KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
SERIES: 17th meeting including playoffs. Denver leads the regular-season series 11-4 but the Colts won the only playoff meeting. That Colts' playoff win was last season, a 41-10 victory at Indianapolis.
2004 RANKINGS: Broncos: offense 5th (4th rush, 6th pass); defense 4th (4th rush, 6th pass). Colts: offense 2nd (15th rush, 1st pass); defense 29th (24th rush, 31st pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Broncos' chances lie on the shoulders of QB Jake Plummer. There is no doubt the Colts are going to put points on the board, the question is whether Plummer can avoid the costly turnovers and play at the high level he has been at for the past two weeks. RBs Reuben Droughns and Tatum Bell have emerged as a solid tandem as long as they hold onto the ball, and they must have success on early downs because Colts DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will terrorize Plummer in long passing situations and could forced game-changing plays. Denver traded for CB Champ Bailey in large part because of the thrashing it suffered at the hands of Colts QB Peyton Manning in last season's playoff meeting. While Bailey will be locked in a good duel with WR Marvin Harrison, the rest of the Broncos' secondary is a big question mark. Keeping tabs on WRs Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley might prove too much to handle as Denver doesn't run very deep at corner. And if RB Edgerrin James is running well to set up the play-action pass, there will be little the Broncos can do to slow the onslaught.
FAST FACTS: The Broncos have not won a playoff game since Super Bowl XXXIII. The Broncos are 0-2 since the end of the 1998 season and haven't held the lead in a playoff game in that time. ... This will be the Colts' 18th postseason appearance in the 52-year history of the franchise. It's the eighth postseason appearance for the Colts since the team moved to Indianapolis in 1984, the seventh in the past 10 years and the sixth in the past six seasons. ... Colts coach Tony Dungy has a 2-2 record in NFL wild-card playoff games, going 1-2 with Tampa Bay and 1-0 in Indianapolis. Dungy is 2-0 in home wild-card games. ... Dungy has an overall postseason record of 4-6 while in Tampa and Indianapolis. ... QB Peyton Manning has completed 117-of-228 postseason pass attempts for 1,476 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. Manning needs 188 yards passing to become franchise's all-time playoff leader, moving ahead of John Unitas' total of 1,663 yards. He has already passed Unitas in postseason touchdowns (10-7) and for the longest touchdown pass in franchise playoff history (87 yards to WR Brandon Stokley vs. Denver last year). ... WR Marvin Harrison has caught more passes in Colts postseason history with 33 receptions for 496 yards and two touchdowns. He is 13 receptions ahead of Raymond Berry's 20 for 284 yards and one TD.
PREDICTION: Colts 31-23
--DE Trevor Pryce practiced through the week and will be ready to play at Indianapolis. Pryce will still be limited, but his presence should help Denver's pass rush.
--S Kenoy Kennedy was upset on Thursday about an Indianapolis newspaper report reacting to Kennedy calling the Colts receivers soft. Kennedy never said that. He said that Colts receivers don't like to get hit, not that they're soft, and said that comment was taken out of context.
--P Jason Baker was added to the Broncos injury report with a groin injury. He is listed as probable and should be able to play. Baker is also Denver's kickoff specialist.
--RB Tatum Bell has been playing with a separated shoulder. He said he is still sore, and playing on the hard artificial turf of the RCA Dome won't help. The Broncos can't afford to lose Bell, who has emerged as a big-play threat over the past month.
--LB D.J. Williams was named the NFL's defensive rookie of the month for December. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said Williams' maturity and knowledge of the game makes him the most impressive defensive rookie he has been around.
--FS Bob Sanders did not practice Thursday due to a bout of the flu. Sanders is expected to play Sunday against Denver.
--WR Troy Walters has been cleared to play this week. Walters incurred a concussion in last week's game at Denver. After failing one neurological test, he has been given the okay to face the Broncos on Sunday.
--TE Dallas Clark saw non-contact work Wednesday and Thursday but has been cleared to play against Denver. Clark suffered a concussion after a helmet-to-helmet hit by Broncos S John Lynch last week.
--TE Marcus Pollard is still experiencing some soreness in his ankle but practiced Wednesday and Thursday. Pollard, who suffered a high ankle sprain three weeks ago, should be able to play against Denver on Sunday.
--OG Rick DeMulling practiced Wednesday and Thursday. He is expected to start the Denver game. DeMulling has missed the last three games with bruised rib cartilage.
--CB Nick Harper has been able to practice all week and will probably start against the Broncos. Harper missed last week's game in order to rest his back. He has been experiencing back spasms for the last several weeks.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The best thing the Denver Broncos can do in Sunday's playoff matchup against the Colts is control the ball.
Denver's running back duo of Reuben Droughns and Tatum Bell will be leaned on heavily to keep Denver's offense on the field and Indianapolis' offense off of it.
"I really don't want to put too much pressure on either one of them, but I think both of them have confidence and if they get the opportunity to run the ball or block, they can get the job done," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.
The Broncos have had success running against the Colts. The teams have met three times in the past two seasons, including last Sunday, and the Broncos have averaged 195.7 rushing yards in those games.
The key to Denver's regular-season win at Indianapolis last season was keeping their offense on the field. They controlled the ball for almost 45 minutes, a team record.
Sunday's game will be the biggest game Droughns has started at tailback in his career, but at least he has playoff experience. Bell, a rookie second-round pick who played sparingly in the first three months of the season because of injuries, has never played in a game this big.
"I think I understand, from watching the playoffs when I was in college and just talking to the other players," Bell said. "I know everyone is going to improve their game. It's going to be five times harder than we saw last week."
Reggie Wayne has a simple message for all those who think that the Indianapolis Colts' receiving corps are a tad on the puny side: Bring it on.
The toughness question has become a major issue in the wake of last week's 33-14 loss to the Denver Broncos in the Colts' regular season-finale. Especially after the costly helmet-to-helmet hit that Denver safety John Lynch laid on Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark and forced Clark to the sidelines with a concussion.
But Wayne -- who is the biggest of the Colts' three primary receivers -- isn't worried. Neither are Brandon Stokley or Marvin Harrison, who figures to garner most of the Broncos' attention.
"People try to make a statement every week. Football is a physical game. I've been playing this game since I was seven years old and there is no coward in my blood. I'll be there. I'm not going to stay home. Our team will be there," Wayne said, adding that he wouldn't be surprised if Denver's secondary resorts to the same type of grab and hold tactics that helped New England in its 24-14 win over Indianapolis in last year's AFC championship game.
"That's football. That's their job. In college, our receivers coach told us, 'If they hold you, they win.' It's a judgment call for the officials. It's our job to not let them grab and hold. We have to go out and play football and we will be fine."
Colts coach Tony Dungy, who was instrumental in helping to develop Lynch's career when both were in Tampa Bay, says that he isn't worried about the durability of his receivers or their ability to make plays against Denver.
"It's hard to catch a lot of balls in the NFL if you're not tough. We've got three guys that have caught a lot of balls and they've done it for a long time. I don't think you stay in the league being soft," he said.
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