Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts game preview
Time: Sunday, 1 p.m.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A healthy Andrew Luck was supposed to lead the Indianapolis Colts back to the playoffs.
A maturing Blake Bortles and a young, improving defense were supposed to put the Jacksonville Jaguars back in the AFC South title chase.
Neither preseason prediction came close to being right, and now that reality has set in, both teams will use Sunday’s season finale to establish draft position and maybe find a few answers before embarking on another uncertain offseason.
“If you can’t figure out why you’re playing, then you probably shouldn’t be playing,” Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri said.
The frustrations are already seeping out in Indy (7-8), which failed to make the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time since 1997-98.
Despite having the AFC’s second-best quarterback rating and one of his best statistical seasons as a pro, Luck blamed himself for the woes.
Colts fans, in contrast, believe coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson are the problem and that one or both should be replaced after Sunday’s game.
Inside the locker room, players have heard it, too, though they are trying to stay focused on football.
“It’s human nature for you to think about what is going to happen next year or what is going to happen the next day,” safety Mike Adams said.
“As my boy Chuck says, you just have to keep it one day at a time. Just focus on what’s the now and I try to do that. It’s hard, but I try to do it.”
Jacksonville (3-12) already made one decision about its future — firing coach Gus Bradley and replacing him with former Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone. After making the change, the Jaguars ended a franchise-record nine-game losing streak.
But the same, basic problems still exist.
Even after Bortles played his best game of the season last week, he still has the AFC’s third-worst quarterback ranking. The rushing offense has been largely stagnant. And while the defense has been relatively stout statistically, only six NFL teams have allowed more points than the Jags’ 376.
So the future plans of coaches and players could hinge on just how serious everyone takes Sundays’ game — and everyone knows it.
“I think it’s more important to make sure that the competitiveness in all of us is there when we go out on that field,” Marrone said. “As long as there’s a scoreboard, everyone is going to be looking to come out on top of the scoreboard.”
Here are some other things to watch Sunday:
Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis knows how cruel the football business is. He watched the Colts let aging stars such as Jeff Saturday, Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney walk away in free agency. He even saw Peyton Manning get cut. Now, Mathis may be about to join the list. With an expiring contract, the 35-year-old Mathis hasn’t conceded this will be his last game in Indy. But fans will probably give the Colts’ career sacks leader a proper send-off anyway.
While the Jaguars have struggled in this series, they have had the upper hand lately. Jacksonville has won two straight in the series and a third consecutive win would give the Jags their first season sweep since 2011 when the Colts finished 2-14. A win also would give Jacksonville three wins against division foes, perhaps an indication it can compete for a division title next season.
RUN TO GLORY
Frank Gore has already ended the Colts’ 100-yard drought and climbed seven spots on the NFL’s career rushing list this season. With 36 yards against the Jags, the 33-year-old Gore can add two more lines to his resume — becoming the first Indy runner to reach the 1,000-yard mark since 2007 and the oldest player in the league to achieve that feat since 35-year-old John Riggins did it in 1984. If Gore makes it, he also would join Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders as the only players to post at least nine 1,000-yard seasons.
Luck and Bortles have plenty in common. Both were first-round picks. And now both are chasing another 4,000-yard season. Luck needs 81 yards to do it for the third time in four years. Bortles needs 396 yards to achieve the feat a second straight time. Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton also takes a 30-yard lead over Odell Beckham Jr. in the league’s title chase. But Hilton will have to wait because his two nearest competitors — Beckham of the Giants and Atlanta’s Julio Jones, both have late afternoon games.