The Colts are riding a four-game win streak as they head home for this matchup of two AFC division leaders, hosting the Cincinnati Bengals (leaders of the AFC North). It's the second of three games for the Colts against the AFC North in a month's span, and it figures to be a competitive game between two of the AFC's best teams. Here's your preview for the game:
What Happened Last Week?
A TIE! A TIE HAPPENED! Make sure everybody lets Donovan McNabb know, but the Bengals vs. Panthers game last week ended in a tie! Andy Dalton completed 76.7% of his passes for 323 yards and 2 scores (while also throwing 2 picks) and Giovani Bernard rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown while averaging 7.6 yards per carry. Mohamed Sanu racked up 120 yards and a touchdown receiving on 10 catches, filling in nicely for the injured A.J. Green. The Bengals offense scored 37 points and racked up 513 yards of offense, but the Bengals defense struggled a bit, also giving up 37 points and 431 yards of offense to the Panthers. It was a shootout for sure, and it was one that ended in a tie after 75 minutes of football.
The Colts last played ten days ago, as they beat the Houston Texans on the road on Thursday night football, 33-28. The Colts jumped out to a 24-0 first quarter lead behind Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton, but the Texans clawed their way back into the game to make it a close, competitive game in the fourth quarter. Luck threw for 370 yards and three touchdowns while Hilton racked up 9 catches for 223 yards and a score, and that duo proved to be too much for the Texans.
Key of the Game for the Colts
Protect the football. In four of the six games the Colts have played this year, they've had multiple turnovers, including in each of the last two (four against the Ravens, two against the Texans). You can blame this on whatever you want - freak plays, nice defensive plays, a high volume of plays, a high time of possession, the nature of the way the Colts play, etc. - but the fact of the matter is that the Colts cannot turn the ball over and expect to beat good teams. While sometimes they'll be able to pull it out (like when they committed four turnovers against the Ravens, thanks to a great defensive performance), but more often than not turning the ball over leads to losing a game. While it's inaccurate to say that Andrew Luck has a turnover problem or really even that the Colts' turnovers are a huge issue (compared to their other production), they'll need to protect the football this week against the Bengals.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Offense vs. Bengals Defense
It's kinda nice to be able to say this about another team's defense (since I've been saying it about the Colts this year), but the Bengals really struggle to cover the tight ends in the passing game. They've been one of the worst in the NFL at doing so this year, and the Colts have two good receiving options at the position. Obviously, that speaks of a mismatch. Coby Fleener is still a good receiving target for Andrew Luck, and Dwayne Allen is a special player who has proven to be a great option in the passing game as well. Neither have really been featured in the passing game yet this year, but they've still combined for 31 catches for 403 yards and 7 touchdowns in six games this year. Especially in the red zone, they're dangerous. The Bengals have struggled to cover the tight end, so I'd look for the Colts to get Fleener and Allen involved in more than just the red zone offense this week.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Defense vs. Bengals Offense
The Colts really need to key in on the run game this week, as the Bengals present a tough challenge in that area. The Colts allowed Arian Foster to have a good game last week and Indy's run defense still hasn't been that great this year. With the Bengals running the football well behind Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, plus the fact that the Bengals have injuries at the wide receiver position, it makes sense for Cincy to run the football a lot - and that's not even mentioning that the strength of the Colts defense is in the secondary with Vontae Davis and with a newfound pass rush. I'd expect the Bengals to run the football until the Colts prove they can stop it, and that in itself is a very tough task.
Why the Colts Will Win
It's a matchup of top-five offenses, but the Colts are ranked number one. On paper, that suggests they should score more points. And they certainly have an explosive unit, led by MVP-candidate Andrew Luck and star receivers T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne. There hasn't been an opposing team yet that has been able to totally stop them, and I don't expect that to change this Sunday. The Colts will score points, which puts the pressure on Cincy to keep up. If the Colts defense can manage some stops (which they've certainly been doing in the past month), then the Colts have a great shot at winning this one. Plus, they're at home and on a four-game winning streak, playing very well.
Why the Colts Won't Win
The Bengals' are a good offense, and both the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles (two other good offenses) gave the Colts trouble and won. Andy Dalton and co. should be able to score against this Colts defense too, and if they are truly able to control the football, they'll be able to limit Luck's chances. The Colts defense has shown weaknesses despite playing very well recently, and an offense like the Bengals should be able to take advantage of them. And, for as much good as we say about the Colts offense, they're still not perfect. The Bengals will have to put up points to win, but the good news for Cincy is that they're more than capable of doing that just like the Colts are.
If you haven't gotten the sense yet, I expect this game to be a high-scoring one. The Colts are number one in the NFL in yards per game while the Bengals are fifth. The Colts are number one in the NFL in points per game while the Bengals are tied for ninth. Both teams have been playing well offensively, and I expect that to continue at least somewhat on Sunday. I don't think this will be a game that really goes against what we've seen already this year. I trust Andrew Luck more than Andy Dalton, especially when comparing the cast of receivers each will be playing with this Sunday, and I think we've seen enough of the Colts defense recently to know that they're capable of making at least some plays. I'm taking the Colts in a high-scoring, close contest on Sunday from Indianapolis.
Colts 34, Bengals 27
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