KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Bonnie Bernstein
SERIES: 21st meeting. Colts lead 12-8. The Baltimore Colts defeated the Bengals in one playoff game, 17-0 in Baltimore, in 1970. The Bengals were 4-4 against the Baltimore Colts in regular season games and are 4-8 against the Indianapolis Colts. The last meeting was in 2002 at Indianapolis. The Colts won 28-21.
2005 RANKINGS: Colts: offense 2nd (6th rush, 8th pass); defense 4th (9th rush, 8th pass). Bengals: offense 5th (15th rush, 7th pass); defense 15th (24th rush, 10th pass)
PREDICTION: Colts 24-21
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals are plus-20 in turnover differential, which is exactly double the next best mark in the league. That's a critical statistic for Cincinnati, which will need to win turnover margin to have a chance against the Colts. Bengals CBs Tory James and Deltha O'Neal have the ability to change the game, so the Colts will try to establish RB Edgerrin James early on against a defense allowing 4.7 yards per carry. If he's successful in setting up the play-action pass for QB Peyton Manning, the Bengals will be in trouble. Cincinnati will counter with its own running game in an attempt to control the clock. The Colts' Cover-2 defense is designed to prevent big pass plays, but it could open running lanes for RB Rudi Johnson. The Bengals will still have to complete a few big pass plays, but they desperately want to avoid putting QB Carson Palmer in long passing situations with DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis bearing down on him.
FAST FACTS: Colts: Can become first team in seven years to begin a season 10-0. ... Are 17-1 in past 18 regular-season games. ... Seek fourth consecutive 10-win season for first time in franchise history. Bengals: Only defense in the NFL with three players who have at least four interceptions apiece. ... Seek first 8-2 start since 1988.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Colts: Despite getting off to an NFL-best 9-0 start this season, the Indianapolis Colts' road to the 2005 playoffs begins in earnest Sunday in Cincinnati. The clash between the Colts and Bengals (7-2) will begin what should be a telling string of games for Indianapolis. After playing Cincinnati in a nationally televised game this week, the Colts will face Pittsburgh (Nov. 28), Tennessee (Dec. 4), Jacksonville (Dec. 11), San Diego (Dec. 18) and Seattle (Dec. 24). With the exception of the Titans, all are strong contenders to earn spots in the postseason. A win over Cincinnati this week would put Indianapolis in a strong position for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. And while a loss to the Bengals wouldn't be a devastating blow to those aspirations, it would make the Colts' job that much tougher.
"We've got five AFC games coming up, and a lot of them will have a direct bearing on making the playoffs, and if you do make it, where you play and where you finish," Colts coach Tony Dungy said this week. "They're all going to be important. This is this week's 'Game of the Century.'"
The Colts hold a two-game lead over Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Denver in the chase for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. With a Colts win, the Bengals essentially fall four games off the pace, since Indianapolis would hold the tiebreaker. The Colts could create similar space a week later when they entertain the Steelers in the RCA Dome.
"(Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs) is like winning a first-round game without having to play it," Dungy said. "Anytime you
can do that, that's huge."
Bengals: In Cleveland, "The Drive" refers to a John Elway playoff comeback for Denver against the old Browns in January 1987. In Cincinnati, "The Drive" is the road trip quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Chad Johnson made to Indianapolis last season to watch Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison work on Monday night.
"(The drive) was boring. Carson is boring," Johnson said. "The music selection was boring, country, Shania Twain, or something like that."
Said Palmer, "It was a good chance to talk and to get to know each other better. People are so intrigued with this car ride, like Chad was teaching me how to rap."
They didn't take Johnson's pink 1971 Chevrolet Caprice Classic. "I refuse to go in that car," Palmer said.
The goal was to glean pointers from seeing Manning and Harrison work together. They hold the NFL records for duos in completions (755), passing yards (10,034) and touchdowns (90).
"The only fun thing was the (game) that we watched," said Johnson, who got tickets from Colts running back Edgerrin James, a friend from south Florida. "We have grown, and that's part of the success we're having now. That little trip ... has taken our level of play to another level."