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2014 NFL Week Seven Preview: Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Two division leaders clash Sunday when the Bengals make the short journey west to take on the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Can the Colts make it five wins in a row against a Bengals team who hasn't won their last two (stupid ties)?

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

A pair of division leaders will square off Sunday in Indianapolis when the Cincinnati Bengals make the ~110 mile trek across I-74 to take on the Colts. It's a game I've had circled for a while as a bellwether game for the Colts, but after the first six weeks, I'm beginning to think it might just be the other way around.

The Bengals started off red hot in the first three weeks, looking like the best team in the NFL while beating up on the Ravens, Falcons, and Titans before hitting their bye week. I (the Winning Stats) had them pegged as being really good before the start of the year, and after those first three weeks they were making my computer system look like a genius invention with Back to the Future-esque predictability powers. Unfortunately, it all came crashing down after the Patriots were humiliated in Kansas City on a Monday night, and it didn't matter who they played the next week: it wasn't going to be pretty. Then last week they went back and forth with the Panthers, to only blow a win at the end thanks to a missed 35 yard field goal and settling for a 37-37 tie. For a Defense that was one of the best of 2013, giving up 37 points to anyone isn't a very good sign, especially after giving up 43 the week before. It's difficult to know whether the 2014 Bengals are the team we saw the first three weeks, or the one we've seen the last two. This week will help tell us.

The Colts, on the other hand, have played consistently very good over the last four weeks, and come into Sunday off of a mini-bye, having played last Thursday night, winning on the road in Houston, commandeering the AFC South back from the Texans. We've seen noticeable changes in all three phases of the game, as well as coaching philosophy, and the Colts have passed each test with flying colors. The Colts appear to be getting healthier thanks to the additional time off, as both starting Guards Hugh Thornton and Jack Mewhort were back at practice Wednesday, as was Arthur Jones, coming off his high ankle sprain against the Eagles. The Colts are clearly trending up.

The biggest injury news comes from All-Pro WR A.J. Green continuing to be out, thanks to a toe injury. Despite the fact that my fantasy team needs him to return here soon, it'll be a huge break for the Colts if he is unable to play. But just remember, this Offense put up 37 points last week without him, so they are more than capable of moving the ball without their best offensive player. Also missing practice yesterday were starting LBs Rey Maualuga and Emmanuel Lamur, which would be a big blow to a reeling Defense.

The Bengals have won the last two meetings between the two teams, including a 42-28 triumph last season in Cincinnati. If you remember, that was the game where the greatest referee in the NFL Jeff Tripplette could not see what everyone else in the world could see: that Josh Chapman got his hand on the leg of Ben-Jarvus Green Ellis, which was the call made on the field, and overturned the call. It turned a 4th down stop into a Bengals TD, completely turning the game. After hearing what officiating "expert" Mike Carey had to say last week, however, and how a blown Pass Interference call clearly changed the game on Monday night, we shouldn't be surprised when a call is made for seemingly no reason. Historically the Colts hold a 16-10 record against the Bengals, with it being 12-6 since moving to Indianapolis. The Colts had won seven games in a row before the last two seasons, but in yet another odd scheduling quirk, six of those seven were played in Indianapolis. Amazing they never looked at these things before.

How do these two teams stack up statistically against one another? Let's find out.

Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Bengals (Adjusted):

Statistic Colts Bengals
Offense Rank Defense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank
DSR 78.8% 1 69.5% 18 69.0% 18 72.5% 26
ANPY/A 6.686 7 5.230 13 7.470 4 3.379 1
Turnovers 2.22 24 2.07 9 1.14 10 2.01 10
Yds/Drive 37.55 2 27.84 12 29.31 17 32.77 25
ToP/Drive 3:15.0 3 2:08.0 1 2:14.0 29 2:54.0 23
Yds/Play 5.721 8 5.707 27 5.903 2 4.911 10
Orange Zone Eff 63.1% 6 66.4% 30 46.8% 27 42.0% 3
First Downs/Drive 2.20 2 1.57 10 1.55 20 2.10 30
3rd/4th Down 45.0% 8 26.0% 1 24.9% 32 36.0% 12
Avg Start Pos 32.0 10 26.1 4 34.9 3 31.0 23
3 and Outs 2.45 2 3.75 14 3.35 11 2.51 30
RZ Eff 76.9% 5 84.9% 32 66.2% 18 67.2% 15
Plays/Drive 6.584 3 4.929 2 4.953 30 6.562 30
Penalty Yds / Play 0.885 18 0.994 10 0.893 19 0.875 14
RB Success 42.1% 18 52.5% 29 44.2% 13 54.3% 30
Yds/Carry 4.06 19 5.41 32 4.31 12 5.03 27
Overall 3 16 19 20

