NFL Playoffs: Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts Preview

Andrew LuckNow the college football championship teams are decided, our attention turns to the NFL and wildcard weekend. Although there are four great games being played between eight great teams, our focus here is on the Sunday headliner of the Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts (1pm EST on CBS).

Youth will be served in a big way during this game as both teams are led by quarterbacks who have yet to log five seasons in the league. That being said, neither ‘Andy’ is a stranger to the postseason as both Andrew Luck (pictured) and Andy Dalton have reached the playoffs each year they have been in the league (four for Dalton, three for Luck).

This hasn’t been by accident or for lack of a better word, luck, either. Both of these quarterbacks are talented with strong, accurate arms and both are on teams that certainly don’t want for offensive weapons. In fact for both Luck and Dalton, coming into the league right alongside of them were the two guys who helped turn the young quarterbacks into the players they are today.

For Luck, it was TY Hilton, who is entering the postseason on the heels of a career year (82 REC, 1,345 YDS, 7 TDS in 2014). Hilton was the Colts’ second round draft pick the same year Luck went first overall. The two synced right away and over their three year careers, Hilton has been responsible for receiving 20% of Luck’s passes. In the playoffs, Hilton has 393 receiving yards, which is 37% of Luck’s total in the same games and second most of any player in his first three playoff games of all-time.

For Dalton it was AJ Green, an annual Pro-Bowl selection and the guy who has caught more passes in his first three seasons in the league than any other player in history. This year, Green missed three games due to injury but still managed to finish with a line of: 69 REC, 1,041 YDS, 6 TDS. In his four years in the league, Green has been the recipient of 25% of Dalton’s passes and 35% of his touchdown passes (35 of 99).

You can expect Hilton’s number to be called quite often as in eight of 15 games this season he was targeted at least nine times. As for Green, it is very possible his name isn’t called at all as a concussion suffered last week might keep him out of the first round matchup. For Dalton and the Bengals, who haven’t won a playoff game in their last six tries over the last 24 years, the absence of Green is not a comforting thought.

Why Can’t Dalton, Lewis & Bengals win in postseason?

Now that is a question that has stumped many in the NFL world for the past few years. How is it that a team that has won 40 games in the last four years, failed to win just one in the postseason? How has Dalton, with 99 career touchdowns to just 66 interceptions, managed to throw just one TD and six INT (third worst ratio in playoff history with players having a minimum of three starts)? How has head coach Marvin Lewis, who led the Bengals to their first winning season in 15 years in 2005 and who led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl championship as defensive coordinator, failed to get his team past the first round even once?

These are all questions that the Bengals have been asked and have yet been able to answer. Why? Because there really is no answer. There is no fundamental reason why the Bengals can’t win in the postseason. There is no reason why Dalton seems to be at his worst in the playoffs. All there is, is a trend and one that is hard to ignore. For whatever reason, the drought has lingered. Of course it has to end at some point, but if you’re putting money on this game, are you really willing to bet that this is the year it does?

Colts Hoping that this Time is Just like the Last Time

When the Colts hosted the Bengals back in week seven of the regular season, it was open season for Luck and his men. The third year quarterback, who has already topped some of Peyton Manning’s franchise records in Indy, had his way with the secondary to the tune of 344 yards and two TD. Sure this wasn’t the NFL’s only 40 TD, 4,000 yard passer’s best game of the year, but it was a revelation. The Bengals put up a goose egg with Dalton having just a paltry 126 yards and zero touchdowns.

For the Colts, who won the game decidedly by a score of 27-0, they know the same result is going to be tough to come by. Shutting out any NFL team is a challenge and to do so twice in one year, is all but impossible. However, three of the Bengals’ five losses this year came on the road including the one at Lucas Oil which is the setting for the first round playoff game.

The only big difference is that the first time around, the Bengals weren’t starting Jeremy Hill.

Can Hill be a Difference Maker?

An injury to starter Giovani Bernard, opened up the door for the talented rookie Hill, who exploded in his first career start with 154 yards and two touchdowns against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Of course, excitement was tempered since it was just the winless-at-the-time Jags, but then Hill did it again two weeks later against the New Orleans Saints. In total, he did it, that being over 140 yards rushing, four times this season including two of the last three games.

Those incredible performances of tackle-breaking madness left Hill as the NFL’s leading rusher since week nine (929 yards). That’s more than Demarco Murray, Leveon Bell, Matt Forte, and the list goes on.

Behind Hill, who is now the starter, and Bernard, the Bengals have one heck of a rushing attack. Conversely, the Colts do not. The season-ending injury to Ahmad Bradshaw was bad but so too was starter Trent Richardson who failed to record a 80+ rushing game at all this season, a feat Hill did six times.

Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts Betting Picks

The Colts are a good team but they have struggled lately with low-scoring and close wins against non-playoff teams. They got dismantled in the only game they had against a playoff team, a 7-42 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. That was then and this is now. Luck has had a history of playing big when the need arises and this will be his chance to prove it. The Colts are the home team, they have the momentum and they have a better defense. Hill is a great player but is it enough to make up for Dalton’s playoff deficiencies? That remains to be seen.

  • I have to take the Colts -3pts to cover that spread @ best betting odds of -125 with BetOnline. You can also get them -3.5pts @ -110 with 5Dimes Sportsbook, which may appeal more to some people for the better odds. Rushing may not be their strength but they haven’t needed it so far this season and won’t need it against the Bengals either.
  • As for the total points in the game, an over score favors the Colts typically but 49 is steep considering the way both teams have been scoring of late. Take the under 49pts @ -110 odds with Bovada. It is under 48pts with the other sportsbooks.