Colts-Lions Preview

Not much was expected of the Indianapolis Colts this season, but

they’re right in the AFC playoff hunt.

The Detroit Lions are well out of the NFC race after ending a

lengthy postseason drought a year ago.

The Colts will go for their sixth victory in seven games on

Sunday while the host Lions try to avoid a fourth straight

loss.

While much was expected from No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck, it

was supposed to take some time for the former Stanford signal

caller to lead Indianapolis’ post-Peyton Manning turnaround.

Instead, Luck has taken charge of a 7-4 Colts team that holds

the fifth seed in the conference and has yet to drop back-to-back

games after rebounding from a 59-24 loss at New England on Nov. 18

with last Sunday’s 20-13 victory over Buffalo.

“We understand the position we’re in, but again, nothing has

been accomplished yet,” said Luck, who last Sunday joined Manning

as the only Colts rookies to throw for 3,000 yards.

Taking care of the ball on the road has been an issue – 16 of

the Colts’ 21 turnovers have come outside Indianapolis – but taking

care of business with the game on the line hasn’t. The Colts are

6-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer and their average

margin of victory (6.1) is the lowest of the 10 NFL teams with at

least seven victories.

Indianapolis’ minus-14 turnover margin is the league’s

third-worst.

“We’re the type of team, we’re going to be in a lot of close

games and fortunately we’ve found a lot of ways to win them,” said

interim coach Bruce Arians, who’s 6-2 filling in for Chuck Pagano.

“The big thing for us is to go on the road and protect the football

and play good defense and bring those special teams with us on the

road and see if we can play our best football on the road.”

The Lions (4-7) haven’t played well in close games – all their

losses are by 10 points or fewer – and they’re on the verge of

losing four straight for the first time since a five-game skid Nov.

7-Dec. 5, 2010.

It was just a year ago when Detroit went 10-6 and advanced to

the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

“It’s kind of the same story,” defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch

said after a 34-31 overtime Thanksgiving day loss to Houston. “It’s

just frustrating. Back-to-back weeks, we had a chance to beat a

really good team (losing 24-20 to Green Bay on Nov. 18), but that’s

not good enough because this is a really good team. We’re just not

playing like it right now.”

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will be playing this weekend

after the league fined him $30,000 on Wednesday for unnecessary

roughness because he kicked Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the

groin area. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that a

suspension wasn’t handed down because a clear ruling couldn’t be

made on Suh’s intent.

“It’s a crazy play, it’s one that unfortunately happened,” Suh

said. “… I was being dragged to the ground and my foot

inadvertently hit the man.

“But it’s over with and I am moving forward and getting ready to

play the Colts.”

Indianapolis’ secondary needs to be ready for Lions receiver

Calvin Johnson, who has an NFL-best 1,257 receiving yards. The

All-Pro needs 591 yards in the final five games to tie Jerry Rice’s

all-time single-season record, set in 1995 with San Francisco.

“I’m definitely thinking about it, but I just have to keep on

working, keep it in the back of my mind, but still focus on the

task at hand,” Johnson told the Lions’ official website.

It’s uncertain how much playing time, if any, Lions wide

receiver Titus Young will get this week after coach Jim Schwartz

benched him against the Texans for “unacceptable behavior,” but

rookie Ryan Broyles could be a good second option for Matthew

Stafford after setting a season-high against Houston with 126

yards.

Rookie T.Y. Hilton, the AFC special teams player of the week,

has given the Colts a big lift (12.3 yards per punt return) – and

he leads the team with five receiving TDs – but Reggie Wayne is

Luck’s No. 1 option. At 34, Wayne shows no signs of slowing down,

leading the league in targets (144), receptions (84) and sitting

just behind Johnson with 1,105 yards.

Wayne, who caught seven passes for 105 yards in the Colts’ last

game versus Detroit – a 31-21 home win Dec. 14, 2008 – needs six

receptions to move past Andre Reed for 10th all-time with 952.

The Colts have won four of five in Detroit dating back to the

1968 season.