Indianapolis Colts (13-5 SU, 12-5-1 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (13-4 SU, 9-8 ATS)
2015 AFC Championship Game
Date and Time: Sunday, January 18, 2015, 6:40 pm EST
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread:IND. +7/NE -7
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After 17 weeks of the regular season and two hard-fought rounds of the playoffs we finally have the stage set for the AFC Championship game, when the Indianapolis Colts try to pull off another upset when they travel to Gillette Stadium to battle the No. 1 seeded New England Patriots this Sunday on CBS.
The Colts spoiled everyones dream rematch of the Patriots-vs.-Broncos and another Brady-vs.-Manning duel when they went into Mile High Stadium last weekend and stunned the home crowd with a, 24-13, victory in the Divisional round. Quarterback Andrew Luck threw for two scores and stood tall in the face of the fierce Broncos pass rush, but it was the Colts defense that led Indy into the Championship game this weekend by holding Manning to just 26-for-46 passing and one score in the upset. It has since been revealed that Manning now admits to a torn quad muscle the past month that has limited his effectiveness down the stretch, but regardless the Colts earned their right to be one game away from the Super Bowl with a solid all-around performance on the road in Denver.
The Patriots also were forced to earn their way into the AFC Championship game for the second straight year, exorcising the demons of the past by finally beating the Baltimore Ravens at home in the playoffs, 35-31. Trailing by 14 points twice in the game, early in the first quarter and then once again early in the third, Tom Brady went 33-for-50 and threw for three touchdowns as New England needed everything they could muster including a little bit of trickery to sneak past the Ravens at home in Foxborough.
Whether the Colts win was a good win or if the Patriots got lucky to still be alive means little in the eyes of the oddsmakers, as they still installed New England as full touchdown 7-point favorites for the AFC Championship game on Sunday at home in Gillette Stadium. Interestingly though, most of the early money at sportsbooks in the first few hours since the number was put up on the board has come down on the side of the Colts, as the short memory public bettors were leapfrogging over each other at the window to get the full touchdown before the number changes. Despite the early one-sided nature of the steam, the point spread hasnt moved off the key number of -7 yet in either direction.
The over/under total opened at 53.5 and can still be found at that same number at a few sportsbooks on the Web and out in Las Vegas, but as is usually the case with totals, it can also be found at 54 or even as high as 54.5 already and the line is moving up as fans and bettors expect another AFC shoot out in the conference finale.
As you would expect in a championship game just one win away from playing for the Lombardi Trophy, quarterback play is going to have a huge barring on the outcome of this game. With Brady and Luck going head-to-head for the second time this season, Sundays AFC title game will be no different.
Offensively it will be very interesting to see how the Patriots choose to attack the Colts this time around. Brady was effective in the first game against Indy this year (a 42-20 victory in Indy on Nov. 16th), but the game was essentially the coming out party for former practice player Jonas Gray, who had 201 yards rushing on 37 carries and four scores in the lopsided win. Gray hasnt seen the field at running back since really, and the Pats REALLY struggled to run the ball last week (14 yards on 13 carries), but that was more because they were already down two scores before people sat in their seats. In an ideal world Im sure the Pats would like to try and grind down the Colts again (had 246 rushing yards and over 500 total yards in the first game), but the Indy defense has improved over the final six weeks of the regular season and limited Cincinnati and Denver to 110 and 88 yards, respectively, in their two playoff games. When you do the math on those numbers it equals out a 5.2 and 4.4 yards per carry average, something Im sure Bill Belichick and OC Josh McDaniels have already discussed in game-plan preparation this week.
Billichick will likely be more concerned with how to try and slow down Luck and the Indy offense. Denver, despite having two of the leagues top pass rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller on the edge, didnt register a single sack in the divisional game last weekend. They knocked Luck down a ton, but as Luck has proven time and time again, hell stand in there until the rush punches him in the gut as he waits for his receivers to clear into the open. Its no secret that the Colts will try and get running back Dan Harron loose in the running game, rather than to try and throw it against Derrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and the Pats secondary, but that all may be easier said then done. Look for the Colts to work T.Y. Hilton on crossing patterns to try and get away from Revis when they need to move the chains.
Historically, the Patriots have owned the series versus the Colts. New England has won five straight going back to 2010. It also includes last seasons divisional round game, one that the Pats won 43-22 as 7.5-point favorites in Gillette. However, it should be noted that the underdog in the series when these two teams tangle is a solid 14-5-2 ATS going back over the last 21 meetings. New England is also a lousy 0-5 ATS in their last five AFC Championship games as well (3-11 ATS in their last 14 playoff games too).
The over is 6-0 in the last six meetings between these two, 4-0 in games played in Foxborough, but its actually the under that is a better betting trend, going 4-0 in Indys last four road games, 6-0 in the Colts last six versus an AFC opponent and 4-0 in the Patriots last four championship round games.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread:Pardon the pun, but I think Andrew Lucks luck is about to run out. I just dont think the Colts defense is going to be strong enough. And I think the major scare the Pats had last week against the Ravens is going to play huge. They already survived their upset bid. If they would have rolled the Ravens last week Id probably feel they were ripe for the upset. New England will win in my opinion, and Im willing to lay the whole touchdown on it too. If they number drops off of minus -7 at any point and gets down to -6.5 or -6, Id snap that up in a hurry. Im taking New England minus the points in the championship game.