INDIANAPOLIS – It's not to the level of the New England Patriots but when it comes to frequent oppositions outside of the AFC South, the Cincinnati Bengals always seem to be there for the Colts.
Sunday marks the seventh time in the last 10 years, the Colts and Bengals have met in the regular season with the last several meetings pitting two playoff teams together.
It's extremely early in 2014 but both of these teams currently lead their respective divisions.
Less than 120 miles separate the Colts and Bengals in the closest matchup of AFC teams.
"We play the Bengals probably 20 times a year when you count regular season and preseason, so we know each other," defensive end Cory Redding says.
"We know this is a big game. Both of us want to be dominant in our division. Both of us want to be dominant in the AFC. What better test for them to come to our house instead of getting on the Greyhound and driving to their place."
The Bengals come into Sunday off a tie and back-to-back games where a normally stout defense has allowed 77 points.
A minus seven turnover differential is a major reason why the Bengals didn't continue their three-game win streak to start the season.
Last year, the Bengals beat the Colts 42-28 in a Week 14 meeting down in Cincinnati.
That contest pitted two teams with double-digit wins, who would go on to host playoff games.
Come Sunday, the calendar will read October 19 but it's a Week Seven matchup that could eventually lead to January seeding.
"It's in the back of my mind of course, but that's not our main goal. We just try to keep it week-by-week," safety Sergio Brown says of the long-term ramifications of Sunday.
"We know that this game could have implications later in the year, so we want to definitely do the best we can. But at the same time, each next game is the biggest game. We just have to come out and do the best we can."
A win on Sunday would give the Colts their longest win streak since the 2009 campaign.
The awards and headlines are starting to accumulate for the 4-2 Colts with three games remaining until a Week 10 bye week.
Back after a 10-day break from action, the Colts have their blinders on thanks to head coach Chuck Pagano.
"If they sit there, read their press clippings and start patting themselves on the back, that's human nature coaching and playing, you take your foot off the gas pedal, you can get humbled real fast in this league," Pagano says.
"It's enjoy it for a short period of time, then it's move on. We're always looking. We look at that tape, and you're always looking to get better. We want to play better this Sunday then we did last Thursday. That's the goal. Hopefully, if you're fortunate enough to get there, you want to play your best ball in December and January. That's our goal, just get better every single week."
INTERESTING MATCHUPSBengals running back Giovani Bernard versus the Colts defense:Without some key pass catchers in the lineup on Sunday, the Bengals will have to rely on a heavy dose of Bernard. What the Colts will see in Bernard is a combination of Arian Foster from a workload standpoint along with the game-breaking ability of a LeSean McCoy. Bernard ranks fourth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage at 112 per game.Colts quarterback Andrew Luck versus the Bengals secondary: Luck will face a secondary on Sunday filled with first-round talent and an opportune group. The Bengals have seven interceptions on the season. In four of Luck's six games this season, he has thrown for at least 370 yards, an obvious reason why he's the league's top passer through mid-October.Quick Facts
-The Colts are looking for their fifth straight win, which would mark the longest win streak for the franchise since 2009.
-The Colts are one of two teams in the NFL with two running backs who have at least 400 yards from scrimmage.
-Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne needs 20 receiving yards to pass James Lofton for the eighth most career receiving yards in NFL history.
-Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has been sacked just twice in 151 pass attempts this season.
-In last week's tie against Carolina, Giovani Bernard became the Bengals first 100-yard rusher since 2012.
-Bengals punt returner Adam Jones has gone 82 punt returns without a fair catch. In comparison, last year 58.1 percent of the punts around the league were fair caught.NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on the job Pep Hamilton has done in year two of being offensive coordinator):
-"He's done a great job. The entire offensive staff has done a great job. I think going into year two everybody's much more comfortable with the system, with the scheme. We got players back. We're healthier. We're better upfront. There's a lot of things that go into it. Pep and the staff have done a phenomenal job."Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on what impresses him about Andy Dalton):
-"He's really cool, a cool operator. Manages the game extremely well. He's a talented guy, got a strong arm. He can make all the throws. He's spreading the ball around. He's getting them in the right plays. He's getting the ball in the playmakers hands. He's an athletic guy. He's able to elude the rush, extend plays when he has to extend plays. Again, he's only been sacked (twice), credit the offensive line, the tight ends and the backs are doing a great job, but he's only been sacked a couple of times. He's a really good football player. You've seen the growth. It seems like the game has just slowed down for Andy. Like Andrew (Luck), it's just easy to him right now."
Colts Running Back Trent Richardson(on the play of the offensive line in 2014):
-"Just from the preseason, they work hard. Joe (Gilbert) prepares these guys every week. Having guys like AC (Anthony Castonzo) is big because we've got a lot of young guys. These guys come in and prepare like starters. Staying with that, these guys, just mentally they're there every day doing whatever they can to stay on top of their game because you never know. I tell all the young guys it's ] next man up because you never know what the situation might be. Don't ever get down if you're not playing right away or not having success because you're also the next man up."
Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis(on the difference between the Colts from last year to this year):
-"I really think they continue to grow offensively using both backs having (Trent Richardson) there for the entire year, he's such a good downhill runner that way. Then mixing (Ahmad) Bradshaw in there and getting Bradshaw a lot of catches and touches in the red zone particularly. Secondly, I think defensively they've morphed. Greg's (Manusky) got them doing a little different on defense and that has really stepped up with the loss of (Robert) Mathis. Guys are really doing a great job. D'Qwell Jackson has fit well into the scheme. I've obviously watched him for a long time and I think he's one of the best linebackers in the league and very underrated. I think they're doing a great job."
Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis(on the focal points of defending the Colts kickoff unit):
-"It is a great focal point. Any kind of misalignments they feel like that you present to them, they're good enough to take advantage of. He's really doing a nice job, (Pat) McAfee, in executing the kick. He's excellent at the high bounce. He executed the dribble roller when there was a weakness there provided by the return unit. Then obviously he's banging these touchbacks. He's doing a great job and he's punting the ball well. They're well put together, two great specialists."Bengals Quarterback Andy Dalton(on what Giovani Bernard brings to the table):
-"Just versatility, he can do so much. Whether it be catching passes out of the backfield, runs inside, runs outside, I mean all that kind of stuff. I think he showed last week it's not just he can make guys miss, but he's got speed too. He's kind of one of those guys that can do it all."