It’s nearly Christmas time, which means football on a Saturday night [or Sunday morning]! We’ll see two of the most in-form teams in the national football league return from a bye week to face off and paint a little more detail on to the AFC playoff picture. Bill Belichick’s 9-4 New England Patriots come into the game against Frank Reich’s 7-6 Indianapolis Colts as the current number 1 seed in the conference.
Both teams have an inspiring head coach, brilliant run game, above-average pass protection, and stout defense to pair with two intriguing quarterbacks who have exceeded expectations this season. Let’s delve a little deeper into these two sides and eventually pick a winner for Saturday’s fixture.
Two teams hitting form at the right time
These two sides looked to be facing an uphill battle to get into the playoffs when sitting 2-4 in week 6, fast forward to week 15 and they’re right in the picture. The Pats were unlucky to lose to Miami first up, only a Damien Harris fumble away from being 10-3. That loss was followed by a thumping of the Jets, like always, before two straight losses to New Orleans and Tampa.
The team looked in disarray in week 5 after trailing the Texans for the majority of the game but managed to pull out the win, before an overtime loss to Dallas the next Sunday. Since then something must have struck a cord, the defense started to look how we expected and the silly offensive mistakes minimised. New England have won 7 straight, outscoring their opponents 225-73 in that time. They’re also 7-0 against the spread.
Tonight’s home side, the Colts, had an unexpected 0-3 start to the year, but in all fairness they did have a pretty tough start. Three single digit losses to the Seahawks, Rams and Titans opened the season, they played some good football in that period, but not enough of it. Week 4 saw them get their grove back against Miami, followed by an overtime loss in Baltimore and a blowout of the Texans.
Since that Texans win the side are 5-2 and have played better. The Buffalo game showed how good they can be, they always beat up on the bad teams. That was the first and only win against one of last years playoff teams. If this Colts team can get it together against the better outfits, like New England, then I can see them winning multiple games in January. The run game wins postseason matchups.
Carson Wentz is back
The ex-Eagles QB has had a rough time since his 2017 MVP caliber year. Injury after injury followed by the tragic start to the 2020 season saw him benched mid-year for Jalen Hurts. And rightly so, he looked broken. Luckily for Wentz, he was given a lifeline by the Colts in the offseason, and fair play to him, he’s only gone and taken it. Last year the 6th year QB was a turnover magnet, putting up the most turnover worth plays in the league with 24, and the 4th highest TWP percentage (4.4%).
This year that number has come down massively. This year he’s halved that percentage to 2.2%, placing 4th best. In doing that he has become more conservative, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 2020 saw the QB push the ball downfield too much when you take into consideration the injury-plagued roster he had, he placed 3rd in ADOT (9.4 yards.) For context Drew Lock topped that category. This year that number has come down a little to 15th with an 8.3 average depth of target.
What’s impressed me the most is the fact that he seems to have got his elite pocket presence back. That’s what was most disappointing last year, he seemed so lost under pressure. Wentz has gone from the league’s worst pressure to sack percentage (26.3%) to the 6th best this year at only 13% of the time.
You have to hand it to Frank Reich, I know he got the best year out of him in Philly so it’s not massively surprising, Wentz may never get back to that quality of performance again, but what he is right now is enough for the Colts to win multiple playoff games.
Mac Attack in full swing?
Indy are one of the toughest opponents so far in Mac Jones’ young career. He’s got an away primetime game where he will be relied on to make plays against a top defense, and this time not in the snow. I for one am interested to see how Mac fares against quality opposition and how much he’s improved since the Tampa game which was in a similar spot.
Will he still be as composed under pressure, this game will tell us a lot. I’m rooting for the kid, he’s having a very good rookie season, not Justin Herbert level, but still one to be remembered. So far I like what I’m seeing, he seems to have the poise to succeed at the highest level, but exactly how much of that is down to the situation he fell into. A very lucky guy.
Jones best attribute seems to be his ability to get the ball out quickly, only his former Alabama Crimson Tide teammate Tua Tagovailoa, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger have a quicker average time to throw. That pops out to me, because when watching New England play at the moment sometimes Mac looks exactly like Tom did in the McDaniels offense.
The fact that he has the league’s best drop rate speaks volumes. One, that he throws an accurate spiral, which is backed up by the fact he’s got the 3rd best completion percentage in the whole league, and two, shows how good Belichick’s coaching staff is. His receivers are not great, but good coaching on fundamentals goes a long way.
Somehow the Colts are favoured by 2.5 in this game. I get it’s in Indy but New England are red hot. I have a feeling the Colts have a shot at this one don’t get me wrong, but when it comes to predicting the game I tend to go for the organisation I trust the most. That’s the Patriots.
New England 23, Indianapolis 20