Colts already considering strategy for playoffs

Jim Caldwell has been preparing for the playoff questions since he was hired as Colts coach.

Providing the answers before December, well, that is a surprise.

One day after becoming the first NFL team to lock up a playoff spot this season, the rookie coach acknowledged he has been pondering how best to get Indianapolis ready for the postseason – even if he’s not ready to announce those plans.

“Not today,” he joked Monday. “I’ve certainly thought about it. It’s not that we don’t have some idea of what we may do, but I don’t like hypotheticals. I don’t like spending money before I have it.”

In other words, Caldwell believes the unbeaten Colts have work left to do.

Yes, the numbers are impressive:

-The Colts found out they had earned their sixth AFC South title in seven years on the flight home Sunday night, after Jacksonville lost at San Francisco, setting off what Caldwell described as a short celebration.

-They have won 20 straight regular-season games, one short of the NFL record set by New England from 2006-08.

-They need one more win to extend their own league record of consecutive 12-win seasons to seven.

-They closed the month with a 12th straight November win, dating to 2007, and became the first team in league history to produce five straight fourth-quarter comeback wins.

-And the Colts are now the fourth team since 1990 to clinch a division title by Game 11.

Yet there is reason for concern.

The Colts are still trying to find consistency in an improving ground game, are missing key injured players such as Anthony Gonzalez, Kelvin Hayden and Adam Vinatieri, and are aware of the dangers of wrapping up things too early.

Of the three previous teams to clinch division crowns before Game 12 – New England in 2007, Philadelphia in 2004 and San Francisco in 1997 – none won the Super Bowl.

In fact, No. 1 seeds have been anything but automatic in the playoffs. Only twice has the AFC‘s top seed – the undefeated Patriots in 2007 and the 2003 Patriots – reached the Super Bowl this decade. Only once, the 2003 Pats, has the top seed from either conference won it during that span, and both No. 1 seeds haven’t reached the Super Bowl since 1993.

So, of course, the biggest question in Indy now is whether the record-setting rookie coach will follow Tony Dungy‘s script and rest his starters over the final month?

Not yet.

The next goal, of course, is clinching a first-round bye. Then the Colts (11-0) intend to lock up home-field advantage.

“We have a lot to play for, we are not pulling in the reins by any stretch of the imagination,” Caldwell said. “We still have to forge ahead and continue to get better. We have to make certain we keep identifying our weaknesses and try to improve upon those.”

The Colts could clinch both the bye and home field over the next two weeks, meaning the Colts would have nothing substantial to play for over the last three weeks except perhaps history if they’re still undefeated.

“It (16-0) is really not that important,” Caldwell said. “You’ve seen a lot of great records during regular season. What really counts in this league is one ultimate goal, that is to win it all.”

But resting players can be risky, too.

Colts fans remember how their other first-round byes in 1999, 2005 and 2007 all ended without a playoff win.

Caldwell was around for the last two debacles, in 2005 against Pittsburgh and in 2007 against a San Diego team playing with a backup quarterback and a backup running back at the end.

Now, though, it’s Caldwell’s team and Caldwell’s choice.

“I’ll address that when we get there, that’s how I like to approach it,” he said. “We’ll assess our team at that point in time and how do we get ourselves in the best position?”