This question about whether the Indianapolis Colts should go all-out to achieve a perfect season is easy to answer, in my opinion.
Of course, they should.
As much as I hate to admit it, I agree with Michael Irvin on this one. While his ESPN cohorts were chiming on about all that really matters is winning the Super Bowl - yada, yada - Irvin insists that the Colts should do whatever is necessary to maximize their chances of going through the regular season unscathed.
He’s right. While winning the Super Bowl is, of course, considered the ultimate prize there is something that is even better – leaving behind a legacy. Should the Colts go 19-0, they not only would be crowned as the best team in the NFL for the 2005 season, they’d go down as arguably the greatest single-season team in the history of the league.
That, my friends, is worth gambling for. That means that Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders… and everyone in between should be playing at full tilt come Sunday.
Colts coach Tony Dungy has hinted as much, dismissing a reporter’s suggestion this week that he would rest his stars against visiting San Diego just because Indy has locked up homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
“We’re going to play the guys that we need to play in order to win the game,” Dungy said simply.
I interpret that as the studs starting, as usual. Sure, if the Colts get up three touchdowns in the second half, you’ll see some subs. Yes, I imagine Dungy will be a little quicker with the hook for guys like James should his team seem to have the game in hand.
What you’re unlikely to see is a big dose of Dominic Rhodes, or passes from Jim Sorgi, with the game’s outcome in doubt.
If I end up wrong, I’ll be amazed… and disappointed.
On to Week 15… and hopefully my ATS performance will return to the plus-.500 side this week.
OVERALL PREDICTIONS, 2005
Straight-Up: 139-69 (67%) ATS: 111-91-6 (55%) Over/Under: 95-107-6 (47%)
Straight-Up: 13-3 ATS: 6-9-1 Over/Under: 5-10-1
Tampa Bay (9-4) at New England (8-5)
Line: Patriots favored by 4½ (total points line is 36)
Series: No recent meetings. The Bucs have won the two most recent encounters, one at home and the other at Foxboro.
Buccaneers Status Report: Tampa Bay won a huge game last week, prevailing at Carolina, 20-10, to catch the Panthers atop the NFC South.
Patriots Status Report: The Patriots routed Buffalo on the road Sunday, 35-3. They maintained a two-game lead over Miami in the AFC East.
Fantasy Tidbit: A lot has been made about the surprising softness of New England’s defense this season, but the Patriots are getting healthier and have been very strong of late. Combine that with the expected frigid weather at Foxboro, and it translates into a bench recommendation for virtually all Tampa Bay offensive players.
Game Summary: Tampa Bay has made an impressive turnaround this season from their disappointing fade of 2004, but the Patriots have apparently overcome their early-season struggles and are winning regularly even though they still have several pieces missing. This is the type of clash New England has consistently won the last few seasons. QB Tom Brady is clutch, even against tough defenses. Patriots move a step closer to a return to the playoffs with a late, eek-it-out victory.
Prediction: PATRIOTS, 17-14
Kansas City (8-5) at New York Giants (9-4)
Line: Giants favored by 3 (total points line is 45½)
Series: No recent meetings. The Giants have won four of the last five, and are 5-0 ATS in those games.
Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City dropped a tough one at Dallas, 31-28, as Laurence Tynes’ potential game-tying kick sailed wide right at the end of regulation. The Chiefs are tied for second with San Diego, two games behind Denver in the AFC West and locked in a three-way battle with the Chargers and Pittsburgh for the final AFC playoff berth.
Giants Status Report: The Giants won at Philadelphia in overtime Sunday, 26-23, to retain their one-game lead over Dallas in the NFC East.
Fantasy Tidbit: Chiefs RB Larry Johnson is every bit as valuable as Priest Holmes was when healthy. He’s now an every-week start regardless of the matchup or conditions. And this week, he faces a Giants D that will be without its best overall player, rookie LB Antonio Pierce.
Game Summary: The loss of Pierce, who is listed as doubtful with a high-ankle sprain, is a severe blow to the defense. If the Kansas City offensive line can keep DE Michael Strahan in check, it can enjoy a bountiful day. Because I believe the Chiefs are better than an 8-6 team, and also that the Giants are not quite 10-4 good, I’m taking the Chiefs to grind out a mild upset on the road so that both will end up 9-5. (Don’t ya just love my logical approach?).
Prediction: CHIEFS, 27-20
Denver (10-3) at Buffalo (4-9)
Line: Broncos favored by 8 (total points line is 35)
Series: No recent meetings. The Bills have won three of the last five between the two played at Buffalo.
Broncos Status Report: Denver held off Baltimore at home for an unimpressive 12-10 victory. The Broncos are two games up on Kansas City and San Diego in the AFC West, and tied with Cincinnati for the second seeding in the conference.