Keys to the Game:

  • Because the Colts were off last Sunday, and because I decided not to re-up my Sunday Ticket for this year, I watched a good portion of the Bengals-Panthers game last week. Both teams traded long drives back and forth all day, meaning that the Colts sitting at #1 in Drive Success Rate should have little resistance in moving the ball against the Bengals Defense, which ranks 26th in the NFL. Add in the fact the Colts are 2nd in Three and Outs, while the Bengals rank 30th, and the Colts will be in big trouble if they can't move the ball. Big advantage Colts.
  • The Bengals do have the best passing Defense in the NFL through six weeks, which means I'm going to advocate something that I rarely do: the Colts have to run the ball to be successful Sunday. I hope/expect to see a similar gameplan to what we saw against the Eagles, as the Bengals rank down with the Colts when it comes to run Defense. The Patriots have been the only team so far this year to have any success throwing the ball, and the Colts will have to be able to pick up some 3rd and longs through the air, but if the Colts want to pound the ball with Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw, this is the week to do it.
  • The Bengals stats in the Orange and Red Zone look a little confusing, with the Orange Zone ranking 3rd in the NFL, while the Red Zone being pretty average at 15th. This means they're tough between the 35 and the 20, but are easier to score on once you get in close. It also means they force some turnovers in that range as well, something we've seen the Colts do too much lately. The Colts have been excellent converting drives into points lately, a main reason for the four game win streak (especially against the Texans). They'll have a tough test Sunday.
  • There is a giant mismatch on 3rd/4th downs when the Bengals have the ball: the Colts are #1 in the NFL stopping them, and the Bengals are #32 converting them. The Colts have only allowed one third down conversion each of the last three weeks, and in theory this week should be the easiest of them all. If we start seeing the Bengals converting 3rd downs, start panicking.
  • It's interesting to look at Time of Possession per Drive and Yards per Play, how different they are, but how much they make sense. Yards per Play tells a lot about homerun plays, which the Bengals do really well and the Colts Defense can't stop, so I'm sure we'll see some deep shots taken. It goes hand-in-hand with short drives, as the more yards you gain per play, the less time you have the ball, so expect the Bengals to have short drives, in terms of time, but not necessarily in terms of yards.
  • Pat McAfee was AFC Special Teams Player of the Week last week, and he'll be needed again to help combat the really good field position the Bengals usually get, ranking 3rd in the NFL. Field Position has been a huge advantage in the NFL this year. Glad the Colts have one of the best Special Teams units after many, many years of neglect.
  • Last but certainly not least, the Bengals are very good passing the ball, ranking 4th in the NFL. Hopefully Darius Butler can return from his ankle injury that kept him out of the Texans game, as they picked on Josh Gordy quite a bit, and I'd assume the Bengals, who are way better passing the ball than the Texans,even without Green, will exploit that weakness of the Colts.

This looks like a really, really good match-up for the Colts, as the big strengths for the Bengals are equally good for the Colts, while some of the biggest Colts strengths are big-time struggles for the Bengals. The Colts can't give the Bengals a short field, and they'll have to use the run to set up the pass (blasphemy!), which I think Pep Hamilton will not be shy in doing. I think this is a game the Colts should win comfortably, but it won't be comfortable. I think the Bengals have a chance to win at the end, but come up short on a final drive, much like last Thursday night.

Colts 30, Bengals 24

Thursday Night Prediction: Patriots 29, Jets 18