Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, November 15, 2014 at 4:00 PM
While much of the AFC playoff picture is a muddled mess, it’s very clear who the three frontrunners are in the minds of the market. Denver continues to be priced like a Super Bowl favorite. That will continue to be true even though they lost a recent road game at New England. Behind then are those very same Patriots…and then the Indianapolis Colts.
That means that Sunday Night’s Patriots/Colts game will match two of the best three teams in the AFC, two of the best teams overall in the NFL, and possibly a pair that is destined to face each other again in the AFC Championship game this coming January if Denver gets derailed between now and then. (Hey, it’s the NFL! Any power that loses its start quarterback fall out of the mix. And, Denver can be had on any given Sunday).
You will be handicapping several big games between now and the Super Bowl involving the Pats and Colts. Be sure you watch this game closely so you can make smart picks the rest of the way. Let’s see if JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats shed any light on how this TV attraction might play itself out.
Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)
New England: 7-2 (#21 schedule in USA Today)
Indianapolis: 6-3 (#15 schedule in USA Today)
Those numbers suggest the teams are very close. Swap schedules and you may swap records. And, of course, those records confirm playoff status for both. The Colts have won 67% of their games against a league average schedule. The Pats are at 77% against a slightly easier path. No illusions yet.
New England: 5.4 on offense, 5.4 on defense
Indianapolis: 6.1 on offense, 5.9 on defense
Wait a second…are we dealing with TWO illusions?! Normally, YPP differential is a lot better than that for teams who are in the Super Bowl discussion. We’ll have to go further down the listings to see what’s been working. Right now, we’re clearly NOT talking about championship material at the point of attack. New England has the better defense…but, surprisingly, the less explosive offense. The Colts looked so bad on defense against Pittsburgh that it’s hard to take them seriously vs. a top quarterback in a game that matters. That’s why slowing down Brady is so important this Sunday.
New England: +12
We can see how the Patriots step forward here. The Bellichick era has been known for virtual mastery of the risk/reward elements. This team plays smart on offense, and encourages miscues on defense. That’s how you can get to 7-2 while breaking even in YPP! Indianapolis isn’t showing an edge here, which creates some mystery. Generally speaking, there’s a lot to like about the Colts. Those DON’T show up in JIM HURLEY’S key indicators stats. That’s going to matter in a big game at some point.
New England: 5-4
The Colts have been getting a lot of respect in the markets this season. They didn’t cover the number in that awful game at Pittsburgh. But, they’re cashing tickets at a very high rate anyway. At some point, the market is going to find the happy medium. New England started very slowly but has been money for the most part the past several weeks. Both teams are on good runs against the market of late.
Current Line: Indianapolis by 3, total of 57.5
We haven’t solved the mystery yet of how the Colts are winning with no edge in YPP or turnovers. The answer this year (again) is that Andrew Luck makes a lot more out of his yards than most quarterbacks. His long drives end in touchdowns. His late-game drives end in game-winning points. He does more with less than most other NFL quarterbacks. And, to be fair, the defense has a “bend but don’t break” strategy that works against lesser teams who can’t finish. This is how you turn even YPP into wins. The problem is, that usually just works against non-playoff teams. We’ll see this Sunday if the Colts can make it work against one of their biggest obstacles to making history early in Luck’s career.
JIM HURLEY trusts his indicator status…but he also knows that home field advantage is big in regular season TV games like this…particularly when a crowd is falling in love with a young team. Maybe the Colts peak NOW and then fall apart when it matters. Or, maybe they get exposed this week in a way that sets up what amounts to a two-team race to the Super Bowl.
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Back with you again Monday to preview Pittsburgh/Tennessee. Then, Tuesday will bring a taste of “The Final Four.”
Monday: NFL Preview…Pittsburgh at Tennessee on ESPN
Tuesday: College Hoops Doubleheader…Michigan State/Duke and Kentucky/Kansas!
Wednesday: NBA Preview…San Antonio at Cleveland on ESPN
Thursday: NFL Preview…Kansas City at Oakland on the NFL Network
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