Bills Status Report: Buffalo’s 35-3 loss to visiting New England last week was its fourth straight.
Fantasy Tidbit: The Broncos will have to rely on their running attack even more than usual this week, with temperatures in Buffalo this time of year routinely in the teens. Denver QB Jake Plummer and the Broncos receivers are not recommended starts.
Game Summary: Despite recent results, it would be a mistake to take the Bills’ woes for granted when you’re facing them at Orchard Park. Should Denver win fairly easily? Yes. But I expect a low-scoring defensive duel… and I’d be surprised if the Bills just roll over again as they did last week.
Prediction: BRONCOS, 16-7
New York Jets (3-10) at Miami (6-7)
Line: Dolphins favored by 9 (total points line is 35½)
Series: The Jets won the first meeting this season at home, 17-7, and has taken the last three contests. In the last clash at Miami, the Jets prevailed last season, 17-9.
Jets Status Report: The Jets snapped an extended losing streak with a decisive 26-10 victory over visiting Oakland Sunday.
Dolphins Status Report: Miami posted its third straight triumph, a 23-21 shocker at San Diego. The Dolphins are still two games behind New England in the AFC East, and two games out of a wild-card playoff berth.
Fantasy Tidbit: Miami WR Chris Chambers has five touchdowns in the last two games. If you’ve been playing him, good for you… stick with him. If not, it’s better to get on the wagon late than not at all.
Game Summary: Miami is red-hot and statistically has the edge over the Jets in just about every category that matters. But the Jets have owned this rivalry recently and are coming off an inspiring, skid-busting effort against the Raiders. So it’d be a surprise if Miami, in the odd position of heavy favorite here, were to win a romp. As it is, the Dolphins get a slight edge at home… but only because the Jets are averaging less than a touchdown per game on the road this season.
Prediction: DOLPHINS, 20-13
Pittsburgh (8-5) at Minnesota (8-5)
Line: Steelers favored by 3 (total points line is 41½)
Series: No recent contests. Minnesota has won three of the last four meetings.
Steelers Status Report: Pittsburgh righted its temporarily listing ship with a 21-9 triumph over visiting Chicago last week. The Steelers remain two games behind Cincinnati in the AFC North, but moved into a tie for the final wild-card playoff berth in the AFC.
Vikings Status Report: Minnesota won its sixth in a row Sunday, 27-13 over visiting St. Louis. The Vikings moved within a game of Chicago in the NFC North and are tied for the final playoff berth in the conference.
Fantasy Tidbit: The Steelers’ defense has been susceptible to the big pass play in several recent games, so look at QB Brad Johnson and WR Koren Robinson as decent starts, especially in larger leagues.
Game Summary: This one’s a tough call. The Vikings are on a great roll, but Pittsburgh is an ultra-tough club down the stretch with the best defense Minnesota has faced during its run. Truly, this one could go either way.
Prediction: STEELERS, 24-20
San Diego (8-5) at Indianapolis (13-0)
Line: Colts favored by 7½ (total points line is 51)
Series: The Colts won the last meeting, 34-31, last December. San Diego has won four of its last six against the Colts, however, including a 5-1 ATS mark.
Chargers Status Report: San Diego was upset at home by Miami Sunday, 23-21. The Chargers are tied for the final playoff berth in the AFC with Kansas City and Pittsburgh.
Colts Status Report: Indianapolis held off Jacksonville on the road, 26-18, to remain perfect. The Colts have clinched homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Fantasy Tidbit: Owners of the key Colts offensive players have to figure out if their heroes will play enough this week to justify having in the lineup. The answer is probably yes… unless you believe the Colts will blow out the Bolts, in which case QB Peyton Manning, RB Edgerrin James, and WRs Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne might put up sufficient numbers even in limited duty anyway.
Game Summary: I believe that this is a tough matchup for the Colts, even without all that is on the line regarding their bid for an unblemished season. San Diego is coming off a bitterly disappointing loss and fighting for its survival this season. And the Chargers have enjoyed success at Indianapolis before… including a near-upset last season. I think this contest, like last year’s, will come down to the wire.
Prediction: COLTS, 24-21
San Francisco (2-11) at Jacksonville (9-4)
Line: Jaguars favored by 15½ (total points line is 37½)
Series: Jacksonville won the only previous meeting between the clubs, six years ago.
49ers Status Report: San Francisco was routed at Seattle, 41-3, last week and has lost 11 of 12.
Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville’s five-game winning streak was snapped in a 26-18 home loss to Indianapolis on Sunday. The Jaguars are currently holding down the first wild-card berth in the AFC.
Fantasy Tidbit: Young QB David Garrard appears to be getting more and more comfortable as he settles in as the long-term replacement for injured Byron Leftwich. Against the 49ers’ league-worst defense, he’s likely to post at least respectable stats.
