At the start of his daily news briefings, Jets coach Rex Ryan reads a list of injured players and their status for that day's practice. Yesterday's report started off quite differently, though.
"Manning, Clark, Addai, Reggie Wayne, Freeney, Mathis, Brackett," Ryan began, a hint of a smile crossing his lips. "All those guys will not play. Tom Moore, Howard Mudd and JT should get extended Christmas break, it says here."
The Jets' coach/comedian then delivered the punchline.
"Oh, hold up. That was my wish list for Santa Claus."
Evidently, Ryan is hoping Colts coach Jim Caldwell decides to rest his key players like Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett and Joseph Addai. Not only that, he's suggesting Caldwell also give offensive coordinator Moore, offensive line coach Mudd and defensive line coach John Teerlinck some time off now that the 14-0 Colts have clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
"I'd just as soon play those guys in the playoffs, then we'll find out," Ryan said. "But I'd just as soon not see it, you know? I just want to win."
Chances are Ryan is going to have to beat the genuine item Sunday, because Colts first-year coach Caldwell said he plans to play this one like he did on Dec. 17 against the Jaguars. The Colts had home-field advantage wrapped up before that one, but Caldwell played most of his starters the whole way. Indy pulled out a 35-31 thriller in Jacksonville to extend their NFL record win streak to 23, as Manning threw for four touchdowns and solidified his grasp on his unprecedented fourth MVP award.
"The plan is to attack it just like we do every week," Caldwell said. "We're going to prepare to go in and play hard, and we haven't made any declaration on who's playing how long, much like we did last week."
Translation: Look for the Colts to stay on the roll they've been on all season, even though there is nothing left for them to gain in terms of playoff seeding.
Give Caldwell credit for taking the right approach. With his first playoff game still more than three weeks away, Caldwell is keeping the Colts focused on a week-to-week basis, and not thinking big picture. There is no talk of an unbeaten season. No looking ahead to the playoffs. The focus is on the next game, and that happens to be the Jets.
But Caldwell is taking a cautious approach with players nursing injuries. That includes resting star defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, both of whom saw spot duty against the Jaguars in obvious pass-rush situations. Neither practiced Wednesday.
It's a sound strategy, similar to the one used by Giants coach Tom Coughlin in the final game of the 2007 regular season. Remember that one? The Giants were about to face the unbeaten Patriots at home after clinching a wild-card playoff berth with a win over the Bills. Even though they didn't have a bye week, and even though there was nothing to be gained seeding-wise, Coughlin opted to play his starters against the Patriots.
The Giants wound up losing, 38-35, but they played brilliantly on offense and gained that much more confidence going into the playoffs. The Giants won their first three playoff games to reach Super Bowl XLII, and then beat the 18-0 Patriots in one of the greatest upsets ever.
Is a similar playoff run in the offing for the Colts? Too soon, they say. This week is only about the Jets.
Good luck, Rex.