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Colts easily dispatch Bengals, move on to face Broncos

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Andrew Luck saved his best performance of the year for the playoffs. And there's no way this Bengals offense could match him.

The Colts are headed back to the Divisional Round for the second straight season after a 26-10 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday. Indianapolis will face Peyton Manning in Denver next week.

It's the fourth straight year the Bengals have lost in the Wild Card round with Andy Dalton at quarterback. The Bengals have lost seven straight playoff games as a franchise.

It will be easy for Bengals fans to cite injuries for their struggles. They were certainly dealt a rough hand with wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham out of the lineup. They also lost defenders Rey Maualuga and Dre Kirkpatrick during Sunday's loss.

But this result wasn't about just one player or one quarterback. The Colts were superior in every facet of the game and the score should have been so much worse than it was.

Luck and the Colts did not enter the playoffs playing particularly well, but they put up perhaps their most complete performance since ... shutting out the Bengals in Week 7.

Here's what we learned from Indianapolis' win:

1. This was a team win for the Colts. But Luck was absolutely sensational, and he would have ended up with far more than 376 yards and a touchdown if not for five drops, mostly in the first half, that kept the game close. We believe this was his best game all season because he didn't come close to making a single mistake, and he pulled off 6-7 throws that few quarterbacks could make. Many of his completions came on throws that other quarterbacks wouldn't attempt.

2. The Bengals' secondary is underrated and had tight coverage for most of the day. But Luck is an expert at mixing up his velocity and touch depending on what the throw requires. He's not afraid to fit passes into small windows.

3. Cincinnati's defense ultimately wasn't good enough to carry an undermanned offense. The Bengals had virtually no pass rush for much of the game whether they were blitzing or not. When they did get pressure on Luck, he delivered strikes while hit. Geno Atkins was not the same player returning from injury this season, and Carlos Dunlap isn't good enough to be a one man pass rush.

4. This wasn't just on Andy Dalton, but it's not like he played well. He threw for only 155 yards on 35 attempts. His trademark play is a throw underneath on third-and-long. He wasn't particularly close to completing any deep shots down the field. Dalton has a "franchise quarterback" contract but he's consistently a mid-level quarterback that needs everything around him to work in order to win. That didn't happen Sunday.

5. After two promising early drives, including a touchdown, the Bengals picked up 50 yards in a seven drive span. Jeremy Hill got off to a fast start, but the Bengals only had 11 yards rushing on eight carries in the second and third quarter. The Bengals' route to winning this game was controlling the clock and winning the battle up front. In the end, their offensive line wasn't able to exert their will.

6. The Colts, on the other hand, know exactly how to win. They stop the pass and they throw the ball without a conscience. Indianapolis called 44 throws and only nine runs in the first three quarters. Balance is overrated.

7. Trent Richardson did not have a carry after missing practice with an illness. It wouldn't be a surprise if he barely plays next week too.

8. The Colts are a different team on the road, and their lack of a pass rush will show up in Denver next week. Indianapolis has not played well against top teams, but Luck is going to be dangerous anytime he is playing like this.

9. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said after the game he plans to be back next year. There is no reason to think owner Mike Brown won't welcome him back with open arms. Brown remembers what the Bengals looked like before Lewis showed up, despite his excruciating 0-6 record in the playoffs.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Wild Card game and looks ahead to the Divisional Round. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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