The Pats showed last week that they aren’t finished yet.
Of course, it was only the Dolphins. And their offence did not look at its T-1000-like, coldly efficient best, but it was a big game to win after two double-digit losses, and they terminated Miami’s offence with relative ease.
That’s encouraging for an unpredictable defence.PaddyPower.com should be first in your NFL betting playbook
Rob Gronkowski could do with some Terminator-like powers of rejuvenation. Even when he’s healthy, it’s not clear he’s the same force of nature he’s been – 10 catches at just over 10 yards on average is his return for the last three games – and now he’s picked up an ankle knock that could see him limited, assuming he plays at all.
If he’s not the same distraction for defences, that takes a lot away from this offence.
On the other hand, Julian Edelman’s served his suspension and should give Tom Brady a release valve on third-down. At 33, and coming back from an ACL tear, we’ll need to wait and see if he can still meet the standards he’s set in the past, but it’s better having him than not.
Indianapolis have plenty of health concerns too.
Marlon Mack’s status continues to frustrate, leaving their rushing-game to rookies Jordan Wilkens and Nyheim Hines – it sits 29th of 32 in the league through four weeks.
But TY Hilton is their biggest absence offensively here. He leads the team in receptions and yards. Andrew Luck has spread the ball around this season though – their OT loss to the Texans on Sunday saw eight different receivers catch a pass – so you’d expect them to weather their #1 pass-catcher’s layoff.
Darius Leonard is also facing time out, which is a real disappointment after his rollicking rookie performances added a threat to this annually awful defence.
Part of the credit for their improvement has to go to new head coach Frank Reich too. The Colts were landed with him after Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator in New England, led them don the garden path during the offseason, but they may have lucked out as the new HC has shown a positive attitude that looks to be rubbing off on his players.
Last week, hosting Houston, he drew criticism for trying to convert 4th-and-4 in overtime, a call that many saw as costing them the game, but his approach – essentially, that they were playing to win rather than “not lose” – will pay dividends in the long run, and the evidence is in the spiky play of his team through the opening four weeks.
Handicap: Indianapolis +10.5 – 5/6
This is tough to call. New England have a great record as a double-digit home favourite, and their heavy win last week could lead you to believe they’re just going to slide back into their usual, bone-crushing form, but I would not be confident of that at all yet.
Given how the Colts have played so far, their positive attitude and new toughness on defence, I think you have to take the points here, even if they’re on a short week and depleted. Tackle Anthony Castonzo is questionable, so that is worrying for their backers and for Andrew Luck’s well-being, but what’s clear through four weeks is Indy are competitive, and with questions over New England lingering, the underdog still appeals.
Total Points: Over 50.5 – 20/23
The trends in this match-up point to over. In the previous eight meetings, this game has gone over this number on each occasion. Both teams have injuries to star offensive talents, but neither are rock solid defensively, so I’d take the over here.
First Touchdown Scorer: Josh Gordon – 11/1
This is purely a value play. The Pats are at home and their opponents are travelling on a shortened week, so it seems likely Belichick’s boys get the first score. Gordon has now had some time to make himself comfortable in his new surroundings and is so talented he’s always a threat. 11/1 is not a bad price for someone with such devastating potential.
*All odds correct at time of posting