What seemed impossible less than a year ago is within reach on Sunday.
And what seemed improbable three months ago could be possible next week.
For the Indianapolis Colts, the chance to clinch the playoffs and maybe welcome back head coach Chuck Pagano within a 24-hour window is the NFL equivalent of a dream come true.
They control their own destiny with regard to the postseason. They await medical clearance with regard to Pagano.
Priority No. 1 is taking care of what they can control.
“We need to get in the playoffs. That’s all we’re thinking about, is getting there,” said interim coach Bruce Arians, whose team will get there with a win Sunday at Kansas City. Lose, and nothing is guaranteed.
“We’re not there yet. We’re going to have to beat a good team on the road at a really, really hostile environment this week,” Arians said. “I know Kansas City’s record doesn’t show it, but they’re one of the best defensive teams in the league, I think, talent-wise and scheme-wise.”
Kansas City’s record is 2-12. The Chiefs are coming off a 15-0 loss against the Oakland Raiders (4-10) and represent, on paper, the Colts’ path of least resistance to the playoffs.
Should they falter, they would get one last chance in the Dec. 30 season regular-finale at Lucas Oil Stadium — the opponent being the AFC South champion Houston Texans (12-2), which vanquished the mistake-prone Colts 29-17 over the weekend.
Not surprisingly, the Colts, who have not lost two games in a row all season, are determined to seize the moment at hand.
“We’ve just got to take care of our own. We win, we’re in; and that’s our focus, simple as that,” safety Antoine Bethea said.
“Going into Kansas City, we are going to feel pretty good. Have a good week of practice and go out there knowing that we need this win to get into the playoffs.”
Should the Colts (9-5) secure the postseason, it will mark one of the most dramatic turnarounds in NFL history. After starting the 2011 season with 13 straight losses, they finished 2-14; fired front office chiefs Bill Polian and Chris Polian; terminated head coach Jim Caldwell; released quarterback Peyton Manning; and essentially tore up the roster.
Projected to be the league’s worst team in 2012, the Colts — behind rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and a wealth of first-, second- and third-year players — have been its biggest surprise.
A playoff-securing win would bring the remarkable season full-circle. Well, almost.
Pagano, diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia in late September, has been on a leave of absence since Oct. 1. Initially, he was expected to miss the entire season, but he could return to work Monday and coach the final game against Houston.
Team officials expect to know more about Pagano’s status in the next few days.
“Still (up) in the air. I think later this week, hopefully, we’ll be able to know something for sure,” Arians said. “He feels great. He looks good, and his counts were good, and we’ve got our fingers crossed. I think the perfect thing would be come in Christmas Eve.
“It’d be a great Christmas present for all of us, and that’s what our goal is. Hopefully, he can start Monday.”