The Indianapolis Colts are officially out of the playoff picture as they get set to host the Carolina Panthers in Week 16. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 22 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Fans in select markets will be able to watch the game on Fox.
Oddsmakers list the Colts as 6.5-point favorites at home with an over/under of 46 points. Make sure you check out all of the Week 16 NFL betting odds.
Indy’s playoff hopes were officially ended on Monday night when the Colts suffered a 34-7 loss to the Saints. Admittedly, it was a difficult game for the Colts to play in a must-win situation. But they didn’t exactly put up much of a fight for a team trying to stay alive. Indianapolis has now lost four in a row and dropped six of their last seven games, negating such a promising 5-2 start to the season.
The Colts are now worried about avoiding a last-place finish in the AFC South. Indy sits at 6-8, just one game ahead of the 5-9 Jaguars, who they meet in Week 17. If the Colts lose their last two games, they’ll finish 6-10 and could see Jacksonville pass them in the standings.
Carolina can certainly commiserate with Indy’s position. The Panthers won four in a row earlier this season to negate a 0-2 start. However, their playoff hopes have since dissipated with the Panthers losing six straight games. A couple of garbage-time touchdowns made last week’s 30-24 home loss to the Seahawks a little closer than it actually was, as Carolina trailed by at least 10 points for a vast majority of the game.
It won’t be easy for the Panthers to play out the final two weeks of the season. Head coach Ron Rivera has already been fired and there is uncertainty about Cam Newton’s future with the team. Carolina is now making another quarterback change late in the year, benching Kyle Allen in favor of rookie Will Grier, who will make his NFL debut against the Colts on Sunday.
Am I really supposed to lay down a touchdown for a team that has just one win in the last seven weeks? I’m not sure I feel comfortable doing that, even against a team that has lost six in a row by an average margin of nearly 12 points. Even when they were playing well early in the season, the Colts weren’t beating teams by a wide margin. I’ll take my chances with Grier and the Panthers to at least keep it close and beat the spread against Indianapolis.
Obviously, Grier is the big X-factor in this game. Nobody can know for sure what to expect out of him. For what it’s worth, Grier has big-time arm talent. He started his college career at Florida before transferring to West Virginia and racking up a ridiculous amount of passing yards over the past two seasons. He’s capable of making all of the throws, so the Panthers might not be shy about pushing the ball down the field.
Grier should also feel comfortable knowing he has Christian McCaffrey in the backfield behind him. A few teams have been able to keep him under wraps in recent weeks. But McCaffrey was back to his old tricks again last week, compiling over 80 yards rushing and 80 yards receiving. No matter who’s playing quarterback, he’ll remain the focal point of the Carolina offense. The Panthers also have DJ Moore, who’s amassed nearly 1,200 receiving yards this season and could be a deep threat with Grier at quarterback.
Despite the extended losing streak, the Panthers have scored at least 20 points in their last four games. Even with Allen self-destructing by throwing six interceptions and taking 17 sacks during those four games, the Carolina offense has found a way to function behind playmakers like McCaffrey and Moore. Keep in mind the Indianapolis defense is nothing special. They have come apart late in the season, conceding over 30 points in three straight games.
On the other side of the ball, the Indianapolis offense is equally to blame for the team’s late-season collapse. The Colts have scored 17 points or less in three of their last four games. The only exception to that was a game against the porous Tampa Bay pass defense. To be fair, the Colts might be able to take advantage of Carolina’s weak run defense. However, Marlon Mack has been bottled up in his two games back since missing time with an injury. In his absence, Jacoby Brissett has been unable to rise to the occasion. If the Colts can’t get Mack going this week, they’ll have to deal with one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. Obviously, that doesn’t bode well for their chances of sustaining drives and reaching the end zone.
To be honest, I’m surprised to see the Colts favored by more than a field goal in this game. Both teams have been dreadful over the past month and I don’t think there’s much that separates them at this point. Also, the Panthers had a little bit of beginner’s luck with Allen earlier this year, so perhaps they can find the same with Grier this week. In the end, the Colts just don’t look like the kind of team you can trust to cover 6.5 points. I don’t love doing this, but I’ll take my chances with Carolina.