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Fantasy Football / It's tough to read the tea leaves when gauging Colts

Will the Indianapolis Colts go full throttle for immortality or will they be content just biding time until the playoffs begin?

If you've got quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Edgerrin James, receivers Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne, or tight end Dallas Clark on your fantasy roster, the answer may decide your playoff fate.

"The whole emphasis is: How do you get your team ready?" Colts owner Jim Irsay told the Indianapolis Star following Sunday's 26-18 victory at Jacksonville. "And you guys know all the arguments: Keeping the momentum versus resting, avoiding injuries, all those sorts of things. I know Tony (head coach Dungy) will take it all into consideration and make the right decision."

The Colts became just the fourth National Football League team ever to win its first 13 games. They face a difficult challenge Sunday at home against the San Diego Chargers. Indianapolis has clinched home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs; the Chargers (8-5) are in a dogfight just to reach the postseason.

The Chargers are the toughest team to run against in the league, yielding just 78.8 rushing yards per game. Only five of the other 15 AFC teams have surrendered fewer than the 252 points the Chargers have allowed. But if the Colts are playing at top speed, it shouldn't matter. They're third in the league in total offense with 373.5 yards per game and lead the NFL in scoring with 30.2 points, more than a full point better than the Chargers (29.1), who are third.

So how about it coach, which Colts can we expect against the Chargers?

"It's not going to be a situation where you take four weeks off without playing," Dungy told the Star. "I've got to gauge the team and how we're doing. They all want to play and they all want to keep trying to win. We'll rest the guys who need rest, but we're going to try to win."

Can history teach us anything about how 13-0 teams approach the next week? The 1934 Chicago Bears, 1972 Miami Dolphins and 1998 Denver Broncos all reached this point and the results in game No. 14 were mixed.

The NFL regular season was only 13 games in 1934, so the Bears' next game was the championship, on the road against the New York Giants in 9-degree weather at the Polo Grounds.

After the Giants lost, 27-7 and 10-9, during the regular season, New York turned the tables with a 30-13 upset after finishing 8-5. That was the famous "sneakers game," in which the Giants opened the second half wearing basketball shoes because the field had turned into a sheet of ice. They scored 27 points in the final quarter to overcome a 13-3 deficit. Chicago's Bronko Nagurski, who had rushed for 586 yards and seven TDs during the season, was kept out of the end zone. New York's Ken Strong scored 18 points on a pair of touchdown runs, a field goal and three PATs.

The 1972 Dolphins played a 14-game regular season and capped it with a 16-0 win over the 5-9 Baltimore Colts. There was no rest for workhorse backs Mercury Morris (26 carries for 86 yards) and Larry Csonka (18-71) in the finale. Both men were 1,000-yard rushers -- Csonka second in the AFC with 1,117 and Morris sixth in the conference at an even 1,000.

Like the Colts, the '72 Dolphins clinched things early, in Week 10. They finished seven games ahead of the second-place New York Jets (7-7) in the Eastern Division, but Morris rushed for 352 yards in the final four "meaningless" games; Csonka for 276. Miami, of course, won all three playoff games to finish 17-0.

The '98 Broncos, who had a six-game lead over the second-place Oakland Raiders in the AFC West going into their 14th game, played a stinker and lost, 20-16, to the 5-8 Giants, who entered as 13-point underdogs, on a New York touchdown with 48 seconds left. It ended Denver's 18-game winning streak; the Broncos regrouped and won a second consecutive Super Bowl.

But that didn't stop the Broncos' Terrell Davis, who finished the season with 2,008 rushing yards, from gaining 147 with a touchdown on 28 carries. Davis averaged 127.2 rushing yards in the first 13 games that season and didn't fall off much in the last three, averaging 118.

e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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