Wild Card Weekend Previews – Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals – Colts ready to move on

by Kent Sterling

Andrew Luck should have reason to celebrate Sunday as the Bengals are a good matchup for the Colts.

Andrew Luck should have reason to celebrate Sunday as the Bengals are a good matchup for the Colts.

Four games among eight teams – none of which is favored to go to the Super Bowl.  Wild Card Weekend is like the duels among gladiators to earn a spot to fight the lion, but it’s still the NFL, and for the eight teams fighting for a chance to travel to play one of the four best teams in football, it represents a chance.

Coaches earn their opportunity to crow for another week about how smart they are, and job security can be a reward of a win during this weekend that separates the good from the kind of good.

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The third game of the weekend pits the Cincinnati Bengals against the Colts in Indianapolis.  The Colts looked like a team that might contend for a Super Bowl berth in Week Seven when they hammered the Bengals 27-0.  That domination was a bitter pill for Bengals fans, but it will have nothing to do with the result of Sunday’s early game.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis needs a win Sunday to avoid tying Jim Mora Sr.’s record for playoff losses without a win (six), and Andy Dalton has been the king of the one-and-done playoff quarterbacks going 0-3 in his three seasons.

The Colts offensive line is in injury-related shambles, as it has been for weeks, but during that time, the Colts have managed to win five or their last six.  Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton told the media yesterday, “Our emphasis is to just try and score every time we touch the football. If that’s running the football, that’s great. Ideally, we want to have balance in our offense but at this point, we’ve got to accentuate our strengths and do what we do best and that’s finding ways to score.”

That means throw the football.  Since Ahmad Bradshaw was lost for the season with a broken fibula, the Colts have had limited success (that’s being kind) running the football.  Trent Richardson and Boom Herron have been trusted to man the running game, but Andrew Luck has led the Colts in rushing twice, and in the Cowboys game, Herron led the Colts with three yards.

Tha Colts cannot run, and will not run.  What they will do is try to use the weapons Luck has at his disposal.  Dwayne Allen and T.Y. Hilton are healthy, Hakeem Nicks has been productive of late, and Reggie Wayne knows this is his last best chance to add a ring to his collection of one.  Look for the Colts to come out with urgency from the opening kick and put pressure on the Bengals secondary and inability to get to the quarterback.

The pass rush of the Bengals is ranked last in the NFL by profootballfocus.com, and have only 22 sacks for the season, and that plays right into the Colts biggest weakness – protecting Luck.

A.J. Green is still working through concussion protocols and may not play.  If he suits up, the Bengals offense will be far more potent than if he fails to pass tests and is forced to sit.

The running game for the Bengals is key to their offensive success.  Jeremy Hill has established himself as the man in the Queen City, rushing for 100 or more yards the last three games of the season.  When the offense is trusted to Andy Dalton, the roller coaster ride for the Bengals starts, and where it usually ends is with a touchdown or turnover – and they come in nearly equal measure.  Dalton finished the season with 19 TDs and 17 picks.

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This game, like most in the NFL, likely will come down to turnovers.  The Colts gave the ball away 15 times from Week 12 through Week 16 before putting together a turnover free effort against Tennessee in the season finale.

Dalton’s playoff statistics have been terrible with passer ratings of 51.4, 44,7, and 67.0 with one TD and six picks.  Whether this winds up being his fourth nightmare in four seasons is yet to be written, but does anyone want to bet against it?

if the Colts get off to a hot start, this game will get ugly.  If the Bengals take nearly lead, one of two things will happen – the Bengals will win their first playoff game since January, 1991, or the stage will be set for another thrilling comeback led by Andrew Luck and an opportunistic defense.

Prediction:  I see this as a surprisingly drama free walk through – Colts 38 – Bengals 20

8 thoughts on “Wild Card Weekend Previews – Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals – Colts ready to move on

  1. Mike Petry

    If the basis for betting on the Colts/against the Bengals is that Andy Dalton has been terrible in three playoff games to date, doesn’t it bear examining Andrew Luck’s performance in the playoffs.
    Certainly his overall numbers are better than Dalton, but not by nearly the margin you’d expect given the difference in narratives between the two.

    Nevertheless, if the Bengals are depending on Dalton, they’re sunk. Fortunately, there’s an alternate path to victory.

    If Luck replicates his playoff average to date, what odds would you give the Indianapolis boys?

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Reasonable expectation, but Luck is not considered the quarterback Dalton is. He’s on his way to the elite ranks – a place into which Dalton will never be invited.

      But let’s look at Dalton vs. Luck. Both have played in three playoff games (Luck’s have come in two seasons, while Dalton’s have been in three), with Dalton’s record 0-3 and Luck’s 1-2.

      Luck’s stat line – 77/140 for 1,062 yards, six TDs, and eight picks. His passer rating – 70.0.
      Dalton’s stat line – 70/123 for 718 yards, one TD, and six picks. Passer rating of 56.2.

      While Luck is not stellar, but based on numbers I’ll take him every time over Dalton.

      Based on intangibles, the difference between Luck and Dalton is far more stark.

      Just for fun, let’s compare Dalton during the regular season with Jay Cutler:

      Cutler – 61.4% completion; 233.2 yards per game; 11.6 yards per catch; PR 85.2; 183 TDs; 130 INTs.
      Dalton – 61.6% completion; 230.6 yards per game; 11.3 yards per catch, PR 85.2; 99 TDs; 66 INTs.

      For fans in Cincinnati – that comparison is a kick in the gut.

      1. Mike Petry

        I would never argue Dalton and Luck are equals. But the Colts need Luck to play very well whereas the Bengals simply need Dalton to not kill them.
        In a limited sample of three games, Luck has been just as bad as Dalton on two out of three games.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          In that limited comparison, it’s hard to argue. But given the more expansive regal season samples, Luck is becoming an amalgam of Manning and Roethlisberger, while Dalton and Cutler are virtual twins.

          1. Mike Petry

            Interesting comparison. I’ve never thought of Dalton as being like Cutler, mainly because he’s so much less of a horse’s rear end. He’s frustrating in his own way.

            Bengals are in QB purgatory. Not good enough to truly contend for Super Bowl but not bad enough to truly give it all up and start from scratch.
            Remind me a lot of the Texans with Schaub at QB.

          2. kentsterling Post author

            Dalton and Schaub might be a better comp than Dalton and Cutler. The numbers for Dalton and Cutler are hilariously similar though.

          3. Mike Petry

            That’s fair. I think Houston’s an interesting comparison for a number of reasons. It’s hard to say they’re in a better place since getting rid of their “limited QB”.

            I think its interesting that even as they were in need of a franchise QB, and in possession of a #1 pick, they kept the pick and chose to enhance a strength(Defensive End) rather than try to fill a weakness.

          4. kentsterling Post author

            That was a wise choice. The worst thing a team can do is use the #1 overall pick on a mediocre quarterback – see the Rams and Sam Bradford. Draft the best player available, and there was no way to look at Jadeveon Clowney and not be convinced that he was a game changer. Sadly, injuries might derail that potential, but it was the right choice.

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