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Colts have much at stake


He has been without a challenger to his title for a long time. Now, maybe, he has one.

Peyton Manning is the best regular-season quarterback in the league; has been for nearly all of the 21st century. We all know, of course, who the best postseason quarterback is and it's not, of course, Manning.

Let's stick with the regular season, for now. Manning is the king of it; no question. Look at the NFL passer ratings and Manning's sitting there right behind wunderkind Tony Romo, who has a long way to go before he can be considered anything more than a recent space shot that has yet to go through staging. Romo's done it for a few games. Manning has done it for several years.

Manning is right there at 100.1; over a hundred again. The guy is amazing.

Look right under Manning's name, however, and you'll see Carson Palmer's name at 99.7. This is the second consecutive year Palmer's name has been right beneath Manning's. Last season ended with Manning at 104.1 and Palmer at 101.1. Hmmm.

Palmer actually threw four more touchdown passes than Manning did in the 2005 season. Palmer even threw for more yards and had a slightly higher completion percentage. Two more interceptions, however, caused Palmer to have a lower passer rating.

It was Palmer's coming-out season and it ended with a catastrophic knee injury. Now, having fully recovered from that knee injury, Palmer is nearly dead even with Manning statistically. Manning and Palmer have each thrown 22 touchdown passes. They've each thrown eight interceptions. Manning is slightly higher in yards and completion percentage, but the difference between the two quarterbacks is razor thin.

Is the old man about to lose his throne? Is Palmer about to become king of the stat boys?

These next two weeks are critically important in Manning's career. At stake for the Colts is homefield advantage for the playoffs; for Manning, his title as the game's "best regular-season quarterback."

Manning and the Colts play the Jaguars this Sunday at Alltel Stadium. On the heels of two defeats in the last three games, the Colts could fall a game behind the Chargers and into a tie with the Patriots and Ravens in the homefield race.

What if the Colts had to win outdoors in New England or Baltimore in January? They couldn't beat the Chargers in the RCA Dome last season, so playing at San Diego this year certainly isn't what the Colts want. They wanna be at home in the dome until they reach Miami for the Super Bowl.

Now take a look ahead a week. Look at that Cincinnati at Indianapolis game on Dec. 18. How's that for a showdown? Not only will that include serious playoff implications for both teams, but also on the line will be Manning's reputation as the game's best passer.

Make no mistake about it, the Jaguars' backs are against the wall this week. The Colts could deliver a kill shot to their division counterparts' playoff hopes. This is, for sure, a pressure-packed week for the Jaguars, but it is for the Colts, too.

This is not a pull-the-plug December for the Colts, as last season was. Their pursuit of the Super Bowl and their quarterback's reputation is on the line.

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