Marquee AFC Matchup

It seems the Jacksonville Jaguars have been trying to chase down the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South ever since the division was formed.

This is the closest they've been going into December.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Indianapolis –6.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game, the over/under has been set at 44.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 56% of bets for this game have been placed on Jacksonville +6.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

"We know what's in front of us," Jaguars running back Fred Taylor said. "We know what's at stake."

Jacksonville can forge a tie atop the division Sunday or Indianapolis will take firm control of it once again as these teams meet in early December for the third straight season.

The Jaguars (8-3) lead the AFC wild-card race, but are more focused on finally catching the first-place Colts (9-2) as they enter the RCA Dome only one game behind the five-time reigning division champions.

This is the first time since these teams were placed in the AFC South under the NFL's 2002 realignment that Jacksonville will enter December trailing Indianapolis by fewer than three games. However, a loss Sunday would be a devastating blow to the Jaguars' division title hopes because they would lose the season series tiebreaker, having lost 29-7 at home to the Colts on Oct. 22.

"Well, it is a big game," Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said. "I mean you have to look at it that way. I think they've got to feel like if they don't win this game, they're going to have a tough time winning the division. We've got the tiebreaker edge right now. If we beat them, we'll have a sweep and it will be very tough for them."

Jacksonville tied for second in the division last season after finishing as the sole runner-up the previous two years. The Colts clinched the division title on the second weekend of December 2005 with a 26-18 win on the Jaguars' home field, then Jacksonville handed Indianapolis its most lopsided loss during its Super Bowl-winning season with a 44-17 victory last December.

"They always give us problems, so we just have to go execute our attack," Colts defensive tackle Raheem Brock said.

The Jaguars ran for 375 yards in last year's victory over the Colts - the most by an NFL team in more than six years - and the ground game remains a vital part of their success. They are third in the NFL this season with 138.5 rushing yards per game.

However, the last meeting proved the passing attack can be just as important because Jacksonville had to play most of that game without David Garrard and the offense was stagnant without him.

"I think we can catch the Colts," Garrard told the Jaguars' official Web site. "I think these guys are very hungry and we're determined this year. We have a lot of things going our way this year. Guys are showing a lot of ability to just concentrate on playing football. We need to do that this week because this is a big one coming up."

Though Peyton Manning is by far the bigger name of the two quarterbacks, Garrard may be nearly as important to his team's success. Jacksonville's only loss in his last seven starts came against the Colts, but Garrard barely played more than a quarter before leaving with an ankle injury.

He has not thrown an interception in 209 attempts this season, setting a club record, while posting a 103.1 passer rating to rank fourth in the league. That's eight spots ahead of Manning, whose 12 interceptions are his most since 2002. Manning's completion percentage and yards-per-attempt average also are both worse than Garrard's.

To be fair, Manning has been without favorite target Marvin Harrison since the last meeting with Jacksonville, tight end Dallas Clark has been banged up for much of the season and rookie wideout Anthony Gonzalez has missed nearly three full games. Harrison is likely to sit out again this week.

Then again, Garrard doesn't exactly have an impressive list of targets, with Dennis Northcutt, Marcedes Lewis, Ernest Wilford and Reggie Williams being his top receivers other than running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Garrard faces a Colts defense which has six interceptions in its last four games.

Jones-Drew has been limited to 43 yards on 22 carries over the past two weeks, but Fred Taylor has stepped up with 189 yards in 34 attempts as the Jaguars have run their winning streak to three.

The Colts have won back-to-back games after losing two in a row, and now they may be the healthiest they've been in several weeks thanks to some extra time off after a 31-13 Thanksgiving Day win over Atlanta.

Among the players who returned to practice Wednesday were left tackle Tony Ugoh and linebacker Tyjuan Hagler, neither of whom had played since October due to neck injuries.

"I think the way you play on Sunday has a lot to do with what you do during the week," Manning said of his team being closer to full strength at practice.

Getting good protection is often critical to Manning, and Ugoh's return could help an offensive line which has surrendered 11 sacks over the past four games. Jacksonville has the league's fifth-worst pass defense, allowing 258.7 yards per game, and has only one sack over its last two games.

The Colts have lost just once in six home games against the Jaguars, who fell to 3-10 all-time in this series with the Oct. 22 loss as they were outgained 384-226.

"All in all, it was probably our best game," Dungy told the Colts' official Web site. "We're going to have to play that way again."

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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