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Pagano: Colts-Titans 'playoff football' this week
Indianapolis has won 10 straight matchups versus Tennessee, dominating a weak AFC South over the past half-decade.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano understands, though, that this week's showdown with the surging division-rival Titans will be the toughest of his tenure.
"It's playoff football, really," Pagano said Wednesday, via Jim Wyatt of the Titans official website.
Pagano added that Mike Mularkey's squad presents a "huge challenge" as the hottest offense in the league.
The Titans have scored 35 or more points in three consecutive games for the first time in franchise history. They are averaging an NFL-best 33.7 over the last six games.
As Gregg Rosenthal pointed out in his weekly NFL debriefing, the "exotic smashmouth" jokes are dead. Mularkey is no longer a punchline.
After struggling to adjust to a new offense with several key additions in September, the organization's vision of power football is coming to fruition.
Whereas the Colts are overly dependent on Andrew Luck to carry a talent-poor roster and a push-over defense, the Titans are emerging as the most potent all-around team in the division.
Marcus Mariota is becoming established as a viable franchise quarterback, posting a 68.0 completion rate, 17:3 TD-to-INT ratio and 119.0 passer rating over the past six weeks. Second only to Ezekiel Elliot in the rushing race, DeMarco Murray has recaptured 2014 Offensive Player of the Year form. Delanie Walker is headed for his second straight Pro Bowl selection.
The other side of the ball isn't without stars of its own. Jurrell Casey remains one of the league's most disruptive defensive linemen. Brian Orakpo's 9.0 sacks are just one behind the NFL lead. Rookie safety Kevin Byard is flashing playmaking skills in the secondary.
These aren't the same old Titans that Pagano has feasted upon in the past.
The postseason might not start for another two months, but this is shaping up as a crucial battle in an AFC South that is there for the taking.