The defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals have lost five in a row, all by eight points or less, to fall to 2-6. Safe to say a playoff berth is probably out of reach at the season’s midway point. The Indianapolis Colts are coming off a third road loss of the season, but they’re 3-0 at home, with double-digit victories against the N.Y. Giants, Kansas City and Houston.
The Colts (5-3) are tied with Tennessee atop the AFC South, one game ahead of the Texans and Jacksonville. But Indy is banged up. It seems as if the Colts lose a new player or two each week. Wide receiver Austin Collie, second on the team with 45 catches for 502 yards, suffered a concussion last game and has been ruled out. Running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart are also unlikely to play, as is weak- side linebacker Clint Session.
In the bigger picture of an NFL driven by parity, the Colts are still one game off the AFC’s best record and could impact that standing in a week with a road trip to New England (6-2). The Colts play five of their last eight games at home, too.
Keys for the Colts
• Get a lead. The Colts have outscored opponents 47-6 in the first half of home games. One of the reasons the Bengals are 1-3 on the road is they have been outscored 61-26 in the first half of those games. The Colts are built to seize a lead, then turn the pass-rushers loose.
• Turnovers. It’s about the only factor that could give the Bengals a legitimate shot at an upset. The Colts have only 10 giveaways, but the Bengals have 18 takeaways. It’s imperative the Colts take care of the football. Don’t help out the visitors. And Indy typically doesn’t. They have only one INT and one lost fumble at home.
Keys for the Bengals
• Run Cedric Benson. The Bengals aren’t getting enough out of the run game, and stopping the run is a weakness for the Colts, who are 29th in rush defense at 140.9 yards allowed. Benson averages only 3.7 yards per carry, but Cincinnati must do something to keep Manning off the field.
• Protect Carson Palmer. The Colts have had eight sacks in three home games. They play faster on the FieldTurf at Lucas Oil Stadium, for some inexplicable reason. Palmer has been sacked 14 times and has thrown eight INTs. If he gets rattled, he will throw into traffic. That’s what the Colts are hoping.
The Colts typically take a lead at home. The Bengals usually fall behind. That, alone, will make it difficult for an upset. Cincinnati does have some talent, but there are whispers about Palmer. The 2003 No. 1 overall pick has yet to win a playoff game. He’s completing less than 60 percent of his passes. Fans are tired of the guy falling short. Look for the Colts to get pressure on Palmer, force some mistakes and win this game going away. Colts 34-17.