Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Indianapolis Colts: OUT: Hugh Thornton (shoulder) G. DOUBTFUL: A.Q. Shipley (ankle) C. QUESTIONABLE: Trent Richardson (illness) RB. PROBABLE: Dwayne Allen (knee) TE; Josh Cribbs (not injury related) WR; Jerrell Freeman (hamstring) LB; Joe Reitz (ankle) G; Erik Walden (knee) LB; Reggie Wayne (groin) WR; Bjoern Werner (shoulder) LB.
Key matchups to watch
The Cincinnati pass rush has been pretty much nonexistent this entire season. The Bengals combined for 20 sacks as a team, fewest in the NFL. Carlos Dunlap has eight of those himself. The lack of pass rush has allowed good quarterbacks to sit in the pocket and find receivers. The Bengals defense has allowed teams to gobble up 500-plus yards three times this season. One of those was Indy in Week 7 when Andrew Luck tallied 344 yards passing in a blowout. The Colts offensive line is not great, giving up 205 quarterback pressures, second-most in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. The Bengals must get to Luck and knock him around, or it will be another long day for the secondary.
On the flip side, we know that the Colts will sling it around Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The key for Luck, who finished third in the NFL in passing yards and first in touchdown throws with 40, is not turning the ball over. Luck has thrown at least one interception in 11 of 16 games this season and had the second-most turnovers in the NFL (22). Most of his wayward plays come with pressure up the gut, so if Geno Atkins and Dunlap are kept at bay, Luck should have his way against the Bengals once again.
Bryant has been one of the most dominant receivers over the totality of the season -- behind only Antonio Brown in my book. His 16 touchdown receptions led the NFL. He totaled 88 receptions for 1,320 yards. Few have the combination of strength, size, athleticism and hands to make the catches Bryant routinely snags. He is a matchup nightmare for any secondary and could have his way with a smallish Lions unit that will be preoccupied trying to stop DeMarco Murray. Detroit has been picked apart by some good quarterbacks (Drew Brees, 342 yards; Tom Brady 349 yards). Against the Patriots, Detroit had no answer for Brady and the quick passing attack. If the Cowboys run is stymied early, look for Tony Romo to switch gears without a hitch.
For the Lions, it all starts with the play of safeties Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo. The duo will have to help out CBs Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay when they are matched up with Bryant. Neither can handle the receivers speed/size combo alone. Expect Quin to find the Bryant matchup and roll coverage with Ihedigbo more likely to be moved up to help against the run. If Detroit lets Bryant get loose (he had three catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns last season against the Lions) it will open up the run game even more for Murray and the offensive line.
Did You Know?
With one passing touchdown and six interceptions, Andy Dalton has the third-lowest TD-INT ratio in playoff history (min. three starts). Dalton's ratio of .17 is worse than even that of Kordell Stewart, who threw two scores and eight picks (.25 ratio) in his four playoff games.
The Colts are averaging 19.0 points per game in their last four contests after averaging 31.8 in their first 12 games this season.
Indy has 85 plays of 20-plus yards (most in NFL).
Trent Richardson does not have a 100-yard rushing game this season. His last game with 100 yards: Week 9, 2012, which is 37 straight games without 100-plus rushing yards.
The Colts boast the NFL's second-best third-down defense, allowing only 33.3 percent of third-down conversions.
This game marks the 24th time a team with a top-two rushing offense (Cowboys) faced a team with a top-two rushing defense (Lions) in the playoffs. The team with the better rushing defense has won 13 of the 23 meetings. The team with the better rushing defense has won three straight and six of the last eight such matchups.
The Lions offense improved over the last five games, earning 4.6 more points and 51.3 total yards -- 23.1 rushing, 28.2 passing -- than the previous 11 contests.
Joique Bell has four rushing TDs in the last five games. He has never rushed for 100-plus yards in a road game.
Detroit commands the NFL's No. 2 total defense (allowing 300.9 YPG), No. 3 scoring defense (17.6 PPG) and No. 1 rushing defense (69.3 rush YPG).
Tony Romo faced only two teams that finished with a top 10 defense this season -- the Seahawks and 49ers. In those games, Romo completed 63.8 percent of his passes, throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions for a passer rating of 83.7. In his other 13 games (against teams not ranking in the top 10 on defense), Romo completed 71.0 percent of his passes, throwing 31 touchdowns and six interceptions for a passer rating of 118.8.
DeMarco Murray has 12 games with 100-plus rushing yards this season (DAL franchise record) -- most games in a season by a Cowboy since 11 by Emmitt Smith in 1995.
The Cowboys' defense has allowed 30-plus points in only two games this season (seven games in 2013).
Dallas has recorded just 28 sacks this season -- 28th in the NFL.