Indianapolis Colts (8-4) @ Cincinnati Bengals (8-4) 12/08- 1:00PM EST
Line: CIN -6.5
Indianapolis will try to clinch the AFC South title on Sunday when they visit the Cincinnati, but for that to happen they must keep franchise quarterback Andrew Luck protected from the defensive minded Bengals.
Protecting Luck with a banged-up offensive line is the challenge facing the Colts who last year gave up 41 sacks, fourth-most in the NFL.
Indianapolis right guard Jeff Linkenbach who has been playing in place of former starter Mike McGlynn (fractured thumb) is week to week after suffering a partial quad tear.
Through twelve games this year, Luck has been sacked 29 times and his performance has dropped off over the last four games having only two touchdowns, five interceptions with a 66.7 passer rating.
The Bengals (8-4) have recorded 18 sacks over its last five games and are giving up an AFC-low 5.28 yards per pass attempt… and that has the Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano a bit worried.
“It’s our biggest concern right now, first and foremost,” Pagano said. “That’s been since Day 1, since we drafted him No. 1, to protect 12. That’s never going to change.”
Despite the injuries the Colts are dealing with on the offensive line, Indianapolis is in a position to win their eighth division title in 11 seasons with a win on Sunday or a Titans loss to Denver.
Also at stake is the winner having the third seed in the AFC playoff race.
“We’re sitting in a good position, but nothing is sealed up,” Pagano said. “We control our own destiny.”
The Colts (8-4) will look again to running back Donald Brown, who will make his second straight start this week after rushing for 54 yards last week. He has been the backup most of the season, but has fought hard all season to earn the starting role.
“I knew regardless of what happened, my number would get called in some form or fashion,” Brown said. “When it is, you just make the most of it.”
Defensively, the Colts will look to Robert Mathis who is leading the NFL with 15½ sacks to help stop the Cincinnati running game that accounted for 164 yards last week in their win over San Diego and has averaged 138.3 over its last four.
It’s been the balanced attack of BenJarvis Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard who are getting it done on the ground.
“It lets (offensive coordinator Jay Gruden) utilize his entire playbook and not limit him at all,” Bernard said. “If there’s a situation where I need to go in, he’ll throw me in. If there’s a situation he wants Benny in, he’ll throw him in. It definitely helps us and we definitely use it to our advantage.”
With the Colts ranked 28th in the league allowing 128.6 yards per game, expect the Bengals to have some success on the ground Sunday.
And it’s the running game and being able to effectively mix it up for the Bengals that the oddsmakers have made them a (minus) -6.5 point favorite against the Colts. But, get the latest spread on the game up until kickoff right here through Wonder Punter.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has confidence in his offense and says…
‘I think we can do so many different things, so as long as you’re winning games and it’s working, that’s all that matters.”
Dalton has thrown six touchdowns and nine interceptions with a 59.8 passer rating over his last four, but look for him and the Bengals to do well on Sunday and come away with a big home win.
By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter