Indianapolis Colts at Carolina Panthers (-7, 46.5)
This season has not gone according to the preseason script for the Indianapolis Colts (3-4, 2-1 road). Quarterback Andrew Luck was supposed to be an MVP contender after management brought in RB Frank Gore and WR Andre Johnson to bolster an already prolific offense. But the Stanford product seems to be regressing in his fourth year in the league. A shoulder injury is partly to blame, but only for his inaccuracy; the terrible decision-making exhibited from the wunderkind is another story. Luck will hope to turn a corner this Monday, but that will be no easy feat on the road against the undefeated Carolina Panthers (6-0, 3-0 home) and their stout defense.
The Panthers are top-ten in the league in both scoring defense (18.3 PPG) and total defense (339.8 YPG). Last week, they held Sam Bradford and the Eagles to just 205 yards passing, cruising to a 26-17 win. Their dynamic linebacker tandem of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis accounted for 19 tackles, while up-and-coming DT Kawann Short was a menace in the pass rush, racking up three sacks.
The Carolina defense has been a bit susceptible to the run this season, allowing 110 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry. But the Colts don’t look like a team that can take advantage of that relative weakness, averaging under 100 yards per game on the ground behind a questionable offensive line.
Indy’s run game does manage a decent 4.3 yards per attempt, so there’s some reason for optimism. But in order to turn that quality into quantity, the Colts will need to avoid falling behind early, which hasn’t exactly been their forte this season. Last week, they found themselves down 20-0 at the half (marking the third time this year they’ve failed to score a point in the opening 30 minutes).
The massive deficit forced the Colts to go pass-heavy. Luck wound up with 23 completions on 44 attempts, while Gore only got nine carries despite averaging nearly five yards per.
It was the opposite story in Carolina in Week 7. The Panthers ran the ball 33 times against Philly, piling up 204 yards, led by 125 on 24 carries from RB Jonathan Stewart. Quarterback Cam Newton – who is an early MVP candidate himself, given what he’s been able to do with a crew of no-name receivers – didn’t have his best day, tossing three picks. But the D allowed just three points, total, off the three turnovers.
Whether it’s Stewart and the run game, Newton and the aerial attack, or a combination of the two, the Panthers will be able to find their yards come Monday. Indy has the worst total defense in the league, allowing over 400 yards per game (and sitting bottom-ten against both the pass and the rush).
The Colts have managed two road wins this year, but both of those required considerable luck and both came against subpar AFC South competition (35-33 over Tennessee and 27-20 over Houston). At just 2-5 ATS on the year (1-2 road), the trends favor the Panthers (5-1 ATS, 2-1 home). There’s always a chance Indy backdoors its way to a cover late – just like they did against New England in Week 6 – but I fully expect the Panthers to dominate and the lead to be greater than a touchdown for most of the game. Rolling with the Panthers and laying the points looks like the better option.
Pick: Carolina (-7).
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)
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