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Expert Prediction: Bengals Score Early, Luck is Rusty

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CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 10: A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball after a reception against the Chicago Bears during the first half at Paul Brown Stadium on December 10, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 10: A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball after a reception against the Chicago Bears during the first half at Paul Brown Stadium on December 10, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /
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In a deep dive into Week 1 projections, I break down how the Bengals will exploit the Colts’ D and slow, but not stop, Andrew Luck.

Shortly before every game, I will give an in-depth prediction for the Bengals’ upcoming game. I will try to hit on the biggest advantages, disadvantages, and key matchups for the team as they square off against their opponent. This week, of course, the Bengals travel to Indianapolis. Although I feel confident about this team’s chances, I don’t think it is anywhere near a lock. Let’s get into what will happen.

The biggest thing for this team is getting in a groove on offense early and often. Scoring on the first possession is critical, especially if it occurs concurrently with a stop of Indy. I do think this offense will come out hot, feeling like they have something to prove. The Bengals will score on their first drive, giving them a nice 7-0 cushion to start the game.

When the Bengals get going on offense, it will be because of a balanced attack. Although I’m concerned about the offensive line, the Colts are lacking playmakers up the middle on defense. Their DTs, Al Woods and Denico Autry, won’t be able to eat space inside, and their linebacker corps are essentially a bunch of late-round rookies. Joe Mixon can establish his presence early on with some chunk gains, and I expect him to plunge in for the first score.

The other big offensive advantage will be their domination of the Colts’ corners. AJ Green can eat all day on considerably weaker guys in Nate Hairston, Kenny Moore, and Quincy Wilson. John Ross’ speed and Tyler Boyd’s technical skill will also help them get separation. Although Malik Hooker’s presence deep at free safety will limit the big plays, the receivers will have no trouble on short and intermediate routes. Green should have a field day and will score once before the half.

When the Bengals carry a 14-6 lead into halftime, their defense will definitely be responsible for that lead as well. Andrew Luck, making his first start in over a year, will struggle with the pass rush. It’s not his fault, though – the Colts’ offensive line is in shambles. At left tackle, Anthony Costanzo is out, which gives a green light to Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson to ransack Luck in the pocket. Stud guard Quenton Nelson will have his hands full with Geno Atkins, whose impact will be more in positioning and space eating than in stats.

Although I don’t see the Colts scoring many touchdowns, I do think they can pick up some yardage. Once Luck shakes off the rust, he will be able to work some magic in the second half. The Colts can really stretch the field, primarily with TY Hilton. I think William Jackson III will shut Hilton down for the most part, but Hilton’s speed will clear out the middle of the field.

TE Jack Doyle and WR Chester Rogers may have some success on intermediate routes, and Marlon Mack and Christine Michael will catch some passes out of the backfield. This game will highlight that the linebacker position is by far the weakest on the Bengals.

Bengals; Season at a Glance. dark. Next

When all is said and done, the Bengals will have scored three touchdowns before the Colts score three field goals. The red zone defense holds up, keeping the Colts out of the end zone until the end of the game. The Bengals take their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter once they lead 21-9, running the game out with Joe Mixon and Tra Carson. The final score will read 24-16 and the Bengals will earn their first victory of the season.

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