The winner edges ever-closer to locking up the third seed in the AFC and a matchup with whoever emerges from the scramble for the final spot. The loser likely books a wild-card encounter with the Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s hard to overstate just how important this game is for both sides. There’s little doubt that there will be a playoff atmosphere at Paul Brown Stadium and there’s sure to be a large contingent of Colts fans in attendance.
So after an impressive 17-10 win in San Diego, what do the Bengals need to do to go 2-0 in the second half of the season? Let’s take a look.
Put Andrew Luck on His Back
Andrew Luck is a special quarterback. However, it doesn’t matter how good you are if the guys protecting you don’t do their job properly.
The Colts' offensive line has struggled mightily lately and the stats aren’t pretty. According to Mike Wells of ESPN.com, “The Titans pressured Luck all Sunday afternoon and sacked him five times, including four times in the second quarter."
"The five sacks bring Luck’s total up to 29 this season.”
Keeping Luck on his feet will be of huge concern to the Colts in Week 14. Given that the Titans managed to bring pressure all day long, you can expect Mike Zimmer’s defense to have similar success.
Move Whitworth to Guard Permanently
The Bengals' offensive line suffered another injury against the Chargers, with a season-ending ACL tear for Clint Boling.
Andrew Whitworth slid over to guard from his usual spot at left tackle and casually had one of his best games of the year. He bulldozed through the Chargers defense for much of Sunday afternoon, helping the Bengals' running game to a 164-yard bounty.
The stellar play of the offensive line took the pressure off Andy Dalton and allowed the Bengals to control the clock and grind down the Chargers.
The Bengals can be more than confident in starting Anthony Collins at left tackle, while Coley Harvey of ESPN.com reported on Wednesday that Kevin Zietler has begun to participate in "conditioning exercises."
Strong play from the offensive line could be the key to pushing the Bengals over the edge. If we see a repeat of last week, it should be enough to put away the Colts.
Run the Football
This point goes hand in hand with the one that preceded it. If the Bengals can get their running game humming early, the Colts should struggle.
TeamRankings.com has Indy ranked 28th against the run. The Colts give up an average of almost 130 yards per game. Those numbers will excite BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard following their bumper day in San Diego last week.
The Bengals’ special teams have balled out this season. They’re the unsung heroes of this young team and have really shown up when needed most. Football Outsiders has them ranked as the seventh-best unit in the league.
You’ll struggle to find a fanbase more pumped up for a punt than Cincinnati's. It has ample reason to be, as Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper reported that Kevin Huber has been named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for Week 13.
Kevin Huber with an ankle injury can kick a football all the way around the earth back to himself.— Russell Neeley (@RussNeeley) December 1, 2013
Huber averaged 55.5 yards on his four punts in Sunday’s 17-10 victory over the Chargers. He dropped two of those punts inside San Diego's 20-yard line to help the Bengals win the field position battle while holding on to a slim lead.
One of Huber’s punts traveled 75 yards, tying a franchise record and giving Huber the second-longest punt in the league this season.
Besides Huber, Dre Kirkpatrick has thrived when running down punts while Jayson DiManche has also had his moments. Together, they make a formidable unit that could be the difference on Sunday afternoon if things stay close.