Emotionally jarred Colts host Packers minus Pagano

There's a game Sunday in Indianapolis, but you'll forgive the hosts if their focus is somewhere other than on the Green Bay Packers.

The Colts disclosed head coach Chuck Pagano's diagnosis of leukemia on Monday and the first-year head man is expected to be hospitalized six to eight weeks while undergoing treatment. Pagano, who turned 52 Tuesday, will be treated with chemotherapy and drugs, according to his physician Dr. Larry Cripe.

"I think short of death, this is the worst type of news you want to hear," rookie quarterback Andrew Luck said. "We'll do everything we can in honor of what coach Pagano is going through in honor of his fight, which is much more important than this kid's game we play."

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who himself was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007, will lead Indianapolis on an interim basis until Pagano returns, which probably won't be this season.

In his absence, the week's rallying cry for the Colts is making an unlikely run to the playoffs, which would give Pagano a better shot at returning to the sidelines this season.

Though, in reality, simply winning this week would be plenty.

"I know in meeting with the team, in meeting with the coaches, there's nothing more than we want to get that Green Bay game ball and have a victory game ball and be able to walk that into the hospital and put that in his hands," team owner Jim Irsay said. "That's our goal."

However, with Green Bay coming in on what would be a three-game win streak if not for a celebrated referee error, the task is a tough one.

The Packers scored on their second possession in a defeat of New Orleans last week -- the first time they'd scored in the first quarter this season -- and finished with their highest scoring output of 2012. Green Bay scored 28 points against the Saints after averaging 19 points in their first three games.

By contrast, the Packers averaged 35 points per game in 2011, the fifth- highest total in NFL history.

"The offense (was) playing more the way we're accustomed to playing here the last couple years," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "Felt good to get back on track. Felt good to score in the first half and first quarter. It was important for us to start fast."

Rodgers finished with 319 yards and four touchdowns and wasn't sacked against New Orleans. In the first three games of the season, the reigning league MVP averaged 248.3 yards with three TDs and was intercepted twice while being sacked 16 times.

The Packers also finished with 102 rushing yards, breeding both success and confidence.

"If we keep that going, we can run the table here," tight end Jermichael Finley said.

Though Indianapolis outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (sprained ankle) may return, Green Bay could have another good time against a Colts team allowing 27.7 points per game. An 80-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of Week 3 cost Indianapolis a win against Jacksonville in what would up as a 22-17 verdict for the Jaguars.

Luck's chance at a rally after that big-play miscue instead saw him miss on five of six passes.

"I point the finger at myself, some bad decisions," the No. 1 overall pick said, after finishing with 22 completions in 46 passes for 313 yards, two scores and an interception. "I think the big finger should be pointed at me. I'm sure everybody feels like they have something to clean up."

The all-time series between the teams is even at 20-20-1, though the Packers have won three of the last five games, including a 34-14 rout at Lambeau Field in their last meeting in October 2008.

The Colts won, 45-31, the last time the teams played in Indianapolis. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy is 1-0 against Indianapolis.


The Packers aren't typically identified as a run-heavy team, but against a Colts defense that seems particularly vulnerable, it may be the right approach. Veteran Cedric Benson ran for a touchdown in his last game against the Colts - while with the Bengals in 2011 - and he's averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in both of the games this season in which he's carried at least 18 times. As a unit, Indianapolis has allowed 131.3 yards per game on the ground, including 80 by Chicago's Matt Forte and 177 from Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew. Green Bay, which averages 84.3 rush yards per game over four weeks, has won both games in which it ran for more than 100.


For all the talk of motivation and inspiration and all else, it's simply difficult to envision an emotionally-jarred Colts team picking up the pieces after a devastating announcement and handling what looks to be a surging team that's long been among the NFL elites. It may be Benson carrying the load with his legs or Rodgers doing so with his arm, but either way it's likely to end with the Packers scoring often enough to win comfortably.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 31, Colts 14