Andrew Luck spent his high school years in Texas and his college days in California. So its been awhile since the Indianapolis Colts' second-year quarterback has played in the snow.
"I love playing outside," Luck said earlier this week at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. "I think there's something about it that's fun. So we're looking forward to it."
The Colts (8-4) practiced outdoors in the elements all week in preparation for today's pivotal game at Cincinnati (8-4). Late-week forecasts were calling for 31 degrees and a 70 percent chance of wintry mix precipitation in the Queen City.
Those are the types of conditions that head coach Chuck Pagano had in mind when he promised to bring a smash-mouth, physical style to Indianapolis. He and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton hope to get the power running game revved up behind Donald Brown and Trent Richardson.
Pagano likes what he's seen in practice this week, and he never considered shielding his players from the winter weather.
"You got to get outside and play in it," he said. "You can be in the comforts and confines of the indoor (facility) with the heater on and all that nice stuff, but that ain't how it's going to be (on game day). To just throw them out there Sunday at 12 o'clock at warm-up and then kick off at 1, it wouldn't be fair to any of us."
It remains to be seen what effect the cold temperatures will have on an Indianapolis offense that's been fighting off frost for the past five weeks.
The Colts averaged 26.7 points per game in the first seven weeks of the season and failed to reach the 20-point mark just once. That number has dipped to 19.6 points per game in the past five games, with wild inconsistency from week-to-week.
The drop-off, of course, coincides with the injury to veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne during the fourth quarter of a win against Denver on Oct. 20. Indianapolis scored 27 points in the first game without Wayne at Houston, dipped to eight in a blowout loss against St. Louis a week later and then rose back to 30 in another come-from-behind win at Tennessee.
The Colts then put up just 11 points in a blowout loss at Arizona and followed with 22 — greatly aided by five Adam Vinatieri field goals — last week against the Titans. The first half has been particularly frigid, with Indianapolis' 12 points last week against Tennessee matching its output in the previous four games combined.
"We have our times," first-year offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "We have our moments where we get hot, and we're able to move the ball and score touchdowns. We got to make it a point of emphasis, as we always have, to find a way to get started a lot faster in our games."
In many ways, today's game will play out as a playoff dress rehearsal.
Both teams have comfortable division leads. In fact, Indianapolis can clinch its first AFC South championship since 2010 with either a win against the Bengals or a Tennessee loss at Denver later today.
The winner at Paul Brown Stadium will have the inside track on the AFC's No. 3 playoff seed and remain alive in the race with New England (9-3) for the second seed and a first-round bye. The loser likely will be relegated to the No. 4 seed and a first-round date with Kansas City (9-3).
"I think it's a big game for both football teams," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. "It's going to be a windy, nasty day. It's going to be a lot of fun. We've got to play really good football."
The Colts are hoping to get cornerback Greg Toler back for the first time since the Denver game. He was a limited participant in practice all week, and he'll be a game-time decision.
There also could be more changes on offense, after Brown was inserted as the starter ahead of Richardson last week. Rookie wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers and second-year man LaVon Brazill could see more snaps ahead of struggling veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey, and there could be further shuffling along the offensive line.
Veteran Jeff Linkenbach replaced Mike McGlynn at right guard last week but will miss today's game with a quad injury. Rookie left guard Hugh Thornton also is listed as questionable with a neck injury. That could leave McGlynn and 2012 starter Joe Reitz playing on either side of center Samson Satele.
It would be another challenge for a team adept at dealing with adversity.
"As of late, we've been like the Rocky Balboa of the National Football League," Hamilton said. "We get bloodied up, but we find a way to finish on top and we're going to do that."