With a 31-17 comeback victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers earned the right to head to Indianapolis next Sunday to face the 14-2 Colts.
The Steelers knocked Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer out of the game with torn ligaments in his knee on the second Cincinnati offensive play of the game. The Bengals were left wondering about what could have been, as Palmer completed a 66-yard pass to rookie Chris Henry on the play, only to be left prone on the field until the a cart took him away for an MRI. Word filtered down later that Carson was done for the year even if Cincinnati would have won the contest.
Henry had to leave the field shortly thereafter with an injury he evidently sustained on the same play, sidelining him for balance of the contest. Backup Jon Kitna kept the Bengals in the game until the second half when the Steelers scored 17 unanswered points to claim the victory.
The Steelers will undoubtedly be excited about a return to Indianapolis since the opportunity extends their playoff hopes. But earlier this year they were so disoriented by the incredible crowd noise at the RCA Dome that it led to false allegations that the team was piping in noise through their PA system to disrupt the visiting team. Next Sunday will be an opportunity for Colts fans to show the nation that the noise was purely fan-powered by repeating that feat.
The Steelers lost to the Colts in that first matchup 26-7 as the defense totally stifled the Steelers rushing attack, holding them to just 58 yards until the final Pittsburgh possession. Willie Parker added 28 yards with less than two minutes remaining and the game out of reach.
The game will mark the first time the Colts have hosted the Steelers in a playoff game since their move to Indianapolis in 1984. The Colts lost to the Steelers in the playoffs twice following that move, both times at Pittsburgh.
Back in 1995 -- when Jim Harbaugh was at the helm of the Colts offense -- the Colts lost the first game in a heartbreaker on a failed Hail Mary pass in the AFC Championship Game. And Harbaugh's Colts were then blown out in the following year, 42-14.
While the team was in Baltimore, the Colts also dropped two playoff games to the Steelers. The first was a 28-10 loss in 1975 at Pittsburgh, and then 40-14 in 1976 at Baltimore. In those four previous playoff meetings, the Steelers have outscored the Colts 130-54.
But this year it's the Colts that have the high-powered offense, ranking third overall in the league with 362.4 yards per game and second in points scored with 439 (27.4/game) -- despite resting their starters the last two weeks of the season. Based on the first fourteen games, the first-string was averaging 29.2 points per game.
They'll face a Steelers defense that finished the regular season ranked fourth overall, yielding 284.0 yards per game. They were also third-best in points allowed (16.1/game). But the last time they tried to handle the Colts offense, Indianapolis put 26 points on the board while rolling up 366 total net yards.
The Steelers offense finished the regular season as a mediocre 16th-ranked offense with 321.8 yards per game and 9th in points scored with 389 (24.3/game). They'll try to come up with a better plan than they were able to execute the last time they were in Indianapolis when they were held to 7 points and 197 yards.
The Colts defense finished the regular season 2nd in points allowed (15.4/game) and 11th overall (307.1 yards/game).
Kickoff at the RCA Dome is at 1:00 pm (ET) on Sunday on CBS. The Patriots will head to Denver to play the Broncos at 8 pm (ET) on Saturday night. The winner of each game will meet in the AFC Championship Game the following weekend.
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