The Indianapolis Colts are 10-5 and in second place in the AFC South. They have qualified for the playoffs as the fifth seed in the AFC.
In Week 17 they will host the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts rank 18th on offense, 32nd on defense and 28th overall in DVOA.
Primary Talking Point for Week 17
What will the Colts do?
Having already locked down their playoff spot, will Indianapolis play to win against the Houston Texans or rest starters in preparation for the postseason?
There are arguments to be made on both sides.
Those favoring rest will point out that the Colts could be asked to play as soon as six days later. They have nothing to gain by going all-out against Houston and should prepare for what could be a winnable playoff game.
Worse yet, a loss for the Texans could drop them to the three seed, meaning that even if the Colts won their first playoff game, they would likely be treated to a trip to Foxboro where the Patriots would beat them by 70 points.
Furthermore, Andrew Luck has taken a beating all season and more needless exposure to J.J. Watt (who the Colts simply don't have the personnel to block) seems foolish.
On the other hand there are reasons to play all out.
Obviously, with the emotional return of Chuck Pagano to work, the team is going to be working with a lot of pent-up energy. The environment in Lucas Oil Stadium will be electric.
An 11th win would help prove the Colts aren't quite as bad as their numbers indicate, and the team has to think ahead to 2013.They may wish to show the Texans they can compete with them and further frustrate them by continuing the Texans' winless streak in Indianapolis.
The players want to play. Reggie Wayne said:
We’re too young to rest. We probably need to put everybody out there and have them continue to play. I don’t think we can afford to do that so I think, me personally, I can’t speak for everybody but me I’m built to play. Hopefully I go out there and play and continue to make some plays here and there and hopefully I’ll have everyone else out there with me.
Finally there is the fan angle. Fans are wrongly convinced that resting starters before the playoffs is a mistake. They believe all kinds of inane theories about momentum and mojo and karma which have been proven false scores of times.
What matters, however, isn't whether resting starters leads to playoff losses. It matters that fans in Indianapolis believe it and will be furious if the team rests. Of course, resting starters worked out perfectly for the Colts in 2009, but the collective memory of the awful performance of Curtis Painter against the New York Jets is all anyone dwells on.
Fans give game tickets as Christmas presents. Nothing upsets people more than trying to create a special holiday memory only to have the team not try to win.
The Colts' big mistake in 2009 was not in resting starters. It helped set up one of the easiest routes to the Super Bowl of all time. The mistake was not telling fans ahead of time, preparing them for what was going to happen.
The Colts aren't likely to make any kind of playoff run and will be lucky to escape the first round. Because of that, they should soak up and savor every moment of this special season.
They likely can't beat Houston even if they go all out, but the way things have gone for Indy this season, they ought to try.
After all, it's the season of miracles.
Because of Pagano's press conference, there was no discussion of injuries in the Monday presser.
The following Colts are likely questionable for the Houston game and should not play regardless of the overall team strategy.
Samson Satele, Delone Carter and Antonio Johnson all have ankle issues.
Tom Zbikowski has a knee issue and has missed several games. It would be wise to sit him another week.
Kavell Conner has a sore hamstring.
Winston Justice has a biceps issue.
Feel-Good Stat of the Week
Luck's four fourth-quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives really are remarkable. The game-winning drives number ties a regular-season NFL record.
It's a number Peyton Manning hit twice in his career. The most recent was 2009 when he won an MVP award and took the Colts to the Super Bowl.
The first time he did it was 1999 in his second year in the league.
Manning led six come-from-behind wins and had seven game-winning drives in taking the Colts from three wins to 13 and onto the playoffs.
Luck may or may not win a playoff game anytime soon, but his ability to move the ball in hurry-up situations should continue to serve the Colts well for years.
Troubling Stat of the Week
Obviously, 352 yards rushing surrendered is cause for concern, but it simply reinforces the fact that Indy has the worst defensive squad in the entire NFL.
The numbers jump off the page.
Indy has the worst run defense by DVOA and yards per carry.
They have the 31st-ranked passing defense by DVOA and are 23rd in YPA.
They are 30th in turnovers forced, and 32nd in fumbles.
They are 22nd in points allowed, but have been helped by playing the easiest slate of opposing offenses in football according to the Football Outsiders.
Pagano has a lot of work to do, as does general manager Ryan Grigson. They'll have to completely rebuild the entire unit in the offseason.
Overall Trend: Rising
No matter what happens against Houston or in the playoffs, the Colts have had a brilliant season.
Yes, there are a lot of smoke and mirrors, and they won't benefit from such an easy schedule in 2013. The Colts will play the AFC South, AFC West and the very difficult NFC West. They'll also add the Cincinnati Bengals and either the Jets or Dolphins.
They won't be able to get away with everything they did in 2012, but with loads of cap room and the draft upcoming, they ought to be able to restock the roster and improve the overall depth of the team.
If any more good things happen this season, it will be cause for Colts fans to celebrate, but even if they don't, the long-range future is brighter for the Colts than for any team in football.
Quote courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts PR department via press release.