I am trying to build a case for the Jaguars' being the anointed ones, the team that will bring the 12-0 Colts to earth. I'll tell you why Jacksonville has a better chance in this Sunday's game than anyone else the rest of the season.
On Dec. 18 Indianapolis is at home against San Diego: The Chargers don't have enough defense to stop the Colts on their own turf. On Christmas Eve, Indy's at Seattle, but the Seahawks might have their division clinched by then, a signal to unroll the mattresses and give everyone a rest. Indy finishes at home against Arizona on New Year's Day: Whether Tony Dungy, at 15-0, would rest his people for the playoffs is a question for the morals and ethics department. But would that be a spirited way to send his players into the postseason, watching from the bench as their perfect record goes poof?
Well, no one's resting anyone at Jacksonville's Alltel Stadium on Sunday. The teams don't like each other. Two years ago Jaguars running back Fred Taylor got into it with Colts safety Mike Doss. This year Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich accused Indianapolis of taking cheap shots in the Colts' 10-3 win in September.
I think the Jaguars will go at the Colts the same way they did in September, when they held Indianapolis to season lows in points and yards (268). Jacksonville rushed three men and dropped eight into coverage, which is the kind of tactic New England has had success with against Indy. The Jaguars forced the Colts to run the ball, which Indy did well enough to win, and to play defense, which Indy did well enough to launch the story that its defense finally had arrived.
There will be more exotics this time, more mixers, strange things they'll assume Peyton Manning has never seen before--if that's possible. My humble opinion is that the Colts will win, on the running of Edgerrin James and a defense that will simply be too quick for the Jaguars, just as it was against Pittsburgh.
This is not a week for upsets, but I think I've found one: Buffalo at home over New England. The Bills will grind away with Willis McGahee as they did in Foxborough in October, when they came close to beating the Patriots. Someone wrote that the Panthers' running game doesn't scare people anymore. So they went out and ran for 142 yards in a win over Atlanta. Yeah, O.K., it was me who wrote that. Well, they're nicely balanced now. Carolina will get the win over Tampa Bay.
The Giants' D was absolutely frightening against Dallas. Will the same intensity be there in Philadelphia? Something close, I'd guess, which should be enough to give the Giants the win. Chicago at Pittsburgh is an intriguing one. Looked like a gimme for the Steelers when the schedule came out, but they're the ones who are struggling now while the Bears are breezing home. Still, I'll take the match-up of Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau against struggling Chicago QB Kyle Orton and give the Steelers the victory.
K.C.'s not quite the same on the road as it is in Arrowhead, so Dallas will get the win at home on Sunday. Normally I don't pick games with wide spreads, but since Monday-nighters are in my contract I'll go out on a limb and take the Falcons over New Orleans. --Paul Zimmerman
Last week: 5-2 Season: 66-34
Dr. Z writes for the Web every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at SI.com/NFL.
With Jacksonville daring Indy to run, the Colts will hand the reins to James.