Before the season started I circled a handful of games I thought would be most important for the Colts, and Sunday's trip down I-74 to take on the Bengals was definitely one of those games. The Bengals have made the Playoffs each of the past two seasons (and are essentially a lock again this year), so I wanted to see how the Colts would do when playing one of the top teams in the AFC on the road, in December. I thought we'd get a good sense where the Colts were in their rebuild process. Turns out the game is quite important.
Sunday's tilt between the two 8-4 teams will have a huge impact on Playoff seeding, as I laid out yesterday. The one-sentence explanation is the winner stays alive for a First Round Bye, while the loser will almost assuredly end up as the #4 seed, hosting the Chiefs or Broncos on Wild Card Weekend, something both teams want to desperately avoid. While a bye is most likely not going to come for either team (although chances are better for Bengals), you obviously want to be resting and sitting at home that first weekend of the Playoffs.
The Bengals have seen some of the same Jekyll and Hyde tendencies the Colts have, but almost all of those can be attributed to playing at home, and playing on the road. They are a perfect 5-0 at home, including covering the spread in all five of those games. I'll jump more into some of their home stats later, but they are superb at home. This will be a huge hill for the Colts to climb, as they've not played particularly well away from Indianapolis since September, including their last road trip to Arizona. Let's hope we see the team that showed up in San Francisco.
The Colts and Bengals have played 25 times in their history, with the Colts holding a 16-9 record, and winner's of seven of the last eight meetings. Cincinnati did win their last match-up in 2011 (as did most teams against the Colts that year), a 27-17 game. You remember that one, right? The Colts got the ball after a missed field goal with 2:36 remaining down by just 3. They only needed to go about 30 yards to get into Adam Vinatieri's range to tie. What happens? Pierre Garcon decided to try and lateral the ball on the first play, which of course didn't work and was returned for a touchdown. Colts get the ball back, and Curtis Painter throws an interception on the first play of that drive. Your 2011 Colts folks.
How do these two teams stack up in 2013? Let's jump in and find out:
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Bengals:
|Orange Zone Eff||53.7%||18||50.3%||11||54.7%||17||43.5%||3|
|Avg Start Pos||29.8||15||27.5||6||26.6||31||32.3||24|
|3 and Outs||3.09||5||2.97||29||4.50||28||4.74||3|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.636||4||0.824||17||0.892||22||0.687||28|
Keys to the Game:
- Turnovers were a huge part of the Colts win last week against the Titans, and the Defense will need to duplicate the effort again this week to have any chance of winning. The Bengals are the 2nd worst team in the NFL in turning the ball over at over 2.5 per game. Take some chances and try to create something in the secondary, or let Robert Mathis do what he does. If the Bengals dont' turn the ball over, they won't win.
- Field Position may play a bit of a role here as well, as the Colts have a decent advantage on both sides of the ball. With the weather expected to play a factor (snow!), it's to each team's advantage to force the other to have to go farther down the field without making a mistake. Hopefully the Boomstick still works in the snow.
- Both teams are pretty average throwing the football, but I'm very concerned about A.J. Green torching the Colts much like Larry Fitzgerald did two weeks ago. Vontae Davis needs to prepare for "Tom Brady" again this week, as Green is, in my opinion, the 2nd best receiver in the NFL. There is a big difference in Yards per Play as well, so we could see some homerun shots by the Bengals.
- Once again the Colts face a team that is well above average on 3rd/4th down on both sides of the ball. I know they are in the middle of our table, but those plays hit almost every stat so they become the most important and meaningful plays. As Chuck Pagano says all the time, gotta win on 3rd down.
- That Bengals Defense looks really good, ranking in the top 7 in the NFL in 10 of our top 12 stats. Want to know something worse? They improve their ranking in every single one of them when they play at home. In fact, they are the NFL's best Defense at home, ranking #1 in DSR, ANPY/A, Yards/Play, and Orange Zone Efficiency, while ranking 2nd in five others. They are extremely good at home.
- What's the one area the Colts will need to exploit? The running game, which seems to be the Bengals one weakness on Defense. It's one of those games where they'll need to use a successful running game to set up the pass. What does that mean? Play-action and BOOTLEGS, something extinct from the Colts offense for weeks now. The Bengals have one of the best Defensive lines in the NFL, while the Colts have one of the worst Offensive lines. We should see the pocket moved more than dropping straight back, even if the Colts get down early. Let everything rip Pep.
- I already mentioned the weather, but I'll mention it again. Forecast says a chance of freezing rain and a temperature of 31 at kickoff. If the Colts want to advance in the Playoffs, they'll most likely have to play in New England or Denver (where it is -15 today). Good to get used to the weather now in a meaningful, yet non-meaningful game. Maybe Sunday will be when the "Power Running Game" makes its first appearance of the season.
Everything we've seen here screams a low-scoring game with the Bengals winning comfortably at home. Their Defense is elite, and the Colts Offense, save a brief cameo appearance on a Thursday night, hasn't been seen since the first weekend in October. On the flip side the Colts Defense played pretty well last week, but haven't strung together two strong efforts since September. Add in the weather factor and this looks like a no-brainer.
However, the one thing that has been consistent with this team all year is when somebody tells them they can't do something, they go out and do it. We saw it all last season as well. The Colts have been underdogs just three times this season, and won all three outright. This week they are getting six points. Something tells me they are going to find some way to hang around and hang around, and they'll have a chance to win the game at the end. I know we've seen this team do it over and over, but my logical side says failing late in games will eventually start happening to even things out, and unfortunately that starts this weekend. Colts keep it close, but can't pull out the comeback at the end.
Bengals 17, Colts 13