Both teams are 8-4 and leading their divisions by considerable margins, with the Colts holding a three-game lead over the Tennessee Titans and the Bengals up two on the Baltimore Ravens. With only three games left after this contest, the winner has a stranglehold on the third seed in the AFC playoffs.
Meet the Colts
Andrew Luck is keeping this team going at this point. The second-year quarterback has been forced to make up for the rest of this team's inability, with wide receiver Reggie Wayne on the shelf with a torn ACL. Behind Luck, Trent Richardson has been so ineffective he has been benched in favor of Donald Brown. The offensive line also has been a sieve, giving up 29 sacks on the season.
However, Indianapolis is plodding along in fine shape to make the postseason thanks to Luck, who has thrown for 2,793 yards and 15 touchdowns. New offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has pulled the reigns in on the offense and made it much more ball-control oriented, but Luck has still been able to open up when needed. T.Y. Hilton has emerged as a legitimate playmaker, hauling in a team-high 56 catches for 791 yards.
Defensively, the main star of the show is outside linebacker Robert Mathis. Mathis leads the league with 15.5 sacks, despite nobody being a true threat on the other side. Jerrell Freeman is having a solid campaign with 97 tackles including five tackles for a loss.
Meet the Bengals
Andy Dalton is always the first name to come up when debating the Bengals. On one hand, Dalton puts together games as he did against the Detroit Lions, completing 24 of 34 attempts for 372 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Then, Dalton will show up and complete 24 of 51 for 274 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions as he did in a 20-17 overtime defeat to Baltimore.
Dalton's main target is A.J. Green, who is in the conversation as the best receiver in football not named Calvin Johnson. The former Georgia Bulldog has 72 catches and 1,103 yards with seven touchdowns on the season. Outside of Green, the offense is primarily based off of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard, who between them have 1,135 rushing yards and eight scores.
The defense has taken some major blows with defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall being out for the season. However, the unit is still strong thanks to the solid coaching of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and players such as Vontaze Burfict, Rey Maualuga and Carlos Dunlap. Dunlap leads the team with seven sacks while Burfict paces the club with 131 tackles, more than double of anybody else.
Local take: Indianapolis
Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue wrote about Luck and his lack of help last Sunday:
He wasn't great as a passer on Sunday, that's for sure. But at the same time, he made plays, and many of them without much help from his teammates (besides for the aforementioned offensive line struggles, starting wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey posted a -3.3 grade according to PFF and caught as many passes as he dropped - with the drop being as bad as it could possibly be).
Local take: Cincinnati
This is the fifth monthly and/or weekly awarded handed to a Bengals player this season and the first on special teams. Marvin Jones was the week eight AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his four touchdown performance against the Jets. Vontaze Burfict won the defensive player aware in week 11 and Andy Dalton won two -- the week six award and the AFC player of the month for October.
Follow the fun
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Yes, I think the $100k fine for Mike Tomlin makes sense. Docking them a draft pick also makes sense. Now everyone move on.— Brad Wells (BBS) (@StampedeBlue) December 4, 2013
Kevin Huber won AFC Special Teams Player of the Week http://t.co/xWZi8Ypmkx— Josh Kirkendall (@CincyJungle) December 4, 2013
Both teams need this game badly to avoid playing the No. 5 seed which will likely be the Kansas City Chiefs instead of a No. 6 which could have an 8-8 record. Unfortunately for the Colts, they are simply not playing well. Indianapolis has been atrocious over the past month despite squeaking out a couple of wins. Mix in that the Bengals are more talented and undefeated at home, and the choice is pretty easy.
Pick: Cincinnati 26, Indianapolis 17
The Bengals are favored by seven points over the Colts at home with an over/under of 43, according to Oddsshark.com.
Cincinnati visits Pittsburgh on Sunday night while Indianapolis hosts the Houston Texans.