Colts, Titans in playoff chase

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (left) and wide receiver Blair White hope to turn their season...

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (left) and wide receiver Blair White hope to turn their season around as they travel to Tennessee to take on the Titans on Thursday. (REUTERS/Brent Smith)

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, Last Updated: 12:27 PM ET

There was a point in this 2010 season where the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans appeared to be the clear-cut top two contenders for the AFC South crown.

But when the time comes for these divisional foes to face one another Thursday at Nashville's LP Field, both find themselves merely trying to stay alive in the playoff chase.

The Colts and Titans each spent a period in sole possession of first place in the AFC South at midseason, before the teams fell victim to unexpected and prolonged slumps that are still ongoing. Indianapolis was 6-3 and owned a one-game advantage atop the standings in mid-November, but has since lost three straight times. Tennessee held a half-game lead in the division race at 5-2 through Week 7, but hasn't prevailed in five subsequent outings as a wave of turmoil has engulfed the normally-stable franchise.

As it stands now, Thursday's participants are both looking up at the surprising Jacksonville in the pecking order, with the 7-5 Jaguars registering their fourth win in five games with last weekend's 17-6 decision over the lifeless Titans in Nashville.

The Colts' free-fall may be viewed as the more shocking of the two, considering the defending AFC champions have reached the playoffs in each of the last eight campaigns and had won 12 regular-season games or more in seven consecutive years prior to this one. However, Indianapolis has been unable to withstand a litany of injuries at several key positions and more importantly, an uncharacteristically bad stretch from quarterback Peyton Manning.

The four-time NFL MVP enters Thursday's tilt mired in the worst three-week sequence of his brilliant career, having thrown an unheard-of 11 interceptions during the Colts' current skid. Manning was picked off four times in last week's 38-35 home overtime loss to resurgent Dallas, with the Cowboys returning two of the turnovers for touchdowns and the last one setting up the game-ending field goal in extra time.

Manning also tossed four interceptions and had two taken back for scores in a forgettable 36-14 setback to San Diego the previous week, Indianapolis' most lopsided loss at home since the organization took the future Hall of Famer with the No. 1 overall pick of the 1998 draft.

Despite their recent woes, the Colts still control their own destiny in the team's quest for a seventh AFC South title in eight years. Following Thursday's important clash, Indianapolis will host the high-flying Jaguars in Week 15 and can edge out Jacksonville in a tie-breaker if it's able to win its four remaining contests.

The Colts will be heading into the Music City a banged-up bunch, however, with top running back Joseph Addai (neck), slot receiver Austin Collie (concussion) and starting linebacker Clint Session (forearm) all slated to miss another week and cornerback Jerraud Powers forced to injured reserve after fracturing his forearm against the Cowboys.

Believe it or not, the Titans actually have greater problems than their opponent at the moment. An offence now being directed by declining veteran Kerry Collins hasn't produced a single touchdown in 13 straight quarters, while a once-formidable defence has been gashed for 188 and 258 rushing yards, respectively, in defeats to division members Houston and Jacksonville over the past two weeks.

Collins, pressed into duty in the aftermath of troubled quarterback Vince Young's season-ending thumb injury and well-publicized tirade at head coach Jeff Fisher following an overtime loss to Washington in Week 11, completed a substandard 14-of-32 passes for 169 yards and was intercepted twice in last Sunday's matchup with the Jaguars.

The offence did receive a welcome bit of good news this week, however, as emerging wide receiver Kenny Britt is on track to return from a torn hamstring that's sidelined him for Tennessee's entire losing streak in time for Thursday's test. The talented second-year pro racked up 225 receiving yards and hauled in three Collins touchdown strikes in his last game, a 37-19 home victory over Philadelphia on Oct. 24.

Indianapolis will be attempting to avoid its first four-game slide since dropping five in a row from Nov. 11-Dec. 10, 2001, the last season the Colts failed to make the playoffs.


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