KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 ET
TV: ESPN, Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann, Tony Kornheiser, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya
SERIES: 23rd meeting. The Indianapolis Colts lead the overall series, 14-8. Indianapolis has a 13-8 lead in the regular-season series between the two teams and has a 1-0 lead in post-season games. The Colts have won the last four meetings, including a wild 45-37 decision at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati a year ago.
2006 RANKINGS: Bengals: offense 7th (22nd rush, 4th pass); defense 26th (13th rush, 32nd pass). Colts: offense 2nd (18th rush, 2nd pass); defense 18th (32nd rush, 2nd pass)
PREDICTION: Colts 31-30
KEYS TO THE GAME: Opponents have done a good job of disrupting the Colts' offensive rhythm with the team dropping three of its past four games. With defenses focusing on taking away the big play, QB Peyton Manning needs a more consistent effort out of RBs Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai to aid in setting up play-action. Manning also clearly misses TE Dallas Clark as a third receiving weapon, but he has to regain his flow against a Cincinnati defense allowing just 8.25 points per game during the team's four-game winning streak. Manning knows he has to put points on the board consistently because the Colts can't stop anyone defensively, much less the Bengals' potent attack. Cincinnati has won 11 of its past 15 road games and will likely attack Indianapolis' woeful run defense (5.4 yards per carry) early in an effort to take the crowd out of the game. Then QB Carson Palmer can take shots to his big-play receivers against the Colts' small defensive backs.
FAST FACTS: Bengals: WR Chad Johnson is on pace to finish with a single-season franchise record 1,528 receiving yards. ... Have at least eight victories in four consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history. Colts: Manning has thrown six interceptions in the past four games.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Injured Bengals linebacker David Pollack will have surgery within the next few weeks to repair damage in his fractured neck, which likely will end his football career.
Pollack, who suffered a fracture of the C-6 vertebra in his neck Sept. 17 against Cleveland, visited spine specialist Dr. Anthony Guanciale on Thursday after having an MRI Wednesday and having his protective halo removed. The diagnosis is surgery, necessary to fuse two vertebrae.
In November, Pollack was asked if his football career would end if he required surgery. "Yeah, absolutely," he said at the time.
Pollack was not available for comment Thursday, but a statement released by the Bengals explained the situation: "The examination confirmed the need for surgery, which had been considered a possibility from the outset. ... The surgery will repair damage that occurred when Pollack made a hit on Cleveland running back Reuben Droughns."
Pollack suffered no paralysis from the injury. He was able to resume normal activities outside of football.
"No forecast of Pollack's eventual return to football will be made at this time," the statement read.
Pollack was the Bengals' first-round draft pick (17th overall) in the 2005 draft from Georgia. If his career does come to an end because of surgery, he would have had a star-crossed run in the NFL. After a contract holdout that prevented him from attending training camp last year, Pollack played in 14 games with 35 tackles and 4.5 sacks as a rookie. He suffered a sprained knee midway through the season. Pollack missed the 2006 opener against Kansas City because of a hamstring injury. He suffered the fractured neck on the second defensive snap of the second game.
"It's a very real possibility that I won't play again," Pollack said in November. "At the end of it, if the doctor says I'm 5 percent more likely to get injured again, there's a 0 percent chance I'll ever play again. That's a fact."
It's a question that has been haunting the Colts for most of the 2006 season. What the heck is wrong with the team's leaky and largely inconsistent defense? And what's changed from a defense that ranked second in the NFL last year in the least number of points allowed and was in the middle of the pack of most other league-related statistics?
The answers to those queries are many and varied. While the nucleus of the Colts defense has remained largely the same the past two seasons, injuries, illness and salary-cap decisions have certainly played a part in the unit's slide.
Among the key performers who have either left the team via free agency or have been sidelined for the year due to medical problems are outside linebacker David Thornton (now with the Titans), defensive tackle Larry Tripplett (signed with the Bills), defensive tackle Corey Simon (illness), defensive tackle Montae Reagor (head and facial injuries from an automobile accident) and safety Mike Doss (knee).
Consistency, or the lack thereof, has been a major problem. Whether it's because of injuries and the loss or lack of personnel, Indianapolis hasn't done a very good job on a week-to-week basis.
And while some would point to the team's defensive alignment, the Cover 2, as a major culprit, it's the same scheme that has served coach Tony Dungy well both in his previous assignment in Tampa Bay and last year with the Colts.
Dungy has tried to downplay the rash of injuries that have played havoc with the team's depth along the defensive line and in the secondary, even though the Colts were down to their fifth- and sixth-string safeties for most of the game in last week's embarrassing 44-17 loss to Jacksonville. The Jaguars ran for 375 yards and had a pair of runners pick up more than 130 yards each.
"No matter who is here, you have to get the job done. You can't look at injuries, you can't look at anything (else)," Dungy said. "This is what we have, and this is the group that we have to get the job done. And I believe we can.
"We held people down and we didn't let people score last year. We didn't give up a lot of big plays. We made people work for it. Our run defense was better than it is this year, but we didn't give up a lot of long plays. That's what has happened to us this year, we've given up a ton of big plays that we have to get corrected."