Colts Head West
San Diego, CA - After struggling through the first two months of the season, the Indianapolis Colts regrouped to secure a seventh consecutive trip to the playoffs.
The San Diego Chargers faced a bit more adversity en route to clinching their third straight postseason berth.
Indianapolis, winner of nine straight games, and San Diego, which has won four in a row, meet for the second consecutive year in the playoffs and for the second time this season on Saturday night in an AFC wild-card game.
Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made the Colts –1 point spread favorites for Saturday’s game against the Chargers. Current NFL Public Betting Information shows that 71% of more than 13,480 bets for this game have been placed on the Colts -1.
Indianapolis (12-4) endured four defeats in its first seven contests this year, but closed out the regular season with nine straight wins, including 23-20 at AFC West champion San Diego (8-8) on Nov. 23. That victory came after the defending Super Bowl champion Colts were eliminated by the Chargers from last season's playoffs with a 28-24 home loss in the divisional round.
Indianapolis, coming off its league-record sixth straight 12-win season, had its five-year reign as the AFC South champion snapped by top-seeded Tennessee, but extended its playoff streak to seven, having reached every year since coach Tony Dungy's arrival in 2002.
"How you got here, what you've done in the past - we all know it's pretty irrelevant," quarterback Peyton Manning told the Colts' official Web site. "It's kind of who plays better on that day, but it's nice to know we found ourselves in a hole and kind of answered the question, 'Could we dig ourselves out?'"
San Diego's postseason journey was a bit more grueling as it lost eight of its first 12 games, including a three-game slide at the end of November.
The Chargers surged in the final month of the season, however, winning all four of their games to improve to 14-0 in December since 2006 and advance to the playoffs for the third year in a row. No NFL team had reached postseason play after starting 4-8.
Capping the late-season surge was Sunday's 52-21 home victory over Denver, which gave San Diego its third straight division title after trailing the Broncos by three games with three remaining.
The Chargers, who went 3-7 against teams outside the AFC West, became the first club since 1985 to win a division with a .500 record.
"It's a pretty strange season, ain't it? But it's good to be in this position, no doubt, to say that you're division champs again, to be going to the playoffs and be hosting a playoff game," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "That's a great feeling for us."
Tomlinson carried 14 times for 96 yards and a season-high three touchdowns against Denver before leaving late in the third quarter with a strained groin. He finished 10th in the league with 1,110 yards and had 11 rushing touchdowns this season to give him 126 for his career - second only to Emmitt Smith (164).
Manning also established history Sunday, extending his own league record for 4,000-yard passing seasons to nine in a 23-0 win over the Titans. The two-time league MVP left the game after the opening possession, finishing 7-of-7 for 95 yards with one touchdown.
Manning has completed 72.1 percent of his passes while throwing 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions in the last nine games. The Colts finished fifth in the league with 255.9 passing yards per contest.
San Diego's offense, directed by quarterback Philip Rivers, was 10th in the NFL with 358.4 yards per game. First in the league with a 105.5 passer rating, Rivers was fifth with 4,009 yards - seven more than Manning - and tied New Orleans' Drew Brees for the most touchdown passes with a franchise-record 34.
Rivers now faces a Colts defense that's allowed just six touchdown passes - the fewest ever by a team in a 16-game season. That unit, though, will be without linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett, who will miss his fifth straight game with a cracked bone in his lower right leg.
Starting guard Mike Pollak and backup center Jamey Richard, both rookies, injured their ankles against Tennessee and are questionable. But the Colts may get a boost from the return of two-time Pro Bowl safety and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders, who told the team's site he expects to be ready for Saturday.
Tomlinson's status depends on whether he can practice during the week. Including playoffs, he's rushed for 345 yards and two touchdowns while catching 17 passes for 175 yards and a score in five appearances against the Colts.
The last three matchups between these teams have been decided by a combined nine points, with the Colts winning twice. Manning went 32-for-44 for 255 yards and two TDs, while Rivers was 24-for-31 for 288 yards and two scores in November's meeting, which Indianapolis won on an Adam Vinatieri 51-yard field goal as time expired.
Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
SAN DIEGO is 10-4 against the spread versus INDIANAPOLIS since 1992
SAN DIEGO is 9-5 straight up against INDIANAPOLIS since 1992
8 of 14 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
SAN DIEGO is 2-1 against the spread versus INDIANAPOLIS over the last 3 seasons
SAN DIEGO is 2-1 straight up against INDIANAPOLIS over the last 3 seasons
2 of 3 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at SAN DIEGO since 1992
SAN DIEGO is 3-3 against the spread versus INDIANAPOLIS since 1992
SAN DIEGO is 3-3 straight up against INDIANAPOLIS since 1992
3 of 6 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at SAN DIEGO over the last 3 seasons.
SAN DIEGO is 1-1 against the spread versus INDIANAPOLIS over the last 3 seasons
SAN DIEGO is 1-1 straight up against INDIANAPOLIS over the last 3 seasons
2 of 2 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
[CB] Marlin Jackson IR - ACL - 10/30/08
[CB] Michael Coe IR - Knee - 08/13/08
[CB] Nick Graham IR - Ankle - 11/19/08
[CB] T.J. Rushing IR - Knee - 08/25/08
[DT] Erik Foster is upgraded to probable - Neck - 12/15/08
[DT] Keyunta Dawson is upgraded to probable - Hamstring - 12/15/08
[LB] Gary Brackett is out indefinitely - Leg - 12/16/08
[LB] Tyjuan Hagler is upgraded to probable - Knee - 12/16/08
[OG] Ryan Lilja is expected to miss the rest of the season. - Knee - 11/26/08
[RB] Clifton Dawson IR - Concussion - 11/07/08
[RB] Joseph Addai is upgraded to probable - Shoulder - 12/15/08
[RB] Mike Hart IR - Knee - 10/15/08
[S] Bob Sanders is upgraded to probable - Knee - 12/15/08
[TE] Tom Santi IR - Shoulder - 11/19/08
[WR] Pierre Garcon is upgraded to probable - Personal - 12/17/08
[C] Nick Hardwick injured last game, "?" - Concussion - 12/14/08
[FB] Mike Tolbert missed last game, "?" - Shoulder - 12/12/08
[LB] Anthony Waters missed last game, "?" - Hamstring - 12/14/08
[LB] Shawne Merriman IR - Knee - 09/10/08
[SS] Clinton Hart missed last game, "?" - Shoulder - 12/14/08
[WR] Buster Davis IR - Groin - 11/20/08
[WR] Chris Chambers injured last game, "?" - Head - 12/15/08
Posted: 12/31/08 4:36PM ET