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NFL Week 6 Bengals at Colts game preview: Branding Irons

The Cincinnati Bengals have an opportunity to salvage their season and navigate it towards respectability this Sunday. Their foe, the Indianapolis Colts,

Quarterbacks and coaches—it’s what the NFL has been built upon since its inception. Whether it was Otto Graham and Paul Brown in the 1940s and 1950s, or Tom Brady and Bill Belichick from 2000-2019, these symbiotic relationships accomplish wonders when working in unison.

Some of those parts are on display this Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Others are “TBD”.

After spending 16 years in San Diego and Los Angeles, Philip Rivers joined Frank Reich to spearhead the Colts to end his Hall of Fame career. On the other sideline is Joe Burrow, who is hoping to pave a Canton-worthy career for himself after being selected No. 1 overall by the elder Brown’s son, Mike, this spring.

Father Time appears to be catching up with Rivers (more on that in a minute), but Burrow seems like the real deal, despite an outing against the Ravens last week, wherein he finally looked like an actual rookie.

Indianapolis understands growing pains from a rookie signal-caller. They were spoiled by Luck, but his predecessor, Peyton Manning, set a rookie record for interceptions in 1998.

No. 18’s career turned out okay.

Meanwhile, the coaches of both teams are trying to carve their own successful paths. Both Reich and Zac Taylor are on their respective first head coaching stints in the league and have had vastly different starts to those careers.

Reich is 20-17 as the Colts’ head coach since taking the reins in 2018, including a Wild Card win as a rookie head coach. He’s had to deal with the sudden loss of franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck and a roster in which he’s had to flush out as much talent as possible from perceived low-ceiling players, but he’s risen to the challenge.

Taylor on the other hand? We’ll be kind and say that the jury is still out on his outlook.

Taylor has begun his career with a paltry 3-17-1 record, as the organization continues to exude patience in the rebuilding process under his watch. Most players are toeing the company line with quotes noting their belief in Taylor, but the wins need to start coming for the young head coach.

In this “I-74 Bowl”, it’s about the quarterbacks and the coaches, but it’s also about a critical point in 2020 season during a pivotal mark of the head coaching careers of Reich and Taylor.

Reich and Rivers need a win to get the Colts back to the playoffs. Taylor and Burrow need a win to keep the pitchforks holstered and torches unlit for another week.

Dramatic? Maybe. Hyperbolic? I really don’t think so.

The Colts are 3-2, but Rivers isn’t playing all that well. While he has a 97.3 rating, he’s thrown just four touchdowns against five interceptions. It’s Indy’s defense that has them on the plus side of the win-loss column, not the man who will have his face bronzed in Northeast Ohio for the end of days.

Indianapolis is coming off of a bad loss to Cleveland, after starting the season in the “L column” against Jacksonville—the lone win to the Bengals’ credit this year. If the bad resembles the two pieces of bread, the three wins against the Vikings, Jets and Bears (a combined 5-10 right now), are the meat of the Colts’ 2020 sandwich.

Some fans are confident that the Bengals will be able to both get to Rivers and force turnovers. While he isn’t wowing with big plays and touchdowns, he’s only been sacked four times and is committing just one turnover per game.

It’s not ideal, but it’s also not back-breaking for Indianapolis. This is especially the case when going up against the Bengals, who are missing Sam Hubbard (elbow) and D.J. Reader (I.R.; quadriceps), while also easing Geno Atkins back into the lineup.

Also complicating the storylines of the matchup is the potential redemptions for Bengals players—on both sides of the ball.

Cincinnati EDGE defender, Carlos Dunlap, has had one of the best careers by a Bengals defensive player in franchise history. He had recently been demoted behind Carl Lawson, but both may need to start and play excessive snaps for depth purposes.

Dunlap’s stat lines against Indianapolis? In six games, he’s had 2.5 sacks, four tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and two touchdowns.

This is a “get right game” for No. 96.

The same could be said for John Ross. It looks like Auden Tate will be out this week with a shoulder issue, so Ross gets a nod in what could be the make-or-break game for his career.

Ross started his trek as an unlikely short-yardage, red zone threat in 2018 with a touchdown against Indianapolis in Week 1 that year. Cincinnati needs to get the deep ball going in an effort to become a competitive team this year and Ross’ speed provides the outlet to achieve that.

One of the guys tasked with shadowing Ross, or even A.J. Green (another guy on a redemption week), is Xavier Rhodes. After randomly falling off a cliff, metaphorically speaking, of course, he is playing like one of the best cornerbacks in all of football with new scenery this year.

The Bengals’ secondary is playing out of its mind as well this year. William Jackson is not-so-coincidentally been playing some of his best football in a contract year, while Jessie Bates III is set for a Pro Bowl bid—at least if you ask Pro Football Focus.

It’s another week of respective strengths going up against respective weaknesses. However, there may be no weaker area than that of the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line.

The team surrendered seven sacks to the Ravens last week, and while three were credited to Joe Burrow, per PFF, the play up front has been largely abysmal. Indianapolis has 11 sacks through three games, while only giving up five this year.

That’s one of the major tales of the tape going into this week.

As you probably know, we are partnering with Pickswise this season, in an effort to give us an idea of predictions for games. They simulate games to give a solid outlook for betting and predictability purposes.

Per their website:

Our supercomputer is capable of creating pre-game probabilities using advanced machine learning techniques. The supercomputer simulates each NFL game over 10,000 times to cater for the large range of outcomes and variables that can occur. It does this by running hundreds of algorithmic variabilities to predict the performance of each player, which is then used to run overall match simulations.

Pickswise has the Bengals covering the eight-point spread (since decreased from 9.5 on Monday), with a tightly-fought contest. They also believe in the emergence of both teams’ defenses, picking the under on the 47-point total line.

I expect this one to also be closely-fought, but I also see two quarterbacks righting the ship, even if for a week. Unfortunately, even though it isn’t much of a “road game” for the Bengals traveling just over an hour away, I don’t think they come up victorious.

Bengals 31, Colts 33

AC — Hey, all you cool cats and kittens.