Hill ignores the noise: All this week, monitors in the Bengals' locker room occasionally flashed a message bearing the words: "Ignore the noise." At one point during his news conference Wednesday, as he addressed a question about the Bengals' 24-year playoff-win drought, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis even uttered them in his succinct response. It appears rookie running back Jeremy Hill has been paying attention. Hill told me this week that he had avoided watching ESPN and other sports networks in an effort to have a one-track mind this weekend. He said it's the same approach he took entering the Week 15 game at Cleveland when he rushed for 148 yards and two touchdowns. As he goes for his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game, keep an eye on Hill. He figures to be a large part of the Bengals' game plan as they try to be run-focused this week.
Which Andy Dalton shows up? This is arguably the biggest question entering the game. The fourth-year quarterback has mostly been inconsistent throughout his career. He's been known to put up 300-yard, three-touchdown, no-interception numbers in sporadic games, and then have trouble connecting with any of his receivers in others. You never can tell which Dalton will step up, particularly in big games. He's 0-3 in playoff games, with one touchdown pass and six interceptions. His career postseason QBR is about 35 points lower than his career regular-season QBR. One thing we have learned about the Bengals under offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, though, is that his offense can operate without putting too much pressure on Dalton to play the role of hero. Expect that to happen Sunday. That is precisely why Hill ought to be a major focal point of the scheme.
Will Andrew Luck go off? As poorly as Dalton's numbers have been in three postseasons, Luck's haven't been much better. The Colts quarterback has more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (six), and has a 1-2 record. He very nearly went 0-2 in his first two playoff games, but staged a big comeback in last year's wild-card round win against the Chiefs. Down 38-10 in the third quarter, Luck rallied the Colts to a 45-44 win. Performances like that have the Bengals motivated to keep Luck contained for all 60 minutes. With injuries all along Indianapolis' offensive line, and the Colts playing their 11th offensive line combination, Cincinnati has to believe it can get pressure on the quarterback.
No Green, no problem: Of obvious concern all week was the status of Bengals receiver A.J. Green. The Pro Bowler spent the last six days under concussion protocol after taking a hard blow to the head in the fourth quarter of last week's loss in Pittsburgh. He's still going through it. The team announced Saturday afternoon he was officially out because of the concussion. A deep threat in the play-action passing game, Green would have been a good weapon for the Bengals to have. But there are reasons why they shouldn't be too concerned about his absence. Much like Dalton, Green's best performances have come in the regular season. In three playoff games, Green has caught only 13 passes on 32 targets, and he doesn't have a touchdown. Of Dalton's six interceptions, four came while targeting Green. Maybe that means the Bengals might be better without Green? They won't be better without Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham, though. Nursing a back injury all week, Gresham is questionable.