One of the better games one the Week 14 NFL schedule should be the matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals. The pair of first place teams are set to face off in Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon.
Both teams appear to be well on their way to a playoff berth, and the contest will have postseason implications. The Colts and Bengals both sit atop their respective divisions at 8-4, and the winner would be in position to land the No.3 seed in the AFC. If Cincinnati were to catch the New England Patriots, who currently hold the No.2 seed and a first-round bye, they’d own the tiebreaker because of their head-to-head matchup. Indianapolis would also likely have the tiebreaker, since another New England loss would give the Colts the advantage in conference record.
The identical record isn’t the only parallel that can be drawn between the two teams. Each team is looking to repeat a playoff appearance under their young quarterback. In his sophomore campaign, Andrew Luck has improved his completion percentage and is on pace to throw seven fewer interceptions. In his third year, Andy Dalton is likely to set career marks in passing yards and touchdowns.
The winner of the contest could be determined by which quarterback can make the most plays down the stretch. However, the rushing attack will also play a key role. In recent weeks, Indianapolis has been hurt by a weak run defense, which hasn’t held an opponent to less than 120 yards on the ground since Week Seven. The Bengals haven’t had a 100-yard rusher this year, but the combination of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard has been good enough to give them a balanced offensive attack. Both players have rushed for four scores and over 500 yards.
"It lets (offensive coordinator Jay Gruden) utilize his entire playbook and not limit him at all," Bernard said. "If there's a situation where I need to go in, he'll throw me in. If there's a situation he wants Benny in, he'll throw him in. It definitely helps us and we definitely use it to our advantage."
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The state of the Colts’ running backs has been in flux for much for 2013. Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw began the season as the team’s top two rushers, but both have been lost for the year to injuries. Donald Brown is set to get the start on Sunday, following a 54-yard, one touchdown performance in Week 13. Trent Richardson has underachieved since being acquired from Cleveland in a trade, failing to rush for more than 60 yards in a single game.
Despite their similar records, the Bengals are decided favorites. The betting line at Most Las Vegas casinos has Cincinnati giving 6.5 points to the Colts. One of the biggest reasons for the relatively high number is the Bengals’ dominance at home. Not only has Cincinnati yet to lose in 2013 in front of their home fans, they are the only team in football that has covered the point spread in every home game.
The Colts are also pretty big underdogs because they’ve cooled off since their hot start. After picking up wins against the elite teams like the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, the team has suffered a few big losses. In two of the past four weeks, the Colts lost to the St Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals by four scores. Now, they’re set to visit a place in which no visiting team has won this year.
Betting Odds: Cincinnati -6.5, 43
Prediction: Cincinnati 33, Indianapolis 24