As much as the Indianapolis Colts (8-6) used Week 15’s win over New England to change their perception this season, the Arizona Cardinals (10-4) may have had the same impact but in a negative way after losing badly to the Lions in Detroit. Now, these teams meet in primetime on Christmas night in Arizona where the Cardinals are just 3-3 this year. But what about the NFL odds?
Indianapolis Colts vs. Arizona Cardinals
Saturday, December 25, 2021 – 08:15 PM EST at State Farm Stadium
The Cardinals (9-5 ATS) are a 2-point favorite over the Colts (9-5 ATS) at many of BMR’s top-rated sportsbooks. These teams are tied for the second-best spread record in the NFL this year. Arizona finished 2-5 down the stretch last season. Is a similar downfall on the way?
Cardinals: Bah Humbug
Arizona just had the worst week in the NFL. Looking to sweep the Rams at home last Monday night, the Cardinals had several miscues that led to a 30-23 loss. Star receiver DeAndre Hopkins is expected to miss the rest of the regular season with knee surgery likely.
If there was any glimmer of hope for an MVP vote for Kyler Murray or a Coach of the Year vote for Kliff Kingsbury, that all evaporated in Detroit after a wire-to-wire loss saw the 1-11-1 Lions beat Arizona 30-12 on Sunday.
The Cardinals have slipped from the NFL’s last unbeaten team and NFC’s No. 1 seed to a No. 4 placement going into Week 16. They could still easily lose the division to the Rams as the Colts offer a strong challenge.
Arizona’s performance in Detroit was embarrassing. Despite missing his best skill players, Jared Goff completed 21-of-26 passes for 216 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Cardinals lost their composure with three roughing passer penalties, including two on one 97-yard touchdown drive before halftime.
Detroit led 24-3 in the third quarter after intercepting a Murray pass to set up a short field for a touchdown. The game was never competitive again after that sequence.
The loss of Hopkins was mitigated earlier this season when Murray was out as well, but his loss was felt more on Sunday. Antoine Wesley only had 11 targets all season but was targeted 8 times in Detroit. He caught 3 passes for 19 yards and missed out on a deep touchdown on fourth down.
Murray struggled again and the running game did not provide the spark it usually does. Despite the return of Chase Edmonds, it did not work out as he split time with James Conner, who had been red hot for Arizona. But Conner failed to score a touchdown in this game, ending his scoring streak at seven games.
If unknown Detroit running back Craig Reynolds can rush for 112 yards on this defense, then what can Jonathan Taylor do for the Colts?
Colts: Jonathan Taylor’s Indy Blue Christmas
The Offensive Player of the Year plays for the Colts. Jonathan Taylor has been incredible this season and leads the NFL in rushing yards (1,518), yards from scrimmage (1,854), and total touchdowns (19).
He actually has the best argument in years for a running back to win MVP, which says something about the weakened state of quarterback play around the league, but Taylor is having a special year.
The Colts are 8-0 when Taylor rushes for at least 100 yards and 0-6 when he does not. Given how close some of those wins were late, and how many big leads the Colts blew early this season, that is an impressive fact. His 67-yard touchdown run put away the Patriots on Saturday night. The Colts are also 7-1 when Taylor averages at least 5.5 yards per carry and 1-5 when he does not. Arizona’s defense ranks 28th in yards per carry allowed this year.
The elephant in the room is what do the Colts do about Carson Wentz? He became just the third quarterback since 2009 to win a game by double-digits despite his team having fewer than 50 net passing yards. Wentz completed 5 passes for 57 yards against the Patriots, including a gift of a touchdown that was basically a run, and he nearly threw 3 interceptions on his 12 attempts (Patriots only caught one).
In a 41-15 win in Buffalo, Wentz passed for 106 yards as Taylor dominated with 5 touchdowns that day. The Colts are capable of blowing teams out with Wentz not doing much, but they tend to get in trouble when he tries to play hero ball (see games against Tampa Bay and Tennessee).
Arizona just got absolutely shredded by Jared Goff and the worst receiving corps in the league this year. The Cardinals were also upended by Carolina’s run-heavy approach in Week 10, and they failed to beat Green Bay despite Aaron Rodgers not having his main receivers.
I like head coach Frank Reich’s chances to scheme something up for Wentz to have a better game this week. Michael Pittman Jr. will also be hungry to contribute after getting ejected from the last game.
As for the defense led by Darius Leonard, the Colts do an excellent job of forcing turnovers. They lead the NFL with 31 takeaways. But there is some concern if the game becomes a shootout. The Colts are 1-6 when allowing more than 18 points this season. The only win was the Jets (45-30), and that was after the Colts led 42-10 in the third quarter.
While Wentz still needs some coddling by the run game and defense, the fact is the Colts have had a double-digit lead in all 11 games since Week 4. Wentz has turned things around after that poor 0-3 start. But this is going to be another marquee game in front of a national audience that could help determine if he is really the quarterback of the future for this team as it looks to make noise in the playoffs this year.
I doubted the Colts against New England because of Wentz. While he basically confirmed my doubts, I did not expect the Patriots to execute so poorly in that game. But with this matchup, I have serious doubts now about Arizona’s ability to excel without Hopkins and to stop Taylor. Arizona is 1-3 when allowing more than 22 points this season. The Colts lead the NFL in scoring (342 points) since Week 4.
I am going to trust Reich and company in this one to add to Arizona’s woes and doubts going into the postseason. Give me the Colts to cover for your NFL picks this Saturday night.
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