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Indianapolis Colts vs. Chicago Bears preview

NFL: Preseason-Chicago Bears at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts’ season hasn’t gone as planned, and at the quarter mark of the season they’re just 1-3 and in last place in the AFC South.

They’re still very much in the mix in the division race, however, and they face a manageable matchup this Sunday in the Chicago Bears, who are also 1-3 so far this year. The Bears lost their first three games before pulling out a 17-14 victory over the Detroit Lions last week (who beat the Colts in week one).

The game against the Bears is a winnable one for this Colts team, and it also could provide a reminder to owner Jim Irsay of where he still wants to be. Few Colts fans can watch the team take on the Bears without remembering the Colts’ victory over them in Super Bowl XLI, one of the crowning achievements of the Peyton Manning era. The Colts won that game 29-17, and it’s beyond clear that Irsay wants to reach the same level of success in the Andrew Luck era that his franchise had in the Manning era. The game also provides a chance for Irsay to evaluate how far his team has come in the current era, as the last time the Colts played the Bears was actually the first game of the Luck era (also marking their first game with Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano). The Colts lost that game 41-21, but Luck threw for over 300 yards - a sign of things to come. With the two teams facing off again this Sunday, however, it provides another chance to re-consider where this team is at.

So where are the Colts at? They’re an average team at best with a good quarterback. They’re a team that has looked bad in every game this year yet still managed to be in each one of them at the end. They’re a team that has started just 1-3 but that is still in the mix in the AFC South race. So in other words, it’s not certain what to expect from the Colts on Sunday, but this much can be assumed: they’ll look bad for parts of it but manage to keep it close, at which point Andrew Luck will have a chance to pull it out in the fourth quarter.

The Bears, meanwhile, have also looked bad for parts of this season. Their offense in particular has struggled, as they rank 24th in yards per game, 28th in third down percentage, 24th in turnover margin, and tied for last in points per game with 15.5. They’re better defensively, as they’re tenth in yards per game allowed, 18th in third down defense, and 19th in points per game allowed. One thing this Sunday’s game will present: the league’s lowest-scoring offense (the Bears are tied for last in that regard) against a defense that has given up more points per game than all but two teams. The Bears are averaging 15.5 points per game; the Colts are giving up 31.2 points per game. Which one will give Sunday?

The key to that question might be Brian Hoyer. Making his third straight start in relief of Jay Cutler, Hoyer will also be looking for his third straight 300+ yard passing performance. So far this year he has done well, completing 67 of 97 passes (69.1%) for 697 yards (7.2 yards per attempt), four touchdowns, and no interceptions for a passer rating of 103.3. Hoyer has played well, and his top receiver, Alshon Jeffery, has caught 17 passes for 317 yards this year. The Bears struggle to run the football, but they have a bright spot in former Indiana running back Jordan Howard, who has rushed for 178 yards this year on 35 carries (5.1 yards per rush). With Jeremy Langford unlikely to play due to an ankle injury, Howard should get a significant workload.

Ultimately, this game should come down to whether the Colts can make enough plays to pull the game out in the fourth quarter - and whether they can avoid digging too big of a hole in the first half. This is very close to a must-win game, at least as close as it gets in week five, and the Colts have at times seemed to play better when under a lot of pressure. A loss on Sunday would drop them to just 1-4 heading into a matchup against the AFC South-leading Texans, and it would prompt even more questions about Chuck Pagano’s job status - meaning that the team is under a lot of pressure, whether due to their coach’s job status or not. The Colts have the best winning percentage in the NFL since 2001 in games decided by three points or less, and so far this year they’ve continued to keep games close. We’ve seen Andrew Luck pull out a win in the fourth quarter numerous times throughout his Colts career, and they face a favorable matchup this weekend. So a lot of it depends on how ugly the Colts look early on, but I think the Colts’ offense finds a way to pull this one out in the fourth quarter for a much-needed second win.

Predicted Score: Colts 27, Bears 23