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SAM FARMER'S WEEK 15 NFL STORY LINES

Colts, Saints are relentlessly pursuing . . . what, exactly?

Regular-season perfection is still on the table for the NFL's two 13-0 teams, but that may not be a priority for either Indianapolis or New Orleans. Will discretion be the better part of valor?

December 16, 2009|By Sam Farmer | On The NFL
  • Colts backup quarterback Curtis Painter could see a lot of playing time the next few weeks now that Indianapolis has clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Colts backup quarterback Curtis Painter could see a lot of playing time… (Darron Cummings / Associated…)

Perfection or peace of mind?

That's the question confronting the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints. Should they keep pursuing 16-0 seasons full tilt, or ease up on the accelerator to rest players for the postseason?

The Saints haven't checked everything off their list -- they have yet to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs -- but the Colts are where they need to be.

Indianapolis plays Thursday at Jacksonville, a team the Colts defeated by just two points in their opener at home. Former Colts coach Tony Dungy said he expects to see "a ton" of backup quarterback Curtis Painter in place of Peyton Manning, and team President Bill Polian has indicated perfection is not a priority. It will be interesting to see whether rookie Coach Jim Caldwell decides to play his starters, and for how long, or takes a pass on a chance at history.

New Orleans, which plays host to Dallas on Saturday night, can lock up home-field advantage this weekend but needs a bit of help. The easiest way the Saints can achieve that is with a win over the Cowboys, and a loss by Minnesota at Carolina.

"Our focus is strictly on this game and in a short week preparing to play this game," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "All the other scenarios and everything else that will be written and talked about for the upcoming weeks is fine, but I just know where our focus will be."

Making things simple

Three teams -- San Diego, Minnesota and Cincinnati -- can achieve something big just by winning Sunday.

The Chargers can clinch a playoff berth, and the Vikings and Bengals can win their divisions.

San Diego plays host to Cincinnati in a game that pits the leading teams in the AFC West and North. The Chargers, who have won an NFL-record 16 consecutive games in December, have won eight in a row since stumbling to a 2-3 start.

If Denver loses to Oakland, the Chargers win the division. If that happens and New England loses at Buffalo, the Chargers get the bonus of a first-round bye.

Who's No. 1?

While the top of the league talks perfection, the bottom is jockeying for the No. 1 pick in the draft.

As it stands, the bottom four teams are Tampa Bay (1-12), St. Louis (1-12), Detroit (2-11) and Cleveland (2-11).

When there's a tie, the draft order is decided not on head-to-head results, but on strength of schedule, meaning the team with the weaker slate of games drafts first.

Among those four, the strength of schedule this season, from strongest to weakest, goes: Tampa Bay, Detroit, St. Louis, Cleveland.

That means the Rams are in the driver's seat. If you can call it that.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer

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