Indianapolis Colts (6-0) at Denver Broncos (5-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
SERIES: 16th meeting. The Colts lead the series 11-4 over the Denver Broncos. The Colts also have a pair of blowout wins in the playoffs. Three seasons ago Denver lost 41-10 at Indianapolis in an AFC Wild Card game, then two seasons ago the Colts beat the broncos 49-24 in an AFC Wild Card game.
2006 RANKINGS: Colts: offense 3rd (16th rush, 2nd pass); defense 18th (31st rush, 3rd pass). Broncos: offense 23rd (4th rush, 30th pass); defense 4th (7th rush, 8th pass).
PREDICTION: Broncos 23-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: Something has to give. The Colts are averaging 28.5 points per game while the Broncos have the league's top-ranking scoring defense at 7.3 points per game and have surrendered just two touchdowns all season. Denver must find a way to contain QB Peyton Manning early and keep the game close because the Colts have outscored their opponents 101-57 in the second half this season. That also means a solid effort from an offense that has yet to show any consistency. It doesn't get any easier for the Broncos, who lost LT Matt Lepsis for the season and are likely to move RG Cooper Carlisle to the left side to deal with Colts DE Dwight Freeney. To avoid putting the reshaped line under too much pressure, Denver has to run the ball effectively early on. And that shouldn't be a monumental task with Indianapolis second-worst in the NFL allowing 158.0 rushing yards per game and dead last at 5.2 yards per carry.
Are the ninth team in league history to start consecutive seasons 6-0. The 1929-31 Green Bay Packers are the only team to start consecutive seasons 7-0. ... INVESCO Field is one of only three stadiums Manning has played in without throwing a touchdown pass.
Have won an NFL-best 13 consecutive home games. ... WR Rod Smith needs one reception to pass Steve Largent (819) for 12-most all-time.
--S Mike Doss, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the fourth quarter of last week's win over Washington, is out and will be sidelined for the remainder of the season.
--WR Brandon Stokley is recovering from a sprained left knee that he injured against Tennessee on Oct. 8. He has not practiced for the past two weeks and will be sidelined against the Broncos.
--LB Keith O'Neil incurred a sprained left ankle in the Washington game and has not practiced all week. He will not play this week against Denver.
--DT Montae Reagor is still hospitalized after undergoing surgery Wednesday to repair a broken orbital socket near his left eye. He was injured Sunday when his SUV was hit and flipped as he was driving from the Colts' offices to the RCA Dome prior to the game against Washington.
--DT Anthony "Booger" McFarland is expected to get his second consecutive start this week. McFarland was acquired from Tampa Bay in a trade last week. He made his first start for the Colts against Washington due to DT Montae Reagor's traffic accident.
--FB Kyle Johnson has practiced all week and should play against Indianapolis. Johnson missed last week's game with a sprained ankle.
--OT Erik Pears is one of the possible replacements for injured Matt Lepsis at left tackle. Pears is a tall, athletic lineman in the mold of the blockers the Broncos have preferred in their scheme. Pears is inexperienced, however, so if he is used at left tackle, the Broncos probably will have to help him.
--RB Tatum Bell is a key to this week's game against Indianapolis. He has a good matchup against a vulnerable run defense. The Broncos are looking for some big plays out of Bell, who hasn't produced as many this year as he did last year. Last year Bell had 10 20-yard runs and three 50-yard runs as a reserve, compared with three 20-yard runs and no 50-yard runs this year.
--WR Rod Smith has nine consecutive 70-catch seasons. He still has a shot at his 10th after a slow start. Smith needs to catch 48 passes in Denver's final 10 games to get 70 this season.
--LB Al Wilson is on the injury report with a thumb injury, but that shouldn't bother him. The Broncos might be without injured DT Gerard Warren, so Wilson will be a focal point in the middle of the defense this week.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Colts safety Bob Sanders sat out Thursday's afternoon practice but remains hopeful of being able to start against Sunday at Denver.
Sanders has missed the past four games as he recovered from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He was able to do some running Monday and took part in his first full practice Wednesday.
Although he experienced some soreness in his knee prior to the Thursday's workout, he thinks he will be able to play against the Broncos.
"I got a little work (Wednesday) and it was good to be back. It felt real good. I started off kind of slow, but as the day went on, I think I did pretty good," he said.
"(The knee is) kinda sore. We thought that it would be like that. Took (Thursday) off and just relaxed, give it another day to heal up a little bit more. But I think it will be fine for this weekend."
Broncos defensive tackle Gerard Warren said he doesn't know yet if he'll play Sunday against Indianapolis. He will have to manage the pain in his sprained right big toe, which he injured last week.
Warren said he won't take a painkilling shot, however.
"I don't take painkillers," Warren said. "You could take one, but I never take painkillers."
Warren said he is worried about having the injured area numb, and the injury getting worse during the game and not realizing it.
"You know how much pain you can take," Warren said. "With a painkiller, you can tear a tendon off the bone and be out for the whole season."
Warren didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday, but the team expects he will practice Friday. The Broncos will get a better idea if he'll be able to play after Friday's practice.
Warren is Denver's best defensive lineman, so losing him would be a big blow against Indianapolis. Demetrin Veal would start and Kenny Peterson would be active for the first time to provide depth if Warren can't play.
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