Colts on the Ropes

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

COULD PEYTON MANNING AND THE COLTS
MISS THE PLAYOFFS THIS YEAR?

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

It's obviously a bit early for fans in Indianapolis to panic. The Colts are 6-4, and tied for first place in the AFC South with vulnerable Jacksonville. Two of the recent losses came on the road by a field goal or less to teams many are now picking to play in the Super Bowl (New England and Philadelphia). So, it's not like a DISASTER is at hand.

But...the Colts may be in more dire straights than it might seem at first glance.

*Indianapolis hosts surging San Diego tonight on NBC's Sunday Night telecast. San Diego is playing its best ball of the year, and is fully capable of winning on this field. A loss drops Indianapolis to 6-5...making it VERY difficult to win a Wildcard...and sticking them in a messy race for the AFC South title.

Here are the AFC South standings entering today:
Jacksonville 6-4 (with a head-to-head win over Indy)
Indianapolis 6-4
Tennessee 5-5
Houston 4-6

*Indianapolis still has two games left with Tennessee. The Titans are due to get quarterback Kerry Collins back before then, meaning two TOUGH games vs. another playoff contender (Tennessee is currently 5-5, and may lose today with Rusty Smith at QB...but they'd still be in what's shaping up as a tight race if the Colts lose tonight).

*Indianapolis doesn't have any gifts left on the schedule. They'll certainly be favored at home over Dallas (who's playing loosy-goosy in their spoiler role under a new head coach) and vs. Jacksonville. Those aren't automatic wins by any means. And, a road game at Oakland could get tricky because the Raiders may still be in the AFC West hunt come game day.

(That's the six games left...San Diego, Tennessee twice, Dallas, Jacksonville, and Oakland...meaning a 10-6 finish or better is possible...but so is something around 9-7 or 8-8).

*Indianapolis is showing sides of wear and tear as they continue to play shorthanded. Peyton Manning is trying to win every game by himself because he doesn't have much of a running game behind him...and because the defense isn't slamming the door on many opponents. Indianapolis in 'A-plus' form wouldn't have much trouble with the remaining schedule. Indianapolis in 'B' or a fading 'B-minus' form would have to keep pulling rabbits out of a hat.

All told...the Colts have the look of a camel whose backpack can't afford any more straw...and who's tired legs will be trying to slow down Philip Rivers' passing offense on artificial turf in good scoring conditions.

This could become a 'developing story' very quickly. We wanted to give you a heads up before the game started.

Here are the stat preview numbers for the matchup from our Thursday entry in the NOTEBOOK. The data for ALL of Sunday's action is there. If you're reading this before kickoff of the early games, and you were travelling for Thanksgiving, we strongly encourage you to read through the archives and study the numbers before making any final Sunday decisions.

San Diego: 19.9 offense, 9.1 defense (-9 TO's, 25th schedule)
Indianapolis: 16.2 offense, 11.8 defense (+3 TO's, 15th schedule)

Those are per-game averages for Drive Points, which are points scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more. We've added in turnover differential and strength of schedule for context. Of note:

*San Diego is GREAT in pure Drive Points...the best team in the NFL right now by more than a field goal. The offense can light up the scoreboard. The defense is doing a much better job than people realize of shutting down opponents. Remember, this is a high scoring year in terms of Drive Points, so anything in single digits is fantastic.

*San Diego enters the week only 5-5 because of HORRIBLE special teams play (among the worst of the modern era, not just this season), and because of a poor turnover differential. Live by the pass, die by the pass. The team gives back some of what it earns in Drive Points with a high risk, high reward approach. They're better than 5-5....but we're not ready to make the case that they're an 8-2 type team in sheep's clothing. You have to have balance in this league, and the Chargers don't have that yet.

*Let's also note the poor strength of schedule. San Diego would have a smaller Drive Point differential vs. a league average schedule. And, their turnovers would be even worse!

*We ran the AFC South standings earlier. Let's do the same for the AFC West. You can see that San Diego is in a must-win situation this evening because there's no margin for error.

AFC WEST
Kansas City 6-4 (a win over SD)
Oakland 5-5 (wins over KC and SD)
San Diego 5-5
Denver 3-7

A loss for San Diego would drop them to 5-6 in a division where they've already suffered one loss apiece to the teams ahead of them. The Wildcard is already out of reach barring a board sweep finish. Indianapolis will be facing a hot team with its season on the line.

*You have to love how Indianapolis really understands the fundamentals of the game. They've managed a nice +4.2 differential in Drive Points with an offense that's stuck together with duct tape and refrigerator magnets. You get the sense that Peyton Manning could move the chains with two sticky broomsticks at wide receiver and a moose at tight end. They're on the verge of testing that theory out though, which isn't a good sign.

*Indianapolis has a positive turnover differential because of a +5 mark vs. Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago. They're minus outside of that game...which is what happens when everything has to come through the air.

Let's say it this way...things are 'trending' the right way for San Diego's side of the equation tonight. They're playing better lately...they're the superior Drive Point team...turnovers may be less of an issue because both teams are dealing with a lack of dimension...and they're healthier.

On the other hand, the Colts are still covering spreads! Indy is 3-1 ATS its last four games...6-3-1 ATS this season...and right at 60% now in all regular season games going back to 2003. The Peyton Manning era is one of beating the spread, even though there are pockets of belief out there that he's consistently overpriced. Folks...if you're covering 60% of your spreads over that many years, you're WAY UNDERPRICED!

That's the challenge for handicappers tonight. Do you ride the San Diego surge? Or, do you trust the proven quarterback to find a way to get the job done once again? Your best choice, in our view, is to trust PROVEN HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY! He'll find the best plays on the board for you thanks to NETWORK'S exclusive TEAM HANDICAPPING approach that uses scouts, sources, stat handicappers, computer programmers, and Wise Guy connections.

If San Diego/Indianapolis offers big play potential, it's going to be on our ticket today. Other games we're looking at:

Green Bay at Atlanta
Jacksonville at the NY Giants
Tampa Bay at Baltimore
Philadelphia at Chicago
St. Louis at Denver

You can purchase our Sunday slate right here at the website with your credit card. Seasonal packages for the rest of football are available as well. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about our early season basketball when you call. There's a HUGE ticket of Sunday hoops by the way. We have eight games in the NBA this evening (including San Antonio/New Orleans, Oklahoma City/ Houston, and Phoenix/Denver), and a bush college card that features final round action in several tournaments, plus Florida/Florida State in a cable TV rivalry showdown. It's a great day to add basketball to any existing football package!

Back with you tomorrow for an expanded preview in the San Francisco/Arizona game on Monday Night Football. The Sunday games are about to start. GET BUSY!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

21
Nov

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