Sunday’s matchup against the Tennessee Titans looms as the end of the Indianapolis Colts’ season unless an unlikely nine-game scenario plays out that allows the team to clinch the AFC South. Week 17 could also mark the end of the Chuck Pagano era in Indianapolis.
The Colts’ head coach, who turned down a one-year contract extension in the offseason, is in the final year of his deal, and with the team performing well below expectations this season, his future beyond this week is uncertain.
After leading the Colts to three consecutive 11-5 finishes, an Indianapolis team many – including team owner Jim Irsay – expected to be a Super Bowl contender has struggled to a 7-8 record.
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Despite the uncertainty over his job status, Pagano told reporters Monday he hasn’t had any conversations about his status with Irsay and has no regrets about turning down the contract extension. Pagano maintained he hasn’t given thought to the idea this could be his final game with the Colts and said he isn’t concerned with anything beyond Sunday’s game against the Titans.
While the Colts have dealt with poor play at times, particular along the offensive line, Pagano’s team has also been crippled by a series of key injuries, most notably to star quarterback Andrew Luck, who has missed eight games thus far.
"Been a lot of tests; there have been a lot of obstacles; there’s been adversity," Pagano said. "That’s just how it is. Whether you’re coaching football, or life itself, you’re going to have to deal with this stuff. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves, about each other. Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it."
Should the Colts indeed miss the playoffs, it will be the first time the team failed to qualify for the postseason in four years under Pagano.
Titans closing in on top pick
As the Tennessee Titans prepare to close out a frustrating season on Sunday, the team can take solace in the fact that there is a sizeable consolation prize awaiting them at the end year.
At 3-12, the Titans are the odds-on favorite to land the top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and with it, an opportunity to add an impact player to their team.
Via the Tennessean, a Tennessee loss on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium will net the Titans the first overall pick.
While the Titans and the Cleveland Browns both have identical records, if they finish the season tied, the opponents’ strength of schedule gives Tennessee the tiebreaker.
Despite having one more win than last season, the Titans find themselves in line for a better pick this year. The Titans selected Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota No. 2 overall in 2015 and will hope for similar success with whoever the team drafts in April.
With starting quarterbacks Luck, Brian Hoyer of the Houston Texans and Marcus Mariota of the Titans each missing multiple games this season, backup signal callers – and in some cases multiple backups – have seen significant action in AFC South this season.
The Colts have used three different quarterbacks this season in Luck and backups Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst.
Hasselbeck is dealing with sprained AC joint in his shoulder, among other injuries, while Whitehurst was placed on injured reserve Monday with a hamstring injury.
If Luck, who is recovering from a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle, isn’t cleared to play in Sunday’s season finale against Jacksonville, that creates the possibility Indianapolis will turn to yet another quarterback in Stephen Morris. The second-year player was signed off the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad last wee and has never appeared in an NFL regular season game.
Houston has started four different quarterbacks this season in Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, T.J. Yates and the since-released Ryan Mallett, with all four leading the Texans to at least one win.
Mariota has missed three games with knee injuries for the Titans, forcing second-year backup Zach Mettenberger into the lineup. Mettenberger, who has yet to record a win as a starter in the NFL, may get another start with Mariota’s status for Week 17 uncertain.
Only the Jaguars have emerged unscathed this season with starter Blake Bortles proving to be the division’s ironman. Bortles has appeared in all 15 games for Jacksonville, while backup Chad Henne has yet to even attempt a pass this season.