every Sunday, you can count on Manning. He’s won four MVPs and he’s still capable of winning another and another.

And that is the biggest edge the Colts still enjoy. Even the Titans, when pressed to answer, would choose Manning over Vince Young or Kerry Collins. It’s no contest.

Yes, the Titans have one of the best runners in Chris Johnson (I prefer Adrian Peterson) and the Moss equation is supposed to open up some running lanes for Johnson. It could happen if Moss buys into the system and remains motivated through January. In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of “ifs” there when projecting any positive Moss value. Right now, the Titans play better defense than the Colts. But that can change if the Colts’ walking wounded get healthy and return to the field soon.

“Our guys did a good job of fighting through the injuries this week,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said Sunday. “We’ll maybe get a couple guys back this week. Hopefully, we can go into (the Bengals’ game) in a little bit better shape.”

The good thing for the Colts is that five of their remaining games are at Lucas Oil Stadium. All three of their losses have occurred on the road. But in this season, when no team has looked truly dominant since Labor Day, there’s no reason to be counting out the Colts.

NOTES & THOUGHTS

• Generally, when a team flies cross country, they tend to start slowly. But the Giants rolled the Seahawks, who simply don’t have enough offense to beat really good defensive teams. We’ll know more about Charlie Whitehurst when the Seahawks can protect him.

• The Colts knew the Eagles had been studying them for two weeks and now coach Andy Reid is an amazing 12-0 after a bye week.

• Phillip Rivers passed for 295 yards and four touchdowns in beating the Texans and has a legitimate shot at breaking Dan Marino’s single-season record. The quarterback will get some MVP votes if he leads the Chargers to another playoff berth.

• You have to wonder if Mike Shanahan will lead Donovan McNabb into early retirement, which was the result when he turned his back on Jake Plummer in Denver. Plummer quit the game and became a mountain man and a handball champ. Of course, McNabb might still want the money even if he doesn’t trust his head coach and his offensive coordinator.

• After resting for four weeks, Michael Vick magically reappeared on Sunday and performed just like he did earlier in the season when he won the starting job from Kevin Kolb. Based on how he plays, running and escaping pressure, Vick will always be a candidate to miss some starts during a 16-game season. Can the Eagles avoid two quarterbacks? And will they offer Vick the big-money contract he deserves or will he decide to play elsewhere. Vick holds all the cards on this one.

• Wade Phillips needs to be put out of his misery. Life cannot be fun, especially when you are asked a hundred times daily why your team stinks. Yes, Jason Garrett is no disciplinarian, either, but why not give him a chance as interim coach? The elevation, regardless if Garrett wins a few games, doesn’t mean that Jerry Jones can’t go out next year and hire someone else if he so desires.

• The Vikings should take a look at Packers cornerback Al Harris when he’s released. Harris knows the division and if he can still run, he could help down the stretch.