Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
In addition to adjusting playoff teams’ rate of moving the chains differentials for strength of schedule, another thing I did differently this week was breaking out schedule adjusted differential into a team’s last 4 games and into a team’s last 8 weeks instead of just the whole season. The motivation for this is because I started the season 100-60 against the spread in the first 11 weeks of the season, but just 43-49 in the final 6 weeks. A similar thing happened in 2012 and 2013 as well and I think part of it is because I put too much stock into old data late in the season. Breaking out the data into the last 4 games and the last 8 games allows me to find out which teams are “hot” at the moment, something that might be masked by the season long data.
Two things this data revealed for me this week are relevant to this game. Before I did this, I was ready to make a big play on Indianapolis. The Colts rank 5th in rate of moving the chains differential on the season, moving the chains at a 74.96% rate, as opposed to 70.28% for their opponents, a differential of 4.67%. The Bengals, meanwhile, rank all the way down at 16th, 2nd worst among playoff teams, moving the chains at a 71.84% rate, as opposed to 71.90% for their opponents, a differential of -0.06%. On top of that, the Bengals are without AJ Green this week.
However, the data from the past 4 games and the past 8 games revealed that the Bengals have gotten a lot better as the season has gone on. On the season, the Bengals rank last among playoff teams in schedule adjusted differential at 0.48%, but over the past 8 games they rank 8th at 3.12% and over the past 4 games they rank 6th at 6.77%. You might think that AJ Green’s return from an earlier injury, which essentially cost him 4 games this season, is the reason behind that. However, their offense has remained below average in all 3 timeframes, season long, last 8 games, and last 4 games.
The unit that has gotten so much better over the course of the season is their defense, in Paul Guenther’s first season as defensive coordinator. They really missed Mike Zimmer to start the season, as their ex-defensive coordinator is now the head coach in Minnesota, but they’ve missed him less and less as the season has gone on, as Guenther’s defense has come into its own. Besides, in the 4 games they’ve been without Green this season, they haven’t been significantly worse offensively, moving the chains at a 69.83% rate in those games, as opposed to 72.46% in their other 12 games. They will struggle to move the chains without him, but their defense should play well once again.
One of the games that Green missed was the Bengals’ earlier trip to Indianapolis, a 27-0 blowout loss by the Bengals that was even worse than the final score suggested. The Bengals went three and out in their first 8 drives and ended up moving the chains at a mere 40.00% rate, as opposed to 75.00% for the Colts, a differential of -35.00%. It was easily the Bengals’ worst performance of the season. The good news for the Bengals is teams are 13-25 ATS in the playoffs in same site, non-divisional revenge games since 2002.
On top of that, teams are 7-2 ATS in the playoffs as underdogs over that same time period against non-divisional opponents that previously beat them by 21 or more in the regular season. It might seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you think about it as teams are often overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed in that spot. The Bengals were also in a terrible spot in the first matchup, exhausted off of a tie with the Panthers the previous week. Teams are 5-11 ATS off of a tie since 1989, including 0-7 ATS on a bye. This week, they’re on normal rest.
Meanwhile, the Colts have gotten noticeably worse as the season has gone on, the other revelation that surfaced as a result of breaking up season long data into the past 4 weeks and the past 8 weeks. While the Colts rank 6th in schedule adjusted differential among playoff teams at 3.87% on the season, they rank 10th over the past 4 weeks at 1.55% and 11th over the past 8 weeks at -0.21%. The unit that has been largely responsible for this decline has been the offense, which has struggled with a season ending injury to Ahmad Bradshaw, a severely limiting injury to Reggie Wayne, and minor injuries to TY Hilton and Dwayne Allen. Hilton and Allen should be good for this game, but now Gosder Cherilus is hurt.
Luck’s numbers have gone down significantly over the 2nd half of the season, completing 57.6% of his passes for an average of 7.55 YPA, 18 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions over the past 8 games as opposed to 64.8% completion, 7.87 YPA, 22 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions over the first 8 games of the season. This is not the same Colts team that destroyed the Bengals earlier this year during week 7, nor is it the same Bengals team. The Bengals are in a good revenge spot and the sharps are on them, as the line has moved from 4 or 4.5 early in the week down to 3.5 now, despite the public being on Indianapolis. I love fading the public and going with the sharps whenever it makes sense and it does here. I’m not that confident though with Green expected to be ruled out.
Indianapolis Colts 20 Cincinnati Bengals 19
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3.5