Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City Chiefs
Live on Sky Sports Action
Colts battle bad fortune
Last season, the Colts were one of the league's most pleasant surprises as quarterback Andