It's not quite the same as past Patriots-Colts matchups. Neither team is undefeated, and neither team is playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In fact, an Indianapolis win might result in neither the Patriots or the Colts making the playoffs -- something that hasn't happened, if you can believe it, since 1994.
To give you an idea of how long ago that was, Marshall Faulk was a rookie that season. Curtis Martin hadn't been drafted yet. Jim Mora's "Playoffs?" rant -- which happened near the end of the 2001 season in which the Patriots would win the Super Bowl -- wouldn't even happen for another seven years.
Highlights from Tony Dungy's conference call with reporters this week:
What has contributed to your team’s 3-4 start this season?
"For us, it has probably been inconsistency. When we look at the things that have really caused this it’s a lot of penalties that we don’t normally get, a lot of turnovers, things that we are doing that really cause you to lose games. We have played well in spurts but we really haven’t played good consistent football that we need to win these games and we have to get back to it pretty quick."
How different is this week’s game against the Patriots from in the past where both teams were usually at the top of the AFC?
"They are doing a little bit better than we are. I would say neither of us has played up to our expectations so far. This is going to be a big game. It’s pivotal in a lot of ways. When you are fighting like this you have to get wins and get a streak going. We have to get it turned around quickly and we are playing a very tough opponent to try to do that."
After your game against the Tennessee Titans last Monday night it sounded like you were conceding the AFC South to the Titans. Is that an accurate read of what you were saying?
"Realistically looking at it, we have to look at it that way. We have to really focus ourselves on improving, playing consistently and getting a win streak going. If we can get a streak like we have gotten in the past and roll off six or seven in a row, it still might not be enough to win the division but that is OK. If we can get ourselves playing well and get hot and be in that wild card race we will be in good shape.
Is this different for you as a coach with having a team that is fighting to stay alive in the playoff hunt?
"Lately, it has been, but it seems like this is a position that we were in during my last three years at Tampa. We were 3-4 and we fought back every year and got in the playoffs. One year, we ended up stringing up a good streak and going to the (NFC) championship game. It is not something that I am unfamiliar with but we haven’t been this inconsistent here in quite a while."
What do you take from those experiences with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that are applicable with the position your team is in now?
"Well, the fact that NFL football is really still all about November and December. If you are playing well at that time of year then that is what counts. The Giants proved that last year. Pittsburgh did a couple of years ago. You don’t want to dig yourself in too much of a hole but certainly this season isn’t over on September 30th or October 30th even."
How much has your offensive line’s struggles contributed to your overall problems this year?
"Surprisingly, our offensive line has been pretty solid, pretty consistent. Even our young guards (Mike Pollak and Jamey Richard), when they were starting, both of those guys did a pretty good job. I don’t think that is the biggest thing. We have had inconsistencies in our passing game. We have had penalties. We have given up big runs on defense -- things like that. Sure, we would love to have our veteran offensive linemen in there the whole way but that hasn’t really been the major problem."
How much is the time quarterback Peyton Manning missed in training camp and the preseason still affecting him?
"That is hard to say. I am sure that is there to a certain extent and that has been part of it. We were playing Baltimore and we threw a 70-yard touchdown pass and we had a holding penalty. That really doesn’t have anything to do with Peyton being in training camp or not. It is not everything but I am sure he is not as sharp as he would have been with a full training camp."
What has stood out to you with quarterback Matt Cassel?
"They are doing a great job, as they always do, of playing to people’s strengths. I think they have found what he does well. He is developing that chemistry with (Wes) Welker. He is making less and less mistakes every week. They are keeping the ball and controlling it with a short passing game. He is getting them into the right plays. It has been impressive. I think he has gotten more comfortable every week. That is kind of what it looks like on tape."
What are the chances of running back Joseph Addai and strong safety Bob Sanders playing this week against the Patriots?
"It looks like they are going to be able to play. Addai, Sanders and (Kelvin) Hayden are all scheduled to practice today. They went through the morning walkthrough and did fine. We expect to see them out at practice. If they have a good week of practice I think all three of them will play."