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The Cincinnati Bengals, led by quarterback Andy Dalton, will travel to Indianapolis to take on Andrew Luck and the Colts. The lucky winner of this game will get to trek to Denver next weekend. The Bengals and Colts faced one another in Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 7 during the regular season. The game couldn’t have been more lopsided. Indianapolis won 27-0 but the score was not indicative how poorly Cincy played. They mustered up a measly 135 yards of total offense, and only eight first downs. Indy totaled 506 yards of offense, but that was still less than the number of yards Bengals punter Kevin Huber accumulated on his 11 punts. 10 of his punts came after 3-and-outs. This was one of the worst all around team performances I can recall, yet don’t let it fool you: the Bengals are a completely different team now.

 

The Bengals are led by the “red rifle” Andy Dalton. His fourth season in the league was just as mediocre as the past three. His completion percentage, 64.2%, is the highest of his career. Dalton threw only 19 touchdowns, his lowest total in his career. To make matters worse, Andy Dalton also threw a career-high 17 interceptions, the second highest total of anyone this season. Cincy has made drastic improvements this season, but the “red rifle” has been pedestrian all season long. Dalton has been hesitant to throw the ball down the field and without A.J. Green (concussion) he won’t. Green is a monumental loss for the team but he has been hurt all season and they’ve found ways to win without him.

Andrew Luck is a great quarterback. He’s not in the same class of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning, but he will be and he could be even better. Luck finished the season with 4,761 passing yards, which is second in the league. He led the league for most of the season, but the Stanford grad didn’t throw for more than two hundred yards in any of his past three games. Andrew Luck threw for over 300 yards in eight of the team’s first nine games. Luck has thrown for 40 touchdowns this season, the highest total of any quarterback this season. He has thrown 2 or more touchdown passes in 13 games, 3 or more in 7 games and 4 or more in 4 games this season. Without a steady run game, the pressure has been on Andrew Luck all season and that won’t end now.

 

The Bengals’ biggest strength is their run game. They selected Giovani Bernard in the second round of the 2013 draft. He had a very impressive rookie season proving to be extremely versatile. Bernard is one of the best receiving running backs. He has not a great sophomore season. His numbers are similar from last year, but he’s played fewer games.
 

But luckily for the Bengals, rookie Jeremy Hill stepped up. Hill has had a very productive season. He rushed for 1,124 yards, which ranks eighth in the league, but he also had fewer carries than everyone ahead of him. Hill averages 5.1 yards a carry and has rushed for 9 touchdowns, both of which are good for second in the league for running backs. Jeremy Hill has gotten 20 or more carries five times the season, each time he rushed for a hundred or more yards (four of those games he accumulated over 145 yards) and the team is 4-1 in those games. If Hill can continue to have success running the ball, the team will be in good shape.

Andrew Luck’s top target is T.Y. Hilton who has become a top receiver. He finished the season with 1,345 receiving yards, good for sixth in the league. Hilton also ranks sixth in average yards per reception. He has always been a consistent deep-ball threat with his electric speed. T.Y. Hilton has only got into the end zone seven times, which doesn’t actually lead the team. When the Colts offense gets into the redzone, Andrew Luck targets his tight ends. TE’s Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen each have caught eight touchdown passes. Andrew Luck doesn’t have the best targets in the league but he has proven that he doesn’t need the top targets in the league to win games.

The biggest key to the game will be Cincinnati’s passing defense and Indianapolis’s rushing defense. Cincy’s passing defense ranks 20th in the league, giving up an average of 243 passing yards a game. On the other hand, the Bengals defense is also third in the NFL with 20 interceptions on the season. So they allow a ton of yards, but can also come up with timely turnovers. Luck has thrown 16 interceptions this season, but the team also averages more passing yards a game than any other team. The Colts defense ranks 18th, allowing 118 rushing yards a game. The Bengals average about 135 rushing yards a game, which is sixth in the league. So this game will come down to who can get stops, the Colts run defense or the Bengals pass defense.

My Prediction: The Colts will win the game 27-17. Andrew Luck will throw for 3 touchdowns, two of them to tight ends but he’ll also throw an interception. Andy Dalton will throw a touchdown but an interception as well. Jeremy Hill will rush for over 100 yards in the loss.

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