Indianapolis Colts (12-5) at New England Patriots (12-4)
The Patriots won 12 games and locked up a first round bye again. They now have a streak of 13 consecutive winning seasons. No one else has an active streak longer than 4. Over the past 13 seasons, they have 12 seasons of 10+ wins, 11 division titles, 10 seasons of 11+ wins, 8 seasons of 12+ wins, and are trying to add to their 7 AFC Championship appearances, 5 Super Bowl appearances, and 3 Super Bowl victories. Over that time period, they are 158-50 in the regular season, equivalent to an average season of 12-4, and they are 17-7 in the post-season and looking for more.
Even though they had what’s now considered an average record by this franchise’s standards of 12-4, this was not an average season for them. That 12-4 record is on the strength of a 7-4 record in games decided by a touchdown or less. Their +108 point differential was their lowest in a season Tom Brady was healthy since 2005. This team wasn’t as good as their record in the regular season. Just 5 of their 12 wins have come by more than a touchdown, which is very relevant considering they are favored by a touchdown here in the post-season.
The fact that they weren’t as good as their record is shown bt the fact that they are 8th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 74.30% rate, while their opponents move the chains at a 70.97% rate, a differential of 3.33%. The Colts, meanwhile, rank 14th, moving the chains at a 73.17% rate, as opposed to 72.44% for their opponents, a differential of 0.77%. That suggests this line should be at around 5.5, which goes back to the Patriots’ inability to win games by more than a touchdown. The Patriots have also historically struggled as 7+ point favorites in the post-season, going 4-8 ATS in that situation during the Brady/Belichick era.
Finally, the Patriots are in a bad spot because they could be overconfident because they’re at home coming off of a bye. Teams are 14-22 ATS since 2003 as home favorites after a 1st round bye in the post-season, including 8-14 ATS off of a week 17 win. There’s a chance they may have one eye on the AFC Championship and Denver next week. Patriots/Broncos and Seahawks/49ers seem to be the consensus AFC/NFC Championship Games right now. We all know how seldom the consensus is right in the post-season. It might not be a bad idea to bet against all 4 of those teams. I’m thinking at least 3 of their opponents cover.
Despite all of this, there are two big reasons why I’m not confident in the Colts. One is just how unpredictable the Colts have been this season. They’ve been alternating multiple game stretches where they’ve looked like a 13-3 team and a 6-10 team, with nothing really in between. Last season, they were nowhere near as good as their 11-5 record, as that was powered by 7 wins by 7 points or fewer against teams that finished 7-9 or worse. They started out looking like that team, barely beating Oakland and losing to Miami in back-to-back home games. However, then they went on a roll over a 6 game stretch that included wins over good teams (Denver, Seattle, San Francisco) and blowout wins (34 point win in Jacksonville) that their 2012 season just didn’t have.
However, then after the bye they came out and looked like their 2012 team or even worse, with 3 point wins over Tennessee and Houston and then an 8 point win over Tennessee, but also a 29 point loss against Arizona, a 14 point loss against Cincinnati, and a 30 point loss against St. Louis. They had a -59 point differential over a 6 game stretch in which they got blown out by every decent team they faced and barely beat mediocre football teams. It reeked of 2012. However, since then, they’ve blown out the Texans by 22, went into Kansas City and won convincingly by 16 against a good football team, and then blew out Jacksonville by 20, in a game that was never really close.
Last week, they beat Kansas City, which was impressive, but they were also down by 28 early. In a way, last week’s game was a microcosm of their season. They were terrible for a stretch and then phenomenal for another stretch. During the season, they also ranked 29th in terms of variance on Football Outsiders, which means they were the 4th most inconsistent team. No other team left in the post-season ranks lower than 19th. I almost actually hope they get eliminated so I don’t have to deal with picking their games anymore, regardless of what I end up picking.
The other reason why I’m not confident in the Colts is the fact that they scored 40+ points last week. Teams who score 40+ points in a post-season game are 3-13 ATS the following week. Teams tend to be overconfident after that type of performance. That might not apply to them as much as it normally would to a team because they did allow 44 points last week, so they might not have a ton to be overconfident about, but then again, how much do you trust this defense against New England, especially when they’re missing starting cornerback Greg Toler? I’m picking the Colts, but I’m not confident at all.
New England Patriots 30 Indianapolis Colts 24
Pick against spread: Indianapolis +7