An old rivalry is renewed as the top-seeded New England Patriots (9-4) and Indianapolis Colts (7-6) meet for only the third time since the 2014 AFC Championship Game. The Colts look to snap an eight-game losing streak to Bill Belichick’s team, who last lost to Indy in the infamous “Fourth-and-2” game in 2009 when current head coach Frank Reich was an offensive assistant on the staff. But what about the NFL odds?
New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts
Saturday, December 18, 2021 – 08:20 PM EST at Lucas Oil Stadium
The Colts (8-5 ATS) are a 1-point favorite over the Patriots (9-4 ATS) at many of BMR’s top-rated sportsbooks. This is a rare case where both teams are coming off a bye week late into the season. Belichick is 11-9-1 ATS and 15-6 SU after a regular-season bye as coach of the Patriots. Reich is 2-0-1 ATS and 3-0 SU after a bye in his career with the Colts.
Mortal Lock: Patriots Will Pass the Ball More This Week
The Patriots are coming off one of the most unique offensive games in modern NFL history. In their 14-10 win at Buffalo last week, the Patriots ran the ball 46 times and threw only 3 passes for 19 yards. This was to deal with the heavy wind and low temperatures in Buffalo.
It worked in the sense that the Patriots popped a big run (64 yards) for a touchdown and got the win, but overall, the plan did not lead to a good offense. The Patriots were 2-of-12 on third down and only scored 14 points while holding the ball 32 minutes. The game was won on defense.
Fortunately, the Patriots should get back to a normal-looking offense in Indianapolis. While the days of Tom Brady lighting up the defense with Rob Gronkowski now belong to Tampa Bay, who did exactly that to the Colts in Week 12, the Patriots have been developing their own passing attack with rookie Mac Jones.
Prior to the Buffalo run rampage, Jones passed for a season-high 310 yards against the Titans in Week 12. Since nearly upsetting the Buccaneers in Week 4, Jones has passed for 14 touchdowns to 5 interceptions with a 105.2 passer rating and 8.1 yards per attempt.
The Patriots are unlikely to wow people with their new passing game, but it has been effective combined with a good running attack led by Damien Harris to give the Patriots the scoring threat they lacked a season ago.
But make no mistake about it: New England is still led by Belichick's defense, which creates scoring opportunities with a ball-hawking unit.
Colts and Patriots: Mirror Images?
These two teams actually share more in common now than they did in the era of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Both want to be physical and run the ball to not put everything on their quarterback’s shoulders, and they want to take the ball away on defense and play great situational defense. Both can say their highlight of the season has been winning in Buffalo.
But tale as old as time, the Patriots have the Colts beat on defense. While the Colts lead the NFL with 29 takeaways, 14 of those have been fumble recoveries, the most in the NFL. Those are harder to sustain than creating interceptions, which the Patriots are better at with 19.
The Patriots also allow fewer points and yards per play than the Colts, who struggled early in the season at stopping the pass. The Patriots also rank 2nd in pressure rate while the Colts are 28th according to Pro Football Reference.
A staple of New England’s defensive success, the fabled bend-but-don’t-break style, is success in the red zone. Teams are scoring touchdowns on 45.7% of drives against the Patriots in the red zone, the second-lowest rate in the league. The Colts allow a touchdown 71.1% of the time, the third-highest rate.
But the Colts do bring a potent offense to this matchup with Jonathan Taylor being the most consistent offensive player in the league this year. Taylor leads the NFL with 1,684 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns. He is pretty much a lock each week for 100 yards and a touchdown, and since he started taking off in Week 4, so has quarterback Carson Wentz, who had a rough 0-3 start to his tenure with the Colts.
Despite Taylor’s presence, how Wentz handles a good Belichick defense is still the key to this game for the Colts. Wentz has been sensational at times this season, but like in the Tampa Bay game, his willingness to force plays can turn into back-breaking turnovers that lose games for his team.
This is exactly the kind of quarterback Belichick pounces on, and while Michael Pittman Jr. has been a breakout receiver this year, these Colts do not have the deep offensive talent of Indy teams of the past.
It will be interesting to see how many wrinkles come into play with both teams having the bye week to prepare for this one, and the Patriots coming off such a run-heavy game. Reich was Philadelphia’s offensive coordinator when the Eagles upset Belichick’s Patriots in Super Bowl 52, so maybe he’ll have an “Indy Special” up his sleeve.
I’d bet Carson Wentz’s prop as an anytime touchdown scorer for that reason, but knowing how Wentz usually fares against top teams and defenses, I trust the Patriots to get the cover and win for your NFL picks this Saturday night.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.