Game Summary: I really hate laying so many points with a team utilizing its second-string QB and with present uncertainty in the running game. But the 49ers simply don’t score much on the road.
Prediction: JAGUARS, 24-6
Seattle (11-2) at Tennessee (4-9)
Line: Seahawks favored by 7 (total points line is 45½)
Series: The Seahawks have won four of the last five meetings, but none are recent.
Seahawks Status Report: Seattle is on an incredible roll. The Seahawks’ 41-3 trouncing of visiting San Francisco last week was their ninth straight victory. They have outscored their last two foes by a cumulative 83-3. Seattle has already clinched the NFC West, and is closing in on homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Titans Status Report: Tennessee held off Houston at home last week, 13-10.
Fantasy Tidbit: Seattle RB Shaun Alexander is money, but QB Matt Hasselbeck is starting to assert himself statistically as well. Last week, he had four TD passes and the Titans’ secondary isn’t a lot better than San Francisco’s.
Game Summary: Seattle is on too great a roll to expect a significant, sudden fall-off. Seahawks reach double-figures on their winning skein.
Prediction: SEAHAWKS, 28-10
Arizona (4-9) at Houston (1-12)
Line: Cardinals favored by 1 (total points line is 42½)
Series: First meeting.
Cardinals Status Report: Arizona was defeated at home by Washington last week, 17-13.
Texans Status Report: Houston lost at Tennessee, 13-10, on Sunday.
Fantasy Tidbit: RB Domanick Davis has been solid of late, and this is a particularly juicy matchup for him. The problem is… he appears to be the only Texan playing hard. Could it be that the rest of the team is playing for Reggie Bush?
Game Summary: Arizona is pretty bad, but Houston is worse. The Cardinals have enjoyed some offensive success, the Texans very little. Houston’s defense ranks near the bottom… Arizona’s is slightly better. Overall, the Cardinals have been in most games. They have enough to get it done here.
Prediction: CARDINALS, 24-17
Dallas (8-5) at Washington (7-6)
Line: Redskins favored by 2½ (total points line is 35½)
Series: Washington rallied from a 13-0 fourth quarter deficit to edge the Cowboys at Dallas earlier this season on a Monday night, 14-13. The Cowboys had won the previous 11 meetings.
Cowboys Status Report: Dallas rallied past Kansas City last week, 31-28, and is tied for the second wild-card playoff berth in the NFC. The Cowboys trail the New York Giants by a game in the East Division.
Redskins Status Report: Washington topped Arizona last week on the road, 17-13, and is a game behind the Cowboys and two other clubs in the wild-card race.
Fantasy Tidbit: Redskins QB Mark Brunell began his sizzling stats run that lasted two months with his two fourth-quarter TD bombs at Dallas. He and WR Santana Moss, the recipient of both those scores, are good plays against a secondary that has quality people but tends to blow assignments more than most.
Game Summary: Dallas has won in each of its last six trips to Washington, DC/Laurel, Md., so the fact that this is a road game means virtually nothing in this rivalry. The Cowboys will be seeking some payback from that September defeat, and for whatever reason Dallas coach Bill Parcells frequently gets the best of Washington’s Joe Gibbs.
Prediction: COWBOYS, 23-19
Carolina (9-4) vs. New Orleans (4-9), at Baton Rouge, La.
Line: Panthers favored by 8½ (total points line is 41)
Series: The Saints started this embattled season on a high, upsetting the Panthers in Carolina in Week 1, 23-20. The visiting team has won four straight meetings and covered ATS in six in a row.
Panthers Status Report: Carolina was bumped off at home by Tampa Bay last week, 20-10, to fall into a first-place tie with the Buccaneers in the NFC South.
Saints Status Report: New Orleans lost at Atlanta Monday night, 36-17.
Fantasy Tidbit: Carolina RB DeShaun Foster’s rise to prominence was slowed last week, but it’s like to regain momentum this week.
Game Summary: This is not truly a home game for the Saints, of course, and they will be operating on a short week in the wake of another fairly decisive defeat. Carolina will be desperate to get back on track, and will have some payback on its collective minds as well.
Prediction: PANTHERS, 30-16
Cleveland (4-9) at Oakland (4-9)
Line: Raiders favored by 3 (total points line is 40)
Series: Cleveland won the last meeting, 13-7, at home in 2003. In addition, the Browns have prevailed in two of their last three trips to Oakland.
Browns Status Report: Cleveland played tough but lost at Cincinnati a week ago, 23-20.
Chargers Status Report: Oakland was embarrassed at The Meadowlands, losing a 26-10 decision to a New York Jets club that had lost eight in a row.
Fantasy Tidbit: Both teams have inexperienced QBs at the helm. But while Raiders QB Marques Tuiasosopo appears to be a drag on Raiders receivers, Cleveland’s Charlie Frye has looked fairly sharp so far. Of the two, Frye might be the better option although if you need to consider either one, you’re probably not in your league’s title hunt.
Game Summary: Neither team is going anywhere this season, but while the Raiders are taking on the look of a team that’s quitting on this campaign, the Browns continue to play tough – losing by just a field goal to Cincinnati last week and leading Jacksonville for much of the game two weeks ago before falling. Give me the club that’s more likely to go all-out to win.
Prediction: BROWNS, 20-17
Cincinnati (10-3) at Detroit (4-9)
Line: Bengals favored by 8 (total points line is 44)
Series: No recent meetings, but the Bengals have won in each of their last two trips to Detroit.
Bengals Status Report: Cincinnati held off visiting Cleveland last week, 23-20. The Bengals are two games up on Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
Lions Status Report: Detroit lost at Green Bay in overtime Sunday night, 16-13. The Lions have lost four straight and six of seven.
Fantasy Tidbit: This isn’t exactly going out on the proverbial limb, but I fully expect Bengals QB Carson Palmer to rebound from last week’s disappointing effort.
Game Summary: Admittedly, I can’t quite explain the Bengals’ struggles with Cleveland last week except perhaps that it was a rivalry game and the Browns come to play every week. The Lions do not, although in all fairness they played hard and nearly ended their 12-year skid at Lambeau Field. An upset could happen here, of course… but it’s highly doubtful.
Prediction: BENGALS, 27-14
Philadelphia (5-8) at St. Louis (5-8)
Line: Rams favored by 3 (total points line is 44)
Series: The Rams rolled at home last season, 20-7, to snap Philadelphia’s five-game streak of covering ATS in this series. That was the game in which the Eagles rested all of their starters after having clinched homefield for the NFC playoffs, helping the Rams sneak in as a wild-card.
Eagles Status Report: Philadelphia played tough at home against the New York Giants last week but lost in overtime, 26-23.
Rams Status Report: St. Louis was whipped at Minnesota, 27-13. The Rams have lost four of their last five.
Fantasy Tidbit: Even though Rams QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has struggled as a starter, WR Torry Holt’s numbers have been up to par in regards to catches and yardage. Stick with him, and hope to get an actual touchdown this week.
Game Summary: The Eagles aren’t very good these days, but the Rams are pretty horrible all the way around. With all their injuries, the homefield edge isn’t vital. The Eagles are better-coached and play harder. They get the victory on the road.
Prediction: EAGLES, 23-17
Atlanta (8-5) at Chicago (9-4)
Line: Bears favored by 3 (total points line is 31½)
Series: No recent meetings. The Bears have won four of the last five meetings.
Falcons Status Report: Atlanta whipped New Orleans at home Monday night, 36-17. The Falcons trail NFC South co-leaders Tampa Bay and Carolina by a game and are tied for the second wild-card berth in the conference.
Bears Status Report: Chicago’s eight-game winning streak ended at Pittsburgh Sunday, 21-9. The Bears are a game up on Minnesota in the NFC North.
Fantasy Tidbit: Bears RB Thomas Jones is a better-than-average start against an inconsistent Atlanta run defense.
Game Summary: Falcons QB Michael Vick will probably start, but he’ll be nursing sore ribs and you have to assume the weather at night in the Windy City will be mostly unpleasant. Vick is the type of QB that can beat even Chicago’s league-best defense, but if Vick goes down and Matt Schaub replaces him, the Bears will have a field day. At home, Chicago gets it done yet again.
Prediction: BEARS, 16-10
Green Bay (3-10) at Baltimore (4-9)
Line: Ravens favored by 3½ (total points line is 33)
Series: No recent meetings, and these teams have never met at Baltimore.
Packers Status Report: Green Bay rallied to edge Detroit in overtime Sunday night, 16-13, at Lambeau Field.
Ravens Status Report: Baltimore played tough but lost at Denver on Sunday, 12-10.
Fantasy Tidbit: It looks as if RB Chester Taylor finally is the better start between him and Jamal Lewis, but neither is very enticing against an improved Green Bay run defense.
Game Summary: A total hunch play is my upset of the week. The stats say that Baltimore should win this clash at home, but I’m so unimpressed with the Ravens, and the Packers are starting to get better on both sides of the ball… little by little. If the offensive line can give QB Brett Favre a reasonable amount of time, he wins it for the Packers. And when you consider we’re talking Favre vs. Kyle Boller in the battle of QBs, it’s not much of a stretch. Bottom line – not only is this matchup ugly, but the analyst is John Madden, who would probably agree to bear Favre’s children if it were biologically possible.
Prediction: PACKERS, 20-17