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Colts at Jaguars: Areas of interest

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 17: Jacoby Brissett #7 of the Indianapolis Colts during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 17, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field.

  • Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
  • Broadcast: CBS4.

Finish strong:

We’re at the point of the season when beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The only playoff implications consist of the Colts’ possibly impacting the crazy chase for the final AFC wild-card involving Oakland, Pittsburgh and Tennessee. We’d give you the various scenarios, but frankly, we don’t care.

A winning season? The soaring expectations that accompanied the Colts’ 5-2 start have crashed and burned. They’ve closed the season 2-6 and need their first win in Jacksonville since 2014 to finish 8-8. When it comes to aesthetics, 8-8 is light years better 7-9. From what we’ve seen, the players are committed to finishing strong, not simply playing out the string.

As for the Jaguars, a five-game losing streak that ate up all of November and the first week of December ended any hopes of a successful season. They were 4-4 before imploding. They’ll finish with at least 10 losses for the eighth time in the last nine seasons and with a non-winning record for the 11th time in the last 12.

ESPN is reporting coach Doug Marrone has been informed he won’t be returning for next season. However, the team quickly refuted that report.

The final game of the season does carry a level of importance. With a win and a Titans loss at Houston, the Colts finish second in the AFC South. They would hold the tiebreak between 8-8 teams. The significance of that is Indy would host the second-place team in the AFC East (playoff-bound Buffalo) and travel to the second-place team in the AFC West (the Raiders or Denver). A third-place finish in the division results in a home game with the New York Jets and a road trip to either the Raiders or Denver.

And let’s not forget the jockeying for position in the April NFL Draft. The Colts currently sit on the No. 16 rung, and could rise as high as No. 11 with a loss or slide as low as No. 19 with a win.

O-line continuity:

All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson, who suffered a concussion last Sunday against Carolina, has been cleared by an independent neurologist and will start Sunday. That means the offensive line will finish what it started.

While that represents a consolation prize for a season that fell short of the playoffs, let’s not dismiss the accomplishment. It marks the first time since 2000 the Colts’ o-line started all 16 games.

“That’s rare,’’ Frank Reich said.

“I guess we’re just a bunch of tough asses,’’ center Ryan Kelly said.

Whatever personnel issues Chris Ballard must address in the offseason, his starting offensive line isn’t one of them.

Follow the same game plan?:

The Colts dominated the Nov. 17 meeting. Their 33-13 demolition of the Jaguars featured a season-high 264 rushing yards and 100-yard outings by Marlon Mack (109 on 14 carries) and Jonathan Williams (116 on 13).

There’s no reason to get cute and change, especially with the o-line intact. Jacksonville’s run defense has been vulnerable all season. It ranks 28th in yards per game (139.8) and 31st in yards per attempt (5.1). That sounds similar to what the Colts faced last week when they blasted Carolina 38-6. The Panthers brought a weak run defense to Indy and were exploited for 218 yards, including 95 by Mack who notched his first 1,000-yard season in the process.

Reich’s offseason goals included a top-5 finish by his running attack and at least 2,000 yards. The Colts enter Sunday ranked 4th and need just 2 yards to reach 2,000.

“Let’s freakin’ hope so,’’ left tackle Anthony Castonzo said when asked they’ll crack 2,000.

The last time the Colts rushed for 2,000 yards was in 1994. They’re on pace for 2,131, which would be the ninth-most in team history and the most since 1988 (2,249).

“You hit 2,200 and you’re doing something special,’’ Reich said.

Jacoby Brissett:

This will be the final chance for Brissett to put something positive on tape for when Chris Ballard, Reich and the personnel staff considering their offseason options at quarterback. It’s hard to imagine one decent game against a 5-10 team making much of a difference, but it would beat the heck out of the alternative.

We’ve spent enough time discussing Brissett’s second-half fade. The stat that just jumps out is not completing at least 53 percent of his passes in each of the last three games. Apparently a hitch in his throwing mechanics connected to the sprained left knee is a contributing factor to the significant decline in Brissett’s efficiency.

Gardner Minshew II:

At least Sunday should be entertaining. Minshew makes his 12th start and the sixth-round draft pick has not been boring. Minshew Mania has consisted 18 TDs and just five interceptions. He’s been at his best when plays have broken down. Notice the 337 yards on 62 rushes/scrambles.  But he’s also been sacked 30 times.

 Minshew offers a challenge to the Colts defense, but also represents the second rookie QB it will face in as many games. They dominated Carolina’s Will Grier. Facing Minshew and Grier in consecutive games beats the heck out of a Jameis Winston-Drew Brees doubleheader.

Minshew’s job might be tougher than normal. His leading rusher, Leonard Fournette (1,152 yards), has been downgraded to doubtful with an illness.

And the winner is:

Colts 24, Jaguars 13. Just because.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

And be sure to catch the Colts Blue Zone Podcast:

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