The Colts face a must-win game Sunday in Tampa to keep their AFC Wild-Card hopes alive, while the Bucs are playing better of late but also playing out the string.
Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)
Sunday, December 8, 1 PM ET, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa
It’s a bit of an unusual schedule around the NFL in that there are only two games featuring an AFC club meeting an NFC one. One is Pittsburgh at Arizona and then there’s this one with the Colts visiting the Bucs.
Being in opposite conferences, there’s not much of a history between the teams as they have played a total of 13 times including two when the Colts were still in Baltimore. The Colts lead 8-5 and won the most recent meeting at home in 2015, 25-12. Indy was coached by Chuck Pagano then and Tampa Bay by Lovie Smith. Pagano is now the defensive coordinator in Chicago and Smith the head coach at Illinois.
There is one current coaching tie between the franchises and that’s Bucs head coach Bruce Arians. He got his head coaching debut in 2012 as the interim leader of the Colts when Pagano was sidelined due to illness. Arians led the team to a 9-3 record but because he was technically an interim coach, those wins and losses go on Pagano’s resume. Arians would be hired as the Cardinals’ head coach for the 2013 season and stayed there through 2017, when he “retired.” That lasted one year until the Bucs lured him out of it.
Colts Missing Key Players
Indianapolis sits ninth in the AFC standings and third in the AFC South, two behind first-place Houston and one behind second-place Tennessee. Long story short: Not likely this team makes the playoffs.
If the Colts had a different kicker, they might be 8-4. Their guy is Adam Vinatieri, one of the best in league history and a future Hall of Famer. But Vinatieri is 46 years old and has showed it at times this season with six missed extra-point attempts and eight missed field goals. Those 14 missed kicks are the most in the NFL since Kris Brown missed 17 in 2001. Vinatieri has made an NFL-record 599 field goals in his career.
Vinatieri talked about quitting earlier this season but was talked out of it. Frankly, this writer is surprised the Colts haven’t worked out kickers this week – maybe they did after this writing – because Vinatieri was 1-for-4 on field goals in Sunday’s 31-17 home loss to the Titans. Two were blocked, including one returned for 63 yards that was returned for the game-winning touchdown with about five minutes left. It was Indy’s fourth loss in the past five games.
While QB Jacoby Brissett has had a nice season stepping in for the retired Andrew Luck, there’s only so much Brissett can do. He was without his No. 1 receiver in T.Y. Hilton and top running back in Marlon Mack against the Titans. Rookie receiver Parris Campbell and tight end Eric Ebron also are out. That’s a combined 1,155 yards receiving, 914 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.
Winston Among Passing Leaders
The big question entering this season for Tampa Bay was the future of former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston as he is playing on his fifth-year rookie option. Thus, the Bucs would have to slap the franchise tag on him after this season, re-sign him or let him walk.
Winston still turns the ball over way too much with a league-high 20 interceptions and nine fumbles, but there’s no doubt he’s talented. Winston is second in the NFL with 3,659 yards passing and tied for sixth with 22 TD passes. He has arguably the best receiving duo in the NFL in Mike Evans and breakout star Chris Godwin. Godwin has 74 catches for 1,121 yards and nine scores and Evans 66 for 1,096 and seven TDs.
Tampa’s problem remains lack of a running game and a porous pass defense. That said, the Bucs have won three of four – albeit beating bad teams Arizona, Atlanta and Jacksonville. It was 28-11 on Sunday at the Jaguars as that Tampa defense forced four turnovers, with one fumble returned by rookie linebacker Devin White for a 14-yard TD and a 15-0 first-quarter lead. Over the last two weeks, White has had two sacks, an interception and that fumble returned for a touchdown.
Winston was actually quiet with 268 yards and no TDs. He did lose one fumble but no picks. Peyton Barber had two TD runs. He generally had been behind Ronald Jones of late, but Jones was benched in the third quarter for missing an assignment on a blitz pickup that led to a sack of Winston and that fumble.
Indianapolis is just too banged-up right now to trust and certainly don’t trust Vinatieri. Computer simulations I have run have Tampa Bay winning 27-23, but we recommend buying down to -2.5 to be safe.
- Colts are 1-6-1 ATS vs. a team with a losing record.
- Colts are 6-20 SU in their last 26 games as underdog.
- Buccaneers are 7-1-1 ATS in their last nine games in December.
Free NFL Pick: Bucs -3 (buy down to -2.5) at Sports Interaction.