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Bengals-Colts Preview

Bengals-Colts Preview
A November surge may have helped the Indianapolis Colts' strengthen their playoff chances, but they can't afford a letdown - especially against one of the NFL's worst teams.

Seeking their sixth consecutive victory, the Colts meet the woeful Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Indianapolis (8-4) has reached the playoffs each season since 2002. The Colts also have won each of the last five AFC South titles and the franchise's second Super Bowl title in 2006.

But they hardly resembled a championship-caliber squad through the first two months of the season, losing four of their first seven and two of three at their new home. That rough stretch was capped by a 31-21 defeat at South-leading Tennessee on Oct. 27.

Indianapolis hasn't lost since and put together a perfect November, winning all five games by a combined 20 points. Last Sunday, the Colts trailed 6-3 at halftime before defensive end Robert Mathis returned a fumble for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 10-6 victory at Cleveland.

Indianapolis wasn't able to chip away at its three-game deficit on Tennessee, but still heads into Week 14 tied with the inside track for one of the two wild-card spots. The Colts are tied with Baltimore for fifth overall in the AFC and own the head-to-head tiebreaker after beating the Ravens on Oct. 12.

"(Every) game feels like it's 'win and advance,' or 'lose and be eliminated,'" quarterback Peyton Manning told the Colts' official Web site. "We've put ourselves in a decent position. We just can't afford to give one back or get behind."

Indianapolis has a chance to keep things going with a favorable December schedule. Following the Bengals, the Colts' next two opponents - Detroit and Jacksonville - are a combined 4-20 entering this weekend. They'll wrap up the season on Dec. 28 at home against the Titans.

Before looking ahead to that matchup, however, Indianapolis must first beat Cincinnati (1-10-1). The Colts have won 10 of the last 13 meetings, and have defeated the Bengals by an average of 13.4 points while winning the last five matchups.

Indianapolis, winners of four straight at home over Cincinnati including 34-16 in 2006 in the most recent matchup, knows it can't become complacent.

"Especially at this point in the season, you take records out of the equation," Manning said. "You're playing to try to improve every single week, and hopefully, by improving, that results in you winning the game. That's the idea, that you have to try to get better this week and we're playing a tough team."

Manning has completed 63.9 percent of his passes (108-for-169) for 1,365 yards and 14 touchdowns in winning all five career games versus Cincinnati.

The two-time league MVP, though, went 15-for-21 for a season-low 125 yards on Sunday as the Colts were held without an offensive TD in a regular-season game for the first time since Sept. 7, 2003.

The offense managed just 215 yards, so Indianapolis instead relied on its defense. It surrendered a season-low 193 yards to Cleveland, and has allowed 17.6 points per contest during the five-game winning streak.

But the unit has been without reigning defensive player of the year Bob Sanders, who has missed three straight games with an ailing right knee. Middle linebacker Gary Brackett is expected to miss at least two games with a broken bone in his leg.

Even though Indianapolis' defense won't be at full strength, it might not make a difference against a Cincinnati offense that has mustered league-worst averages in both yardage (251.8) and points (12.6).

Last Sunday, the Bengals totaled 155 yards and managed a season low in points in a 34-3 home defeat to Baltimore.

"When you get your head kicked in like that, there's not much to say," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, whose team has lost two straight since tying Philadelphia on Nov. 16. "This team won't have to go through another season like this. Nor will the fans."

Ryan Fitzpatrick went 12-for-31 for 124 yards and fumbled twice before giving way late to third-stringer Jordan Palmer, who had one of his two pass attempts intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

Fitzpatrick has six TDs, seven interceptions and eight fumbles while starting eight consecutive games in place of injured Pro Bowler Carson Palmer. Fitzpatrick has never faced the Colts.

Meanwhile, receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh (810 yards, four touchdowns) and Chad Ocho Cinco (428 yards, four touchdowns) combined for eight receptions and 109 yards versus Cleveland. The duo has compiled 410 receiving yards and one touchdown in three games against Indianapolis.

As the offense looks to regroup, so does the defense. Though Cincinnati has held teams to 356.8 yards per contest this season, it allowed a season-high 451 against Baltimore.

The Bengals are 0-6 on the road this season, and 2-14 there since Dec. 18, 2006.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 4, 2008

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