After an emotional road win against the Houston Texans, the (4-2) Indianapolis Colts return home to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the (3-1-1) Cincinnati Bengals (4pm EST, Sunday).
Since Peyton Manning joined the Denver Broncos in 2012, the Broncos and the New England Patriots have been the teams to beat in the AFC. Both teams have reached the playoffs in each of the last two seasons and even faced off against one another in the 2013 AFC Championship Game.
It is clear that both the Patriots and the Broncos are the class of their conference and as long as Brady and Manning continue to play, it is unlikely this will change anytime soon. In fact, both the Colts (against the Broncos) and Bengals (against the Patriots) were outperformed in their only meetings this season.
But while neither team has managed to reach the next level, both the Colts and the Bengals have had their opportunities. In fact, since the beginning of both of their careers, 2011 for Andy Dalton (pictured) and 2012 for Andrew Luck, both quarterbacks have led their teams to victory each season. However, neither quarterback has managed to win more than one game in the postseason per year.
And until Luck and Dalton can take their teams out of the first round, Manning and Brady will continue to be the heads of the class. That means Dalton and Luck, as well as the Bengals and Colts, are still only battling to be the best of the rest, the third seed in the AFC playoffs.
All in the Arm
I mentioned Luck and Dalton not quite measuring up to Brady and Manning when it comes to playoff success but in no way does that discount what these two youngsters have managed to do in their short careers. In fact, it is probably safe to say that Dalton and Luck are well on their way to being the next great names in the AFC passing game.
A standout star out of TCU, Dalton has been known throughout his college and professional career for his amazing accuracy. This year has been no different, well it has, because Dalton’s numbers have ticked up to the exceptional level.
On the 2014 season having completed 103 passes in 151 attempts, Dalton has a completion percentage of 68.2 for the year. Of his four year career, this is the most accurate Dalton has ever been. With 1,249 yards in just five games, Dalton is also on pace to set career numbers in passing yards, interception/TD ratio and QBR.
The better of the pair, Luck has emerged this year as a clear star and in some circles, has even entered the sacred top five of NFL quarterbacks.
Luck’s accuracy is at a high this year and at 66.2% is just a few ticks under Dalton’s. Luck has the advantage though in total passing yards (1,987) and total passing touchdowns (17), not just over Dalton but over the entirety of NFL quarterbacks. In many ways, Luck has been the best at his position in the league this year.
With arms like these, it is no surprise that both Luck and Dalton are the leaders of two division-topping teams. Going head-to-head Sunday should be a great duel.
Cincinnati’s Identity Crisis
Following a 2013 season that saw the Bengals go 11-5 in the regular season, the team from Cincinnati picked up right where they left off. They stormed out of the gate with three straight wins that displayed both a dominant offense and shutdown defense. With crisp, mistake-free play, the Bengals were named an early favorite in the AFC.
But then in the midst of their best start in years, the Bengals were halted by an early bye week. For most teams a bye is a good thing but having one in week four is no blessing. The Bengals learned this the hard way as fresh out of the bye they faced a humiliated New England Patriots that torched them for 43 points. Offensively, Cincinnati managed to score just 17.
Last week was more of the same. The Bengals played a good, tough game but in the end, fell just short against the Carolina Panthers. The game ended in a tie, the first since almost a year ago and only the second in the past five years.
In a lot of ways, the Bengals have been a victim of their schedule getting tougher. That continues against a Colts team who has won each of the last four and has done so through an offensive barrage. The Bengals defense will have to get back to where it was early this season if they hope to defeat the Colts at home.
When it comes to offense, the Colts have been the best in the league. Behind Luck’s passing prowess, Indianapolis leads the NFL in passing yards per game. The running game is just average but since it is merely a supplement to what Luck and his receiving corps do, average has been enough. Defensively, the Colts edge the Bengals in several other categories including on 3rd/4th down conversion percentage, turnovers created and plays per drive. Offensively, the Colts take the lead in 3rd/4th down conversion percentage, yards per drive, first downs per drive and red zone efficiency.
After the first three games, the defensive edge went to the Bengals but with a few injuries and their performance kind of all over the place, it is hard to say if the regular season stats tell the full story. As such, the Colts have the edge in the defensive categories of yards per play, red zone efficiency and yards per carry. Offensively, the Bengals lead in turnovers surrendered, yards per play and yards per carry.
When looking at this numbers alone, it doesn’t tell much. So here is some context:
- The Colts are first in the NFL in stopping teams from converting on third or fourth downs while the Bengals are last in the NFL in converting on these downs. Moral of the story? Cincinnati is going to have to play better to get the most out of their time with the ball.
- The Colts running game has been average but the Bengals run defense ranks near the bottom of the pack. In a surprise move for Indianapolis, the running game could be looked to as more than just a support to the passing game. It should be vital to the success of the team.
Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts Betting Picks
- The sportsbooks have Indianapolis as -3pts favorites. The Colts are at home and have been the more consistent team. While the Bengals should put up a decent fight, Indy can cover that -3pts field goal margin of the spread @ best odds of -125 with either BetOnline or 5Dimes sportsbooks.
- Also bet on the over 50 total points at odds of -110 with any of Bovada, BetOnline or 5Dimes. These teams are offensive in nature.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.