INDIANAPOLIS – It's the first goal that is written on Chuck Pagano's preseason goal sheet.*
Win the AFC South.*
Yes, the ultimate prize certainly trumps goal No. 1 but without this achievement, there might not be a chance to reach the pinnacle.
Even with a quarter of the 2013 regular season remaining, the Colts will travel to Cincinnati needing one win to capture the AFC South.
It's been a regular season of attrition for some of the Colts significant offensive contributors but here the Colts sit on the verge of their first division title since the 2010 season.
"To be able to accomplish that first goal and know that you're in certainly would be a tribute to our coaches and players, sacrifice and hard work that they put in," Pagano said.
Before Pagano could finish though, he wanted to make it clear that his team would not be taking its foot off any pedal.
"Somebody is going to get hot in the next month. December football is as you know very important. Again, these guys have done a great job of putting themselves in position, being relevant, being in the conversation."
While the odds of securing a playoff bid (Colts magic number is 1) remains very high for Indianapolis, there are some major rewards in continuing to play at a high level.
In facing the 8-4 Bengals, the Colts (8-4) have a chance to take a lead in the race for the No. 3 seed, with securing a bye still not out of the equation.
All playoff scenarios remain far, far away from the Colts minds with the lone focus being a consistent force down the stretch.
"It's not really how you start, it's pretty much how you finish," Colts leading tackler Jerrell Freeman says. "A lot of the teams that get hot towards the end of the season are the teams who win the Super Bowl. I mean, it involves what you did at the beginning of the season, so we got to try to get hot here and just progress."
Robert Mathis recalls the 2006 Colts as one of those teams.
After losing three out of four games during Weeks 11-14 of the regular season, the outlook on a Super Bowl run seemed bleak.
But Mathis and the Colts won two of their final three games giving them the momentum they needed to capture Super Bowl XLI
"You're playing for positioning and for the postseason," Mathis said of the final quarter.
"You just want to play your best ball and get on a roll. Been there in '06, hit the switch and the team that plays the best in December and January is the team that normally goes the furthest in the playoffs."INTERESTING MATCHUPSColts offensive line versus the Bengals front seven:Chuck Pagano said priority No. 1 moving forward is protecting Andrew Luck. The offensive line is dealing with another injury as right guard Jeff Linkenbach will miss Sunday's contest. The guard situation is to be determined with Mike McGlynn, Joe Reitz and Hugh Thornton (neck) in the mix. Cincinnati has sacked opposing quarterbacks 36 times in 2013, which is a major reason why the defense has allowed the fifth fewest points in the NFL.Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green versus the Colts secondary: Green is one of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL and is the only player in NFL history to record 100 receptions for 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first 20 career games. The Colts secondary recorded two interceptions last week, which equaled their total from the previous seven games. Adding Greg Toler to the lineup would alleviate some of the pressure off of Vontae Davis in matching up with Green.Quick Facts
-The Colts and Bengals is the closest geographical rivalry among cities in the AFC at just 110 miles.
-The Colts have won five of their past six games in the month of December.
-Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis (15.5 sacks) leads the NFL and is just 0.5 sacks away from setting Colts seasonal and franchise records for that mark.
-The Bengals are 5-0 at home for the first time since 1988 when they won the AFC title.
-Bengals rookie running back Giovani Bernard leads all AFC rookies with 875 yards from scrimmage (521 rushing and 354 receiving).
-Bengals guard Mike Pollak played for the Colts from 2008-2011.
NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on what he's seen from the Bengals in 2013):
-"Really good football team. Well-coached. Got playmakers on both sides of the ball. Special teams are solid. From an offensive standpoint, they got a great 1-2 punch at running back. The law firm (BenJarvus Green-Ellis) is a hard-nosed between the tackles guy and grinds out a lot of tough yards and makes a lot of first downs for them. Gio (Bernard) comes in. Second leading receiver. He's dangerous. He's quick. He's fast. He's elusive. Great out of the backfield again in the pass game. And wide receiver, one of the best in the league in A.J. Green. The quarterback is playing well. Tight end. They got a bunch of weapons. Defensively, they're ranked sixth in the National Football League for good reason. They got good players. Got a good front seven, good linebacking core, good in the back end. Mike Zimmer does a great job with them. They play fast, physical. They're big, they're long, they're athletic. Really, really good football team. Well-coached. Marvin (Lewis) has done a great job there for a number of years. He's put himself together a really good squad."Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on the progression of Daniel Adongo):
-"I think back to his very first workout when we first brought him in after a 17-hour flight to Atlanta and then catch a connector up here and come right in. Go to the indoor facility. As we bring in guys every week to try out, street guys and things like that, from what we saw to right now, it's night and day. The guy is a smart guy. We know from a physical standpoint he's very, very athletic. He can run. He's big. He's strong. He's a tireless worker. He's been a great pro. Even though he hasn't played, he's picked up a ton. Our veteran guys, guys like Robert (Mathis) and the rest of the guys in the defensive room, have been tremendous working with him and mentoring him and bringing him along and helping his development to this point. So, other than actual real game under the lights stuff, he's been outstanding. If he gets an opportunity, I'm sure everybody is going to be real eager to see what he does."Colts Defensive End Cory Redding(on if the Colts are thinking about wrapping up the AFC South):
-"You know what, it's an important game, man. We all know what's at stake here and that's one of our goals, so we just got to keep grinding. Go to Cincinnati and do what we got to do to get this win."
Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis(on Andy Dalton's progression):
-"I think Andy continues to progress as the leader of the football team. As a rookie, he was our starting quarterback. Last year, he was the leader of our offense, and now he's kind of assumed the position as leader of the team. He continues to progress and do things in the right way. The only thing I always caution Andy about is just don't try to do too much."Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis(on what he has seen from Robert Mathis on film):
-"I think Robert has just got such a quick take off so he makes the (offensive) tackle have to respect speed all the time. Then he's got the ability to bend and dip and beat the guy with speed underneath, speed around the edge. Secondly, he can counter back with the spin and the things he does. He's a complete rusher. Really one of the guys that, if we're getting ready to play an opponent, if they've played the Colts, we're going to have some Robert Mathis clips for our guys, for our rushers to show them."Bengals Quarterback Andy Dalton(on having other playmakers besides A.J. Green):
-"Yeah, for us it's been in the last couple years, we haven't had a consistent guy opposite of A.J. Now we're getting guys that have been in the system, that understand what we're doing. Marvin Jones has done a really good job. When he's getting his opportunities, he's making big plays. Mo (Mohamed) Sanu, he's kind of all over the field, moving outside, inside. He's doing a lot of different stuff. And then Andrew Hawkins has come in and made some big catches for us last week. We feel like we've got guys that can make big plays all over the field and so it's just finding different ways to get those other guys the ball besides just A.J."