By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — I’d like to think that I’m nothing if not a straight-shooter. And so I feel very comfortable to share this with you: Back in Week 5, when the Colts were getting together for a team celebration following a gift of an interception while they trailed 24-10 in the second half of a game which they had zero chance of winning, I did not think that I’d be writing a story in January that seriously contemplates whether the Indianapolis Colts would be reaching the conference championship.
That was not on my mind back in October. Mostly, I was just so tickled — tickled pink, in fact — about the pathetic state of the Colts franchise that I felt compelled to write some 600 words about it. The Colts, after an offseason that saw them get rejected on the eve of Visor Season and then saw their quarterback only feeling comfortable throwing high school-sized footballs, were a joke. An embarrassment. A laughingstock.
And now here we are.
As you might have heard by now on the local news programs, the Indianapolis Colts are a legitimate threat in the AFC. After a putrid 1-5 start to the season under first year head coach Frank Reich, the Colts have since won 10 of their last 11 games. They beat Houston — the AFC South winner — twice in that span, while also defeating Dallas and twice beating the Titans to keep Tennessee out of the postseason picture. They averaged over 27 points per game in that span, and that’s despite putting up a goose egg in the lone loss. (They scored over 30 points per game in the 10 wins.)
And then they went out to Houston, on the road, in the playoffs, to face a team for the third time of the year. The Colts only lost the first meeting because Reich unsuccessfully decided to go for it on a fourth-and-4 in overtime. The Colts won the rematch two months later, snapping a nine-game winning streak for the Texans with a three-point victory in Houston.
In the playoff meeting … it wasn’t even close. The Colts rolled to a 21-0 first-half lead and sort of had a shutout, if not for a questionable ruling from the replay office. Regardless, the Colts marched right through Houston, and we’ve now gotten to the point where some national pundits are talking about a Colts victory against the top-seeded Chiefs as a fait accompli.
That may be a bit overboard. Maybe. Just a skosh. Nevertheless, it is just incredible to take a moment to look back at just how far the Colts have come since that dreadful, awful, embarrassing, humiliating start to the year.
(Wednesday lines; Home team in CAPS)
KANSAS CITY (-5.5) over Indianapolis
Well I hope you enjoyed that intro, because this is the end of the line for the Colts.
(Hey, I had to write about them while they’re still alive, you know?)
The Colts’ story is well told at this point (scroll up for further proof), but the Chiefs appear to be slightly overlooked at this point, don’t they? For a team that ranked No. 1 in the NFL in offense — both in yards gained and in scoring — and for a team that went 7-1 at home, doesn’t a 5.5-point line against a sixth-seeded wild card feel a bit low?
That’s not to say the Colts have no chance here. Hardly. The Chiefs’ defense? It stinks. It stinks out loud, in fact. Even if we get to work after the Chiefs allowed 54 points to the Rams in that infamous basketball game on a Monday night in Week 11, the Chiefs allowed 33.5 points per game in the four weeks that followed. (They cleaned it up in Week 17 vs. Oakland. But that doesn’t count. Oakland + Week 17 = doesn’t count. Simple arithmetic, folks.)
The Colts, with their rejuvenated Andrew Luck and with their fourth-ranked scoring offense, should be able to stand toe-to-toe with the big, bad Chiefs.
Buuuuuuttttttttt I feel like there’s a tendency to get all hopped up on Mountain Dew about whatever underdog emerges from wild card weekend with a convincing win. And I feeeeeeeeeeeeeel as though reality comes quickly to slap those teams in the face once the divisional round begins. This guy on the internet has some factual basis to these feelings of mine:
It’d be fun if the Colts were to win this game. A real hootenanny. A blast to end all blasts. And I do actually think the Chiefs weren’t nearly as impressive late in the season as they were from Weeks 1-11. Maybe MVP Mahomes feels some jitters and throws some bad picks — as he is wont to do — and maybe the Colts pull off a significant upset on the road.
But we can’t forget that the Chiefs are actually good. That’s important here.
LOS ANGELES RAMS (-7) over Dallas
The aforementioned basketball game between the Rams and Chiefs does seem to have wreaked havoc on both teams. After that game, the Rams were 10-1, averaging a ridiculous 35.4 points per game. They were a juggernaut.
After that night, they went 3-2, losing to the only two playoff teams they faced, while averaging almost eight points fewer per game.
As a result, the enthusiasm for the once-mighty Rams might be waning. That’s understandable. But they should still be fine for Saturday.
Outside of the built-in advantage of resting last week while the Cowboys partook in playoff football before having to travel, the Rams just have too much for the Cowboys. I know we’re supposed to ooh and ahh about the Dallas defense, but so long as the Rams remember that passing the football is generally an advisable strategy (way to go, Schottenheimer), L.A. will be fine.
NEW ENGLAND (-4) over Los Angeles Chargers
This is a tough one, and it’s one I’ve flipped as the week has gone on. After all, it’s more than a little preposterous that the Chargers — who are the best team in the AFC — are really going to be considered a four-point underdog. That’s just rude.
And while much is being made about how Philip Rivers will handle the chilly air touching his skin, I actually don’t have tremendous concerns about the Chargers’ offense. To me, it’s the Chargers’ defense that’s looking vulnerable.
That’s not to say they’re lacking talent. Three All-Pros in the defensive backfield, plus Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa up front, would tell you that’s not the case. Yet while the football world marveled at a brilliant gameplan designed to stop Lamar Jackson last week, I saw some desperation in the design.
Namely — the Chargers don’t have any linebackers.
You can get away with that when you’re going against a rookie quarterback who can’t pass and who is being coached by Marc Trestman. That’s really an ideal scenario to try to get away with a four-lineman, seven-D-back set.
But against Tom Brady, and Josh McDaniels, and Bill Belichick? Hate to say it, but they’re going to carve you up. That’s just how it works. They’re too experienced and too smart to get overwhelmed or confused by a Gus Bradley curveball.
I’ve picked against the Patriots in spots like this one too many times over the years, only to have to sit there as Bon Jovi’s stupid song blares in my face six times after every Patriots touchdown. I like to think I’ve learned my lesson.
(Of note: I went 8-8 picking Patriots games this year. That’s bad. But I went 3-4 when picking against them, which means … quick math … I went 5-4 when picking them. All right!)
Philadelphia (+8) over NEW ORLEANS
FOLKS IF YOU THINK I’M HOPPING OFF THE NICK FOLES TRAIN AT THIS POINT IN TIME THEN I HAVE GOT NEWS FOR YOU: YOU’RE NUTS!
I mean. The Eagles are going to lose, probably. Maybe. (Doubtfully?!) But eight points? That is a smack in the face to the magic of Nick Foles. I recognize that Drew Brees and Michael Thomas are going to just go berserk in this game. But you’re telling me with a straight face that you’ve watched Nick Foles walk on water for the past three weeks and the past two postseasons and yet you don’t believe he’ll be matching the Hall of Famer throw-for-throw?
Last week: 2-2 (though I really should be 3-1 because I had Seattle +1.5 while the rest of the world had Seattle +2.5, but I have too much integrity to try to steal a win like that, and frankly I deserve some sort of recognition for being so magnanimous about it)
Regular season: 134-113-9