Whether or not the Jaguars and Colts are rivals is open to debate. This much isn't: The Colts are the team the Jaguars must beat to win the AFC South Division title, and the Jaguars are the Colts' hottest pursuer.
That's a fact and the first act in that drama this season will be on stage this Sunday in the RCA Dome, when the Jaguars hope to dim the lights on the Colts' quest for a fourth consecutive division title.
Colts president Bill Polian opened a debate this week when he suggested the Colts don't consider the Jaguars their rival, though the Jaguars view the Colts as the Jaguars' rival. "I don't know if they're our Hatfields, but we're certainly their McCoys. I'm certain it's a game they feel is pivotal for them," Polian said.
He's certainly right about this game being pivotal. A win by the Jaguars would leave them at 3-0 and a game ahead of the Colts in the division title race. A loss to the Colts would be the same-old, same-old.
The Colts have won 10 consecutive AFC South games; the last loss was in the RCA Dome on Oct. 24, 2004, to the Jaguars. A victory by the Colts would give them a one-game lead to take into a soft three-week schedule that includes games at the Jets and at home against the Titans before a bye week.
"I ain't getting' into that," Jaguars middle linebacker Mike Peterson said when informed of Polian's comments. "Tell me that when I walk out of the tunnel on Sunday."
Peterson came to the Jaguars from the Colts in the 2003 free agency season and he maintains a special intensity for his old team.
Asked if 20 points would be enough to win on Sunday, Peterson said: "Will that get it done? (Heck), yeah. This is a new year, new team, new (defense)."
"Are they our rival?" quarterback Byron Leftwich asked. "I don't know. I guess they're everybody's rival until somebody else wins this division."
The Jaguars are fresh off a rousing Monday night win over the Steelers. It's a win that has Jaguars fans riding an all-time high, as their team has ascended to top billing by the national media this week.
"It's just week three of a long season," Leftwich said.
No, it's more than that. Even Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio admitted: "This is a big game."
Last season, the Colts swept the Jaguars. The first encounter, in week two in Indianapolis, was a 10-3 slugfest. The Jaguars defense thoroughly confused and frustrated Peyton Manning, who had one of the worst days of his career, passing for only 122 yards. The Colts defense sacked Leftwich six times.
"We just try to get to Peyton and rattle him because if you don't he is going to have a field day with you. That is the main thing we have to do, get in his face and frustrate him, try to move his feet around," defensive tackle John Henderson said.
After another failed try in last season's playoffs, Manning is back to championship regular-season form in the first two weeks of this season, having thrown four touchdowns and showing a 103.1 passer rating. His top receivers, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, have caught 26 passes already.
Jaguars cornerbacks Rashean Mathis – this week's AFC defensive player of the week for his two interceptions against the Steelers – and Brian Williams will be central figures in Sunday's game. Mathis and Williams must blanket Harrison and Wayne for the Jaguars to have any chance of winning.
"We know our front is going to do their job in stopping the run and we will do our best to stop the pass. There is more passing this week so we will be in the spotlight more but that is what we are here for," Mathis said. "You want to be in the spotlight."
Harrison lit up Mathis in the Colts' win over the Jaguars at Alltel Stadium last December. Harrison caught six passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns in that game.
The Jaguars' major challenge on offense will be contending with the noise in the RCA Dome and the problems it causes communicating audibles and snap counts. Last year, the noise seemed to cause pass-protection problems for the Jaguars.
"It's very loud and it can cause you problems," Leftwich said.
The Colts list star pass-rusher Dwight Freeney as "questionable" on their injury report with a leg injury about which the team has been vague in describing. Freeney is the Colts' defensive play-maker and the player who seems to benefit most from the "crowd" noise. Nine of his 11 sacks (10 of 12 counting the postseason) were in the RCA Dome.
Colts coach Tony Dungy acknowledges the importance of Sunday's game but maintains his philosophy of patience and perseverance.
"My philosophy is you get better as a team as the year progresses and your goal is to get better every week and to play your best football in November and December and not beat yourself," Dungy said.
The second meeting between the Jaguars and Colts will be on Dec. 10 at Alltel Stadium.
Where will the division race stand then? This Sunday's game will go a long way toward answering that question.