The Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts are set to play in their final preseason games on Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium, gearing up for what both teams hope to be another successful regular season.
Cincinnati is looking to make the playoffs for the third straight year, something the franchise has never accomplished since its inception in 1968 as an AFL member. Meanwhile, Indianapolis is hoping to avoid any pitfalls in Andrew Luck's second year, despite the loss of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who moved on to become the Arizona Cardinals head coach.
Both teams come into this game with a 2-1 mark in the preseason. Cincinnati lost its last game to the Dallas Cowboys on the road, while the Colts took care of the Cleveland Browns at home.
Meet the Colts
Few teams have a brighter future than the Colts, who have a great young star in their former No. 1 overall pick, Mr. Luck. With second-year coach Chuck Pagano back from cancer, Indianapolis is hoping to make a run at the AFC South, which has been owned by the Houston Texans over the past two campaigns.
The bigger question for the Colts is how the defense performs. Dwight Freeney moved onto the San Diego Chargers but others joined the club with corner Greg Toler and safety LaRon Landry being a few of the headliners. In 2012, the team struggled to stop both the run and the pass, ranking 29th and 21st in yards allowed respectively.
Meet the Bengals
Some believe this is the year for Cincinnati to make some noise in the AFC. The division is wide open for the Bengals to win, with the Baltimore Ravens having a minor rebuild and the Pittsburgh Steelers aging rapidly. The whole thing hinges on Andy Dalton, who has led the Bengals to a playoff berth in each of his two seasons.
Last year, Dalton was solid. The red-head threw for 3,669 yards and 27 touchdowns against 16 interceptions with a 62.3 completion percentage. If Dalton can go from a middle-of-the-pack quarterback to top-10 caliber, Cincinnati might be a brutal team to deal with. The defense is already nasty, ranking sixth in yards against in 2012.
Local takes: Colts
There's really not many words that we haven't already exhausted to describe just how good Luck is. In fact, perhaps the most telling thing that I can say of just how good he is following the Colts' 27-6 win over the Cleveland Browns in the third preseason game is this: he made nearly every throw right on target, and yet the fact that he didn't make one of those jaw-dropping "WOW!" moments kind of surprised me.
Local takes: Bengals
Anthony Cosenza of Cincy Jungle says the difference between the Bengals from a few years ago to now is huge:
Thanks to HBO's amazing documentary "Hard Knocks," NFL fans everywhere have received an inside look at this year's Bengals team. And, if you watched the series back when the 2009 team was on display, this is a much different team -- in the best possible way. Football, camaraderie and hard work.
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#colts pagano on roster cuts: We all work together. It's a meeting of the minds. Great communication.— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) August 26, 2013
In case you missed it last night, the latest Bengals roster projection http://t.co/X2Iy8CcN5f— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) August 27, 2013
Since it's Week 4 of the preseason, most of the starters won't be playing for either side. It wouldn't be stunning to see anybody even remotely important on the field past the first two drives of the game. The Bengals have the better depth at this point, especially on the defensive side of the ball, so perhaps that gives them the advantage. Throw in the home-field advantage aspect, and Cincinnati has the slight edge.
My pick: Bengals 20, Colts 16
The Bengals are favored by 2.5 points over the Colts with the over/under set at 38, according to Oddsshark.com.