Tony Dungy doesn't believe this Sunday's game is a must-win for the Colts. It's too early in the season for that. But Dungy isn't dismissing the importance of Sunday's AFC South showdown.
"It's a big game. We need to win it. We don't want to fall two games behind them. We'd like to be in first place when the game is over," Dungy said.
The Jaguars, 3-0, can strike a major blow to the Colts, 2-1, in what is the biggest game to be played in Jacksonville since the Jan. 23, 2000, AFC title game. A Jaguars win would complete a sweep of a tough, all-AFC opening schedule. It would leave the Jaguars with nothing less than a two-game lead in the division, and it would mean the Jags would have scored consecutive wins against the two teams that dominated the division the previous two seasons.
Is this a changing of the guard in the AFC South? Dungy says, no.
"Tennessee is going to be back. Anybody who counts them out doesn't know their history. As long as Jeff (Fisher) is there and the quarterback's there, they're going to be tough to beat and they're going to be a team that no one wants to play in December," Dungy said.
What about the Colts? They're one of the preseason Super Bowl favorites, but major salary cap problems have caused them to suffer significant personnel losses on defense, and the situation will only worsen for the Colts next season. It is thought the team will begin losing some of its weaponry on offense, too.
"We won't be able to keep everybody and you have to make decisions. I don't foresee any of our big-name players not being with us because that's who we built around. When you make a commitment to the quarterback, you're going to make the commitment that you're going to keep the weaponry around him," Dungy said. "People say, how long can they keep Edgerrin (James) and Marvin (Harrison)? We think we'll do that."
Make no mistake about it, the Colts are built around quarterback Peyton Manning. This is a team built to score, then hope their opponent doesn't score. The Colts are last in the league in defense and, if possible, falling.
If salary cap predictions prove to be accurate, this could be their last shot at a Super Bowl in the Manning era. The contract Manning signed during the offseason will only worsen the Colts' cap as time passes. He is an $8.3 million salary cap hit this year, $8.4 million in 2005, and then look out, $17.8 million salary cap hit in 2006.
Mike Peterson is one of the players the Colts lost on defense. Peterson came to the Jaguars in free agency last year and he quickly became one of the building blocks in coach Jack Del Rio's rugged defense.
"If one guy doesn't take care of his assignment, Peyton Manning is the type of quarterback who will find him," Peterson said.
In the second meeting between the two teams last year, the Jaguars scored a 28-23 upset. The Jaguars neutralized Manning by gaining a 2-1 time of possession advantage in the second half. The Jaguars joined Carolina, Denver and New England as the only teams to beat the Colts last season.
"The thing about their defense is that they are so sound with what they do. You're not going to see guys running wide open down the field because somebody made a mistake," Manning said of the Jaguars.
Del Rio's team is the league's hot-new club. The Jaguars are on the rise. Their best football is ahead of them and they can take a major leap into their future this Sunday with a win over the Colts.
Dungy's team is one of the league's established front-runners. Manning makes the Colts one of the league's high-profile teams; maybe the highest of the high-profile teams. The Colts are at a performance peak. If this isn't their year, they may not have a year.
"One thing that I have learned is that every year is something you want to take advantage of. I think building for the future is a cliché that doesn't make a whole lot of sense anymore. We're going to try to take advantage of the team we have this year," Manning said.
Maybe it is a must-win game for the Colts.