We Think The Bengals Will Beat the Colts. Here's Why.
The Bengals are back for the fourth year in a row to the playoff party, but their reputation for leaving early precedes them and few get excited about their arrival. Not only that, their offense walks into Indianapolis as the walking wounded, featuring one of the more limited cast of receiving threats the playoffs have seen in some time.
If it's one thing this team should be used to by now, however, it's being doubted.
When Marvin Lewis says he intends on winning the Super Bowl, there's a haughty chuckle somewhere in us all, knowing the steps necessary to achieve such a lofty goal, but there is no other way to approach this thing for him or his team.
Cincinnati is coming off of their best win, two weeks ago, and their best loss, last week in Pittsburgh. They are running the ball consistently, playing better defense and not falling apart when bad things happen to them.
Indianapolis is not the scariest of teams in the field, but they are bonafide contenders. Like Andy Dalton, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has also been to the playoffs every year of his career and continues to develop into the elite player we suspected he'd be. Their passing attack is strong with a variety of targets. Their tight ends are especially dangerous catching the ball and Bengals cornerback Adam Jones said the tandem is the most underrated part of the team.
Fortunately for Cincinnati, they should have their full compliment of corners who played so well when healthy against Denver but looked soft with illness and fatigue against Pittsburgh. The way the group beat the Broncos was primarily by a pass rush that gained strength as the game went on. For the vast majority of the season, the Bengals' pass rush has been anything but dominant, which is notable because their pressure was so consistent with former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer during his time in the Queen City. Indianapolis has a banged up offensive line, so it's paramount that the likes of Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry and especially Geno Atkins have a difference-making game.
Atkins is a very good player who may still be great, but he has unquestionably declined this season compared to his large sack totals of years past. This week would be an excellent time to earn large chunks of that enormous contract that he signed this offseason.
The Colts are not the strongest running team, the primary reason why they are a better matchup for Cincinnati than the Ravens would have been, so pressuring Luck on a regular basis is the easiest way to derail a potent Indianapolis offense.
As for the Bengals offense, they will have to win on the ground once again. With so many receiving targets out this week, leaning on the run game seems like the only solution to manufacture enough yardage to advance. Last year, it would have been hard to argue that the Bengal were not a good passing team. Dalton had 33 touchdown passes, they blew out multiple opponents at home and new contributors like Marvin Jones emerged.
This year, they have been a really sub-par passing offense and has gotten by largely on the legs of their rookie runner Jemery Hill. Now with A.J. Green, possibly Jermaine Gresham and even Dane Sazenbacher shelved for this one, it will be a prime opportunity for Mohamed Sanu to show the world he has unique talents that can shine when put in the right position. Sanu is a player of rare and special talents, but has not been able to always put it all together. He's big and strong, shows tremendous concentration making catches when contacted with a defender, and can throw it pretty well. He has stepped up in other games this season when Green couldn't go and rarely comes off as if the game is too big for him. The Bengals will need a player to show themselves as a real target with all the bigger names out, and Sanu has the best chance to do that.
Dalton can't turn the ball over. The backup receivers and young running backs can't fumble. The defense can't have bad penalties that gives Indy new life. If they want to be taken seriously and win a grown-up game, they have to play a clean game and trust in their collective talents and preparation. Getting in rhythm on the ground, winning on third down and getting a healthy pass rush throughout the afternoon seems like the only way the Bengals can finally get this monkey off of their back. I expect a spirited effort by this group that shuts up their detractors for a week.
Prediction: Bengals 24, Colts 20
Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor