Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (8-6) at Arizona Cardinals (10-4)

The Cardinals started the season 7-0 and survived a 3-game stretch without quarterback Kyler Murray in which they went 2-1, but since Murray has returned from injury, I have thought the Cardinals are an overrated team. The Cardinals may have gone 2-1 without Murray, but they managed just an even point differential against a relatively easy schedule and seemed to be missing top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and top interior defender JJ Watt arguably even more than they were missing Murray, whose replacement Colt McCoy was largely a steady hand for the 3-game stretch. 

Murray returned from his injury three games ago, but Watt and Hopkins have remained out indefinitely, which makes them significantly less talented than they were during their hot start to the season. The Cardinals have also benefited significantly from winning the turnover margin, ranking 4th in the NFL with a +10 turnover margin, which is not a predictive metric week-to-week. Yards per play and first down rate differential are much more predictive and in terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, the Cardinals have never been as impressive as their record, currently ranking 9th in the NFL overall, while ranking 10th, 19th, and 12th respectively on offense, defense, and special teams.

The Cardinals being overrated after Murray’s return has proven to be the case, as they have covered in just one of three games since his return and that was an 11-point win as 7.5-point favorites over the Bears, in a game in which they won the turnover battle by 4 and likely would not have covered if one or two of those turnovers did not happen. The Cardinals’ recent rough patch culminated in an embarrassing double digit loss to the previously 1-win Lions last week, losing 30-12 as 12.5-point favorites.

That result will likely prove to be more of a fluke than anything though and, in the wake of that loss, the Cardinals may actually be a little underrated now. A week ago on the early line, the Cardinals were favored by 5 points in this matchup with the Colts, but the line has since shifted all the way down to 1.5 points. Teams tend to cover after a big upset loss like that, covering at a 57.4% rate after a loss as favorites of 10 points or more, as teams tend to be much more focused as a result of the embarrassment and also tend to be undervalued. The latter is definitely true for the Cardinals this week, while the former is likely to be true as well.

The Colts did have an impressive victory over the Patriots last week, but that was a game in which they lost the first down rate and yards per play battle despite being slightly favored, so that should not have triggered that big of a line shift, especially since the Colts have since lost both of their talented starting guards to COVID protocols, meaning they will be down three of five starters on an offensive line that normally would be the strength of this roster. Even though I don’t think the Cardinals are quite as good as their record, my calculated line still has them favored by a field goal over the short-handed Colts, so we are getting line value with the Cardinals at -1.5. It’s not enough to bet on them, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Update: Unfortunately for the Colts, stud linebacker Darius Leonard tested positive before the game and won’t be able to play. This is obviously a huge loss and pushes my calculated line up to Arizona -5.5, but the line has also shifted to Arizona -3 and I don’t think there’s enough line value for this to be worth betting. I may reconsider before gametime, especially if the line drops back down under 3, but for now I’m keeping this as low confidence.

Arizona Cardinals 26 Indianapolis Colts 20

Pick against the spread: Arizona -3

Confidence: Low

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