NFL Handicapping: Colts Down the Stretch and Playoffs
by Trevor Whenham - 12/12/2013
The Indianapolis Colts are an odd case at this point in the season. Last week they became the first team in the league to clinch their division, but if they keep playing like they are then they could wind up being the least inspiring division winner of all. They started out with such promise, and they won some big games. Lately, though, the bottom has fallen out of their year.
They are succeeding almost despite themselves thanks to a really lousy division. So, should we do what their play has suggested the last few weeks and write this once promising team off? Or should we ignore what we have seen lately and look to invest in this team down the stretch and into the playoffs? When you tackle those questions, here are eight issues to consider:
Good enough to win some big games when on form: It is easy to forget because they have lost three of five, and all three losses have been ugly, but this is a team that has won some really quality games this year. They beat San Francisco on the road and beat Seattle and Denver at home. There are clear issues with this team right now, but the core of this team has the talent, when in form, to be among the top teams in the league. The question, of course, is how a team that can win by 20 in San Francisco can lose by 30 at home to the Rams or by 29 in Arizona.
Starts are ridiculous: I don’t know what this team did during their bye week, but they shouldn’t have done it. Since then they have been just awful in the first half of games. They were down 21-3 against the Texans, though they came back to win. It was 28-0 at the half against the Rams. And 17-6 against the Titans. A score of 27-3 in Arizona. And 14-0 against the Bengals. This team just isn’t good enough to keep climbing out of holes like that every time out — no team is. If they can’t get out of the gate better, they are going nowhere.
Reggie Wayne: I knew Reggie Wayne was a good player. His absence has proven just how important he is at this point in his career, though. The massive decline in team performance corresponds exactly with when Wayne went down with a torn ACL. He’s not going to be back until the start of training camp next year at the earliest, so there is going to be no relief on this front. That’s not a reason to be optimistic going forward.
Mess of a running game: The team made a rare in-season blockbuster trade when they acquired Trent Richardson from the Browns. It has been a disaster. It has been easy to mock Richardson for his lousy play, and he certainly doesn’t look like a guy who knows how to play in this league. There is more blame to assign than that which belongs on Richardson’s shoulders, though. He has run like he’s scared, but even if he was a beast he likely wouldn’t be making a big difference for the team. The team gets behind early so often that they can’t afford to commit to the run. The absence of Wayne also means that teams don’t have to fear the passing game as much, and they can key on the run. There is no quick fix here.
Pass defense: Early in the season this pass defense was playing very well. They made life miserable for Manning, Wilson and Kaepernick. As it turns out, though, they were overachieving. They have crashed back to earth, and they made Kellen Clemens and Ryan Fitzpatrick look like Elway and Marino. Robert Mathis is their only real pass rush threat this year, and depth on the defensive line just isn’t materializing. Again, no quick fixes here this year.
Remaining schedule: It’s a mixed bag in terms of what to expect the rest of the way this year. They host Houston this week. The Texans have lost 11 straight and are reeling, but they could experience a boost after their coaching change this week. A trip to Kansas City will be tough, and it could be really tough if the Chiefs still have something meaningful to play for. Closing out against the Jaguars should be easy, but Jacksonville is playing a lot better than the Colts over the last month. The Colts could run the table, but they could just as easily go 0-for-December.
ATS performance: In their opener, the Colts beat the Raiders, but they failed to cover the big spread. Since then, though, they have covered every time they have won and failed to cover with each loss. At this point there doesn’t seem to be any reason to over think this one — handicap who is going to win their games and bet accordingly.
Perils of clinching: As if this team doesn’t have enough problems already — now they have to deal with the challenges of clinching early. They say they aren’t going to rest players, but that can change as time progresses. Focus will be tough for players to maintain — especially since they have very little chance of catching the Bengals and moving beyond the fourth seed. Their potential lack of focus will make it very tough to trust them — especially since they haven’t been in this position a lot in the past. To add to challenges, when players aren’t playing at full intensity is when they have a better chance of getting hurt. That could add a further challenge to an already brutal looming playoff path.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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