Pittsburgh Steelers (12-5) at Indianapolis Colts (14-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Dan Dierdorf, Armen Keteyian
SERIES: 24th meeting. Pittsburgh leads the series 18-5, including a 4-0 record in the postseason. The series began in 1950 when the Steelers beat the Baltimore Colts 17-7 in Pittsburgh. The Steelers' nine-game winning streak against the Colts ended Nov. 28 in Indy, 26-7. Bill Cowher is 6-1 against the Colts, two in the playoffs. The Steelers are 1-2 in Indianapolis since the Colts moved there before the 1984 season.
2005 RANKINGS: Steelers: offense 16th (5th rush, 24th pass); defense 4th (3rd rush, 16th pass). Colts: offense 3rd (16th rush, 3rd pass); defense 11th (16th rush, 15th pass)
PREDICTION: Colts 30-21
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Steelers' philosophy is a simple one: the longer they hold the ball offensively the less time Colts QB Peyton Manning spends on the field. Pittsburgh rushed for just 86 yards during the regular season meeting, in part because it managed just seven points. The Steelers must keep the game close so they can stick with their running game and attempt to wear down a quick, but undersized Colts defensive line. To pull off that gameplan the Steelers' defense has to figure out a way to slow an Indianapolis offense that racked up 366 total yards in the first meeting. The Colts' biggest worry might be shaking off the rust from not having played a meaningful game in a month. If Manning can quickly establish the offense's timing, the Steelers will struggle to deal with the Colts' balance. RB Edgerrin James' presence forces Pittsburgh to respect the run, leaving its shaky secondary vulnerable to WRs Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.
KEY PERSONNEL NEWS
Steelers: DE Kimo von Oelhoffen, who missed Wednesday's practice with a knee injury, returned to practice on Thursday.
WR Hines Ward has caught a touchdown pass in five consecutive post-season games, tied for third-best streak in NFL history.
QB Ben Roethlisberger is 22-3 as a starter over the past two regular seasons, the best percentage of any quarterback in the league.
RB Jerome Bettis could be playing his final game. His seven post-season touchdowns rank fourth in Steelers history, and second in rushing touchdowns.
Colts: CB Kelvin Hayden's availability for Sunday's game with Pittsburgh is a bit uncertain. Hayden suffered a sprained right ankle during Wednesday's practice.
CB Nick Harper is also questionable despite not being on the injury list all
week. He was involved in a domestic altercation with his wife during which she
cut his knee, requiring stitches. WR Troy Walters suffered a groin injury during Thursday's practice. His availability for the Steelers' game has yet to be determined.
Carolina Panthers (12-5) at Chicago Bears (11-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:30 ET
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
SERIES: 4th meeting. Bears lead series 2-1. The Bears dominated the Panthers at Soldier Field on Nov. 20 as ex-Panther Muhsin Muhammad scored the game's only touchdown pass in a 13-3 win over the Panthers. The Bears sacked Jake Delhomme eight times and intercepted him twice.
2005 RANKINGS: Panthers: offense 22nd (19th rush, 17th pass); defense 3rd (4th rush, 9th pass). Bears: offense 29th (8th rush, 31st pass); defense 2nd (11th rush, 5th pass)
PREDICTION: Bears 20-17
KEYS TO THE GAME
Keeping drives alive will be critical in a game that could be determined by field position. The Bears have relied heavily on their running game, but they have converted just 7 of 19 third-and-one situations this season. As with the rest of the offense, the Bears hope the increased passing threat with QB Rex Grossman behind center will make life easier on RB Thomas Jones. The Panthers dominated time of possession against the Giants last week by bottling RB Tiki Barber up early and getting their own running game into a groove. That gameplan should prove much more difficult against a healthy Bears defense allowing just 3.7 yards per carry. Chicago held Carolina to 55 rushing yards during the regular season meeting and while WR Steve Smith caught 169 yards worth of passes, he didn't get into the end zone. The Bears' corners again will be happy to led Smith have the receptions in front of them as long as they prevent back-breaking big plays.
KEY PERSONNEL NEWS
Panthers: RB DeShaun Foster practiced on Thursday and was upgraded to probable for Sunday's game. He will start against the Bears.
LB Brandon Short was upgraded to probable with a knee injury and will start Sunday.
Bears: CB Jerry Azumah, who has been nagged by a chronic hip injury, will play his usual nickel corner spot but is expected to be replaced by Rashied Davis on kickoff returns.
ORG Terrence Metcalf will not play Sunday and will be replaced by Roberto Garza, who has started seven games this season, four at left guard and three at right guard, with no discernible difference in production from the starters.