Colts, Steelers: Who's Hot....and Not

As the intensity builds in anticipation for the Colts and Steelers game Sunday, you have to wonder who is going to show and who is going to blow.

...There will be your playmakers -- making catches, making tackles breaking tackles and picking off passes. And there will be your chumps – dropping balls, missing tackles and fumbling on fourth-and-one.

Here are a few of the players who are as hot as you can get right now, as well as a few of the players who are not.

HOT

Marvin Harrison

After a somewhat slow start, "Marvelous" Marvin quietly heated up as the regular season ended. Through the first seven games of the season, Harrison only had one game with more than 100 yards receiving, and was only averaging around five receptions for 55 yards per game.

Granted, the Colts were running the ball more, but something tells me you've got to get your star receiver the ball more. Coincidentally, that's just what the Colts did. During his last three full games, Harrison averaged 111 yards receiving and one touchdown per game. In his final two full games against Jacksonville and San Diego, he averaged 136 yards per game.

Looking ahead to this week, Harrison had 128 yards receiving against Pittsburgh earlier in the seaason, including the 80-yard touchdown to set the pace for the Colts' 26-7 win.

Let's hope Marvin gets going early and often again this Sunday.

Bob Sanders

The Colts defensive leader has been a staple in the secondary all season.

Toward the end of the season, Sanders started to really turn up the heat, averaging more than eight tackles per game his final five games. This compares to his 5.6 tackles per game average in his first nine games.

In his final full game, Sanders had twelve tackles. In his final full two games, Sanders averaged nine tackles per game. He also recovered a fumble on Dec. 11th against Jacksonville.

Looking ahead to this Sunday, Sanders had nine tackles against Pittsburgh earlier in the season. After taking the last two weeks off, Sanders should be ready to get out and hit somebody.

Jerome Bettis

In quite possibly his last season in the NFL, "The Bus" will not be looking to make his last stop in Indianapolis. Bettis has 20 carries for 93 yards in his last two games, averaging 4.65 yards per carry. Always the bulldozer in the red zone, Bettis also has four touchdowns in the last two games.

Despite not getting the touches he once did, Bettis is still capable. In fact, Dec. 11 against Chicago, he got 17 carries for 101 yards and one touchdown. That's against a pretty darn good defense.

You never want to be on the tracks when the train is coming through – or in this case – the Bus. In sports, everyone always talks about "playing every game like it's your last." Well for Bettis, this very well could be his final game. Look for him to have a strong performance.

Troy Polamalu

The heart and soul of the Pittsburgh defense had quite the game against Cincinnati last week. Jon Kitna is obviously no Peyton Manning. But regardless, you can't argue with Polamalu's numbers. He had six tackles, an interception and a pass deflection against the Bengals.

The week before, Polamalu had 10 tackles, a forced fumble and a pass deflection against Detroit on Jan. 1st.

2006 has already been a good year for this third-year safety entering his prime. There is no doubt Polamalu will be looking to disrupt the Colts' offense Sunday. He already did in week 11, picking off a Manning pass and returning it for 36 yards. Manning will be focused on his presence.

NOT

Peyton Manning

Other than Shaun Alexander, the only person that could have possibly won the Most Valuable Player Award this year was Manning. However, as the season came to a close, Manning started to slow down a bit.

He didn't necessarily play bad. He just didn't play like the MVP – like he had been. In his final full game of the regular season, Manning had arguably his worst game. He was 26-of-45, completing 57.8 percent and throwing two interceptions for a 70.2 passer rating. Although those aren't exactly dreadful numbers, for the season, Manning is completing 67.3 percent of his passes, with a passer rating of 104.1. There is no doubt, comparatively, his numbers are on the down.

It must also be noted that the Colts' offensive line allowed seven sacks in Manning's final two full games. The front had only allowed a combined nine sacks in the 13 games prior to that. Manning was harassed constantly against San Diego, which must be a concern heading into Sunday.

Edgerrin James

Although it's important to acknowledge and remember what a great regular season Edge had, we also must not forget the way Edge ended his season. Like Manning, James was putting up MVP numbers for much of the season, but slowed down toward the end. In his first 11 games, James averaged 112.8 yards rushing per game and 4.49 yards per carry. In his final full three games, James averaged a mere 75 yards rushing and 3.17 yards per carry.

Edge crumpled his MVP bid and threw it in the trash against San Diego, rushing for a dismal 25 yards. Granted, he got only 13 carries, but he still only got 1.9 yards per carry. And if he's so valuable, then you have to wonder why he only got 13 touches.

In his defense, the offensive line played miserably in that game. But regardless of whose fault it is, the numbers were not there.

Edge is not hot coming into Sunday's game.

Hines Ward

The team Co-MVP may be more of an emotional leader than a playmaker these days. In his eighth year in the league, the Steelers No. 1 receiver may be losing a few steps. In his last two games, Ward has only three receptions for a combined 50 yards, averaging a dismal 25 yards receiving per game.

Against Cincinnati, Ward had only one reception for five yards. It was a touchdown reception. But nevertheless, one catch? Come on.

Ward averaged 62.3 yards receiving per game, prior to his last two performances. Look for him to be working back toward those numbers Sunday.

Ike Taylor

The third-year Pittsburgh cornerback has only six tackles in the past three games, averaging two tackles per contest.

Prior to this, Taylor was averaging 5.6 tackles per game. His season was highlighted with a 13 tackle performance in week three against the Patriots and a 10 tackle performance in week 11 against the Ravens.

Also note that Taylor also only has one interception on the season. Look for Manning to be throwing his way.


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