Maybe it’s fitting that the Colts’ season comes down to a game in which they are a heavy favorite over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
They were in that same situation while on the road in Jacksonville in the season opener Sept. 13, only to be upset by the Jags, 27-20, in Philip Rivers’ unfortunate Colts debut. Since then, Jacksonville has not won a game.
Indianapolis, meanwhile, let a chance to gain an edge on the division rival Tennessee Titans and the group of AFC wild card contenders slip away Sunday when a 24-7 third quarter lead in Pittsburgh keeled into a 28-24 loss to the Steelers.
Now, to make the playoffs, the Colts must count just not on beating Jacksonville but either the Titans, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, or Miami Dolphins losing their games Sunday. All but the Dolphins, who visit Buffalo, are heavy favorites.
Stumbling Jags seem like right opponent, but remember …
First things first for Indy, as little else matters if it somehow succumbs to Jacksonville for devastating bookends to an otherwise bright season. If the Colts had just clung to a fourth quarter lead on that September day in Florida, their scenario would look very different right now.
Indiana’s online sportsbooks don’t see another loss as likely, as all have the Colts as 14-point favorites for the late afternoon contest. They are the biggest NFL favorite of the weekend.
With such a lopsided matchup for a regular season finale, the best moneyline return for a Colts backer is the -910 to be found from DraftKings and BetRivers.
The over/under is set at 49.5 points everywhere, just a little higher than the result of that 27-20 opener in which Jags quarterback Gardner Minshew completed 19 of 20 passes with three TDs against the Colts.
That was the highlight of Minshew’s season, however, and he won’t be starting Sunday. Veteran Mike Glennon replaced him last week and will start again despite Jacksonville losing by 24 points to Chicago.
In fact, the Jags have been outscored 112-41 in their last three games against the Bears, Ravens, and Titans while wrapping up the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. This week they won’t even have their best offensive bright spot, rookie running back James Robinson, due to ankle injury.
For the Colts, they have to be hoping this is not the final game for Rivers, who has recovered from that opener to deliver them the season they hoped to get out of a 39-year-old veteran. He has thrown for 4,005 yards and 23 TDs, with a 68.3% completion rate.
Everything looked right for him and rookie running back Jonathan Taylor in the first half against the Steelers, but then nothing did in the second half, and the same was true of the defense.
If you are a believer in that first-half trend continuing, it’s worth considering a bet with FanDuel at either the Colts -7.5 for the first half or at -330 to be ahead at halftime. Those are more favorable odds for the halftime score than other sites are offering.
Three key games are likely over by time Colts start
Though the Colts don’t control their own postseason destiny, there’s sufficient chance of at least one other key team losing for their playoff hopes to be positive.
Among other AFC wild card contenders, whose games should be over by the time the Colts start play, Baltimore is favored by 12.5 points at Cincinnati, Cleveland is favored by 9.5 points hosting Pittsburgh, and Miami is a 1.5-point underdog at Buffalo.
Even better for Colts fans would be the first AFC South divisional title since 2014, though that’s made difficult due to the Titans — 10-5 like the Colts — holding the tie-breaker advantage by virtue of a better divisional record. So locking up the division requires not just an Indy victory but the Titans losing on the road to the Houston Texans. That game will be played at the same time as Indianapolis-Jacksonville, and the Titans are 7.5-point favorites.
FanDuel is offering the best return, at +320, if you see the division title working out for the Colts.