I'll admit readers might think, upon reading the subject line of this week's post, that BadNFL has lost it. After all, didn't I just pick a heavy favorite on the road last week, a pick that failed miserably? The answer to both questions is yes. Yet I think that this pick avoids some of the pitfalls that may have plagued the Eagles last week, and thus I'm going with the Colts as a heavy favorite on the road. Here's why:
1. The Colts have a juggernaut offense playing a terrible defense.
Manning and the Colts are leading the NFL in passing offense. Manning is on pace to break the all time NFL accuracy record. He is by all accounts leading the MVP race right now, and his performance this year is demonstrating that he is one of the very best QBs to have ever played the game. As I noted in my review of BadNFL's last successful Colts prediction, it's difficult to bet against Manning right now. And now he's facing the Rams, who have an abysmal pass defense. Not only that, but the Rams just traded their most seasoned and effective linebacker, leaving them even more exposed against the Colts' formidable TE Dallas Clark. One of BadNFL's lessons learned from week 5 was that explosive passing offenses matched up against terrible pass defenses is a recipe for a blowout. This game appears to be that sort of recipe.
2. Indy's defense is underrated and improving and it should shut down the Rams anemic offense.
The Colts really impressed me in their last game against the run; they played tough and physical with excellent gap discipline. We all know that the Rams are going to be forced to rely on RB Steven Jackson in this game, since the Rams' struggling passing attack is no match for the Colts' stingy pass defense, which is the best in the NFL according to Football Outsiders' metrics. While the Colts have certainly struggled at times this year against the run, they primarily did so against great rushing teams like Miami. They have dramatically improved, totally stifling the run in their past 3 games, and they will undoubtedly stack the box against Jackson.
Moreover, they are getting a lot of players back healthy this week, including all-world safety Bob Sanders and both of their starting cornerbacks. That fact alone should give them a psychological and schematic boost, allowing their defense to continue the Colts pattern of dominating bad teams. But even if some of these players aren't at full strength, the Colts' depth renders their losses an almost non-issue; Bill Polian has constructed a squad from top to bottom that is better able to overcome adversity than almost any other team in the league. Additionally, the Colts will likely jump out to an early lead, allowing its lightning-fast pass rushers to go after Bulger, utilizing their overall defensive speed on the St. Louis turf. It's hard not to expect the Colts defense to squelch any signs of life from a Rams offense that is putting up a pathetic 9 points/game.
THE COUNTER-ARGUMENT: TRAP GAME?
You might be suffering from a case of deja vu right now, wondering "didn't I read all the same things last week?" Explosive offense, a favorite that has dominated a lot of bad teams, a heavy favorite...aren't all these factors the same as last week? I've thought long and hard about this, and I think the answer is no.
First, I just have more confidence in the Colts than the Eagles. Manning is the type of leader and competitor that won't let his team come in unprepared or unfocused. We've seen this play out in the recent history of the Colts organization, as they are a team without a lot of wild fluctuations and ups and downs--they play consistent, focused football week in and week out. All signs are that their practices have been physical and intense this week without any signs of letting up. Further, the Manning-era Colts play very well after byes, particularly when they are on a winning streak heading into that bye. In 2007, they were 5-0 entering a week 6 bye, and won in week 7 by 22 points, and in 2006, they were similarly 5-0 and after their bye won by 14. In 2006, they were undefeated entering their bye and afterwards beat Tom Brady's Pats by 19. In essence, against a Rams team that has been blownout routinely this year, the Colts have a great chance of a huge win.
Second, the Rams have not had the sort of catalytic event that I hypothesized the Pierce comments may have had on the Raiders last week. Instead, the Rams nearly beat, but lost in OT, to a bad Jaguars team last week. But scouts who watched that game concluded that the Rams ability to play closely last week was more a sign of the Jags' incompetance than the Rams' improvement. I think after a close loss to a bad team, it'll be hard for the Rams to get genuinely inspired about playing the Colts, and they are more likely to be beaten pretty badly. The closest analogy I could find to last year was when the Rams blew a 4th quarter lead late to the Patriots and lost in a narrow defeat, but then turned around and lost by 21 to the Cardinals explosive passing offense. I think the same sort of dynamic will be at work this year, and that as such, the Colts avoid the weird confluence of events that doomed the Eagles last week. All the Colts need to do is win by 2 TDs to cover this spread. I think they do that.