Cincinnati Bengals must keep Andrew Luck in check to end their play-off jinx

Indianapolis Colts host Bengals in first-round play-off

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While preparing to host the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL first-round play-off on Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts have avoided watching the film of their regular-season meeting in mid-October.

That was a 27-0 demolition by the Colts. Since then, things have changed.

The Colts could see receiver A J Green for the first time this season if he is cleared of concussion. Linebackers Emmanuel Lamur and Rey Maualuga missed that October game with injuries, too. The Bengals have also reaped a stronger ground game out of Jeremy Hill.

The rookie running back wasn’t on the Colts’ radar in October, and ran for 15 yards against them. Now, he leads all NFL rookies with 1,124 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on the ground, a threat the Colts are preparing for.

“Our one biggest thing on our game plan is you must stop Hill,” Colts defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. “We must stop that run game and make them beat us throwing.”

Indianapolis’s running game, on the other hand, ranges from stagnant to nonexistent, which will allow the Bengals to gear up for the air game. The Colts’ defence is inconsistent, the offensive line has been decimated by injuries, and they’re not a great home team.

But the Colts start as three and a half-point favourites because they have Andrew Luck, who led the league with 40 touchdown passes. Luck threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns in the October romp.

Cincinnati haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, and to defy history, they will need to pressure Luck. The Bengals don’t have much of a pass rush, ranking 20th against the pass, and managing a league-low 20 sacks.

History doesn’t matter when the Detroit Lions visit the Dallas Cowboys in the second game on Sunday. The Lions rarely make it, and then go out right away. Dallas have been a shell of the franchise that Tom Landry coached two decades ago.

Even with Lions right tackle Ndamukong Suh cleared to play after his one-game suspension for stomping on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was changed to a $70,000 fine, Detroit’s defence will get exposed by the Cowboys’ Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant.

The Cowboys just finished a 4-0 December in which they won every game by double digits. Last weekend, during their biggest win over Washington in 11 years, Murray broke Emmitt Smith’s franchise single-season rushing mark from 1995, and Bryant’s 16th touchdown broke Terrell Owens’ team record of 15 set in 2007.“They can adapt their scheme to multiple different fronts,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said of the Cowboys’ offensive line. “There hasn’t been really any scheme that’s slowed them down much.”

Today, the wild-card round begins with Arizona at  Carolina, then Baltimore at Pittsburgh.