Both dealing with critical injuries, the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts will battle Sunday afternoon for the right to play the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional round next week.
Since 1990, the Bengals haven’t made it out of the Wild Card round, enduring five straight losses in the postseason’s opening weekend. And with star receiver A.J. Green ruled out, they may have trouble snapping that losing streak against the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
After a concussion he sustained in Week 17’s 27-17 loss to Pittsburgh, Green did not pass the NFL’s post-concussion protocol and won’t be available against the Colts. One of the most electric receivers in the league, Green missed three games this season and still tallied 69 receptions for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns.
The Bengals could also miss starting tight end Jermaine Gresham, who’s listed as questionable with a back injury on the team’s official site. He did not participate in practice all week.
With Green and Gresham down, quarterback Andy Dalton faces an uphill battle against an Indianapolis pass defense ranked No. 12 in the regular season, and one that blanked the Bengals 27-0 when the two teams met in Week 7.
After Green, the Bengals can turn to Mohamed Sanu, but its more likely that running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard will see more action. Hill surpassed Bernard late in the season and has totaled 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns in his rookie campaign. He also came up with 27 receptions. Bernard has proven himself dangerous in the open field, complementing his 680 rushing yards and five touchdowns with 43 receptions for 439 yards and two more scores.
Dalton, who completed a career-best 64.2 percent of his pass attempts this season, but also took less than 500 attempts for the first time in his career, has led the Bengals to the postseason four straight times and he’s yet to claim a win. In four career starts, Dalton’s thrown one touchdown to six interceptions.
Cincinnati may ask its defense to pick up some extra slack if Dalton can’t get the offense going. Led by free safety Reggie Nelson, the Bengals secondary was third in the NFL with 20 interceptions and faces an MVP candidate in Indy’s Andrew Luck.
Enjoying his third straight postseason appearance since entering the league in 2012, Luck led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes and posted new career-highs with 4,761 yards and a 61.7 completion percentage.
However, Luck may be without two of his top offensive lineman. Center A.Q. Shipley (ankle) is listed as doubtful, and guard Hugh Thornton (shoulder) has been ruled out completely, and neither participated in practice this week. Kaled Holmes is expected to fill in for Shipley, and Lance Louis for Thornton, as they try to keep up the production of an offensive line that let up only 29 sacks during the regular season.
Start Time: 1:05 P.M. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Betting Odds: Indianapolis -4
Over/Under: 48.5 points
Prediction: Indianapolis over Cincinnati, 27-17