Ed Thompson's Colts Blog: 12/17

Playoffs? Playoffs? That's right, the Colts could be in the playoffs by the end of the day Sunday. Find out how while also checking out some interesting stats trends, why the Bengals are going to focus on stopping the run, and why Ricky Proehl should be a bit ticked heading into Monday night.

Well, if you were debating which games to watch today since the Colts don't play the Bengals until Monday night, here's your lineup.

At 1:00, keep an eye on Jacksonville (8-5) at Tennessee (6-7).  The rejuvenated Titans have won four in a row, but host a Jaguars team that has won three of their last four and gained even more confidence after their shellacking of Indy last Sunday. And while the Titans will undoubtedly try to shutdown the potent 1-2 rushing punch of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew,  Tennessee's run defense isn't much better than the Colts, allowing 140.9 rushing yards allowed per game. And they're last in the league in total defense at 364.4 yards per game. But if Vince Young and the Titans can find a way to win, a loss by the Jaguars clinches the AFC South for the Colts.

If the Jaguars prevail, then flip over at 4:15 and cheer for former Colts Edgerrin James and Troy Walters to defeat the Denver Broncos in Arizona. Sure, it's not likely, but wouldn't it be ironic if James propelled his former team into the playoffs by having a big day against Denver? A Broncos loss clinches a playoff spot for the Colts.

Here are a few of the other playoff scenarios in the AFC this weekend...

-- The Chargers, who have already won their division and have the best record in the AFC at 11-2, can clinch a first-round bye with a win at home against the Chiefs and a Colts loss Monday night.

--  New England clinches the East if they can get some help from the Jets. If the Patriots defeat Houston at home and the Jets either lose or tie at Minnesota, they'll wrap up their division today.

-- The Ravens can clinch the AFC North with a win at home over Cleveland combined with a Bengals loss to or tie at Indy. They can also clinch with a tie against Cleveland and a Cincy loss. The Ravens can at least secure a playoff berth with a win or tie today, or with a loss or tie by Cincy or Denver. They also can grab that playoff spot with four other pairings of teams losing or ending up in a tie, so the bottom line is they're the odds-on favorite to have at least a playoff spot secured by the end of Sunday.

It's going to be interesting to see which players trot out on the field on defense the first time the Bengals have the ball on Sunday night. About the only portion of the lineup that appears to be set is the defensive line.

Colts 2nd-year safety Matt Giordano (AP/David Terrill)
At safety, it'll be Matt Giordano and Dexter Reid trying to fend off the likes of Carson Palmer and his potent receiving corps unless Antoine Bethea (shoulder), Marlin Jackson (shoulder), or Bob Sanders (knee) is feeling much better as of Monday morning.  All three got some practice time in on Saturday, but how they are feeling following those workouts will be a big factor in how well the Colts are able to defend against the run and the deep pass. With Bethea and Jackson's trying to rebound from shoulder injuries, you have to wonder if the Colts will risk them aggravating their injuries asking them to throw themselves at Rudi Johnson when the Colts could still wrap up the AFC South with a single win against either Houston or Miami or a single loss by the Jaguars by the end of the season. If Jacksonville falters today or the Cardinals knock off Denver, those three safeties could be reserves this week regardless of how they feel Monday morning to allow them another week of healing time.

At linebacker, we still don't know if we'll see incumbent Gilbert Gardner of veteran Rob Morris, who took some reps at strongside this week. You also might see more of Kelvin Hayden at the nickel position depending on Marlin Jackson's status and that of the other injured safeties. And while you can expect to see Nick Harper and Jason David lined up at cornerback, there's been some rumor mill stuff floating out there that the Colts might swap up and put Harper on Chad Johnson since he torched David last year when the two teams met. I'm not sure it's really necessary as David has been playing much better ball this season and would still be facing a very dangerous T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Bengals' No. 2 wide receiver leads the team in TD receptions (8) and trails Johnson in catches by just four with 73 on the year.

Veteran receiver Ricky Proehl should be very active in this game as the Colts' slot receiver and should be playing with a chip on his shoulder. This week, NFL analyst Joe Theismann said, "What Peyton has around him is diminished. He doesn't have his tight end (Dallas Clark) or his third wide receiver (Brandon Stokley). Both teams have great No. 1 and 2 receivers, but the real difference comes at No. 3. The Bengals have Chris Henry and the Colts have Ricky Proehl. I mean I love Ricky Proehl, but come on."

Bengals defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan told the media this week that Cincy will try to stop the Colts' rushing attack just like Jacksonville did last week to force the Colts to be more one-dimensional.

"You have to stop the run because of all that hard play-action snaps they try to do," he explained. "That's where they're going to get you biting up and he's got such an accurate arm he can pinpoint those little seam passes in there. If you take that out of there, that really helps you. They've got two solid backs."

Here are a few interesting offensive team stats out of Cincy that you should know about. Over the past five games, the Bengals offense has been held to less than 27 points just once ... Over the last three weeks, their offense has averaged just 11 points in the second half and a total of just 7 points in the fourth quarter ... Over the last 7 weeks, the Bengals' third-down conversion rate has consistently dropped off after a good performance and spiked back up after a poor performance in that category. The good news for Indy? The Bengals posted a 63% conversion rate, their best of the stretch, so hope that recent history repeats itself and they bottom out again this week ... Over the last two weeks, Cincy has failed to convert all three of their goal-to-go situations into a touchdown.

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