Sunday’s Colts-Jaguars game may feature a 2-13 team vs. a 4-11 team, but make no mistake this game has every bit of the intrigue as Sunday night’s winner take all Cowboys-Giants clash for the NFC East title. As most NFL aficionados are aware, if the Colts lose on Sunday they will select first in April’s draft, and likely get their future started with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Although anyone in the NFL draft is far from a sure thing, Luck looks the part and if the Colts get him they can likely continue their dominance of the AFC South in the very near future.
That’s where the Jacksonville Jaguars come in to play. Despite having a few playoff worthy teams over the past decade, the Jags have been the whipping boys of Peyton Manning and the Colts. Do they want that to continue for potentially another decade? Of course not, but try to convince their players that losing on Sunday is the best thing for the franchise.
“That sounds stupid. That sounds dumb. That completely goes against what we do this for. You never play to lose. That’s like asking ask some of them you go to work to get fired. Exactly. It’s the same thing. I’m not going to work to get fired. I’m going to work to keep my job. I’m going to play to get a pick. Nobody plays like that. We play to win. Regardless of the record, we play to win. We play hard. As long as you can say you gave your all, you can look yourself in the mirror and go to sleep. I’m sure a lot of us can do that,” Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey said.
The only group of players that care less about Andrew Luck than the Jaguars are the players which currently make up the roster of the Indianapolis Colts.
“I understand it from (the fans’) perspective. They’re looking at it and wanting the first pick. I don’t care what pick we get,” defensive end Dwight Freeney said this week. “I don’t care if we have no first-round picks. I don’t care. I go out there, I play hard every day. I let those who make those (draft) decisions worry about it. Those who play, we’re worrying about playing, playing hard and kind of let the chips fall where they fall.”
Reverse cheering, for example cheering for the Colts to lose if you’re an Indianapolis fan or rooting for the Jaguars to lose if you’re a Jaguars fan might extend throughout the fanbase and potentially to ownership, but not where it counts- the current players and coaching staffs of each team.
The average players career is roughly 3.3 years. Most players don’t spend their entire careers with one team. Why would they give anything less than 100 percent effort to potentially help a team they may not be on in a few years?
As for the idea of coaches purposely putting together a less than effective game plan, that makes even less sense. The contracts of the Jaguars coaching staff expire on Monday. It’s overwhelmingly likely that they will not be offered new deals so whatever is put on film this week is part of what they’ll be judged upon for their next potential employer. As for the Colts, there is no guarantee that head coach Jim Caldwell and his staff will be invited back for the 2012 season. The idea that Indianapolis could put together a bad game plan would be contradicting all the hard work of that entire staff.
“I do not (worry about it). My job is to win ballgames, plain and simple,” coach Jim Caldwell said of the potential benefits from an Indianapolis loss.
In the grand scheme of things, losing to the Colts would do the Jaguars much more good in the long-term than a meaningless Week 17 victory. Losing to the Jacksonville could restart another decade of Colts dominance in Indianapolis so tanking one game in a miserable season would far outweigh the stigma of a poor effort.
With that in mind, if you see a terrible interception thrown by a quarterback on Sunday it will be because Dan Orlovsky or Blaine Gabbert aren’t very good quarterbacks. If you see blown coverages in the secondary it will be because the secondaries of Jacksonville and Indianapolis are injury-ravaged and not extremely talented. Finally, if you see a missed block or a missed tackle, keep in mind that you are watching to teams who have six combined victories coming entering Sunday’s contest.
Both the Jaguars and Colts are more than capable of losing to each other without any foul play being involved.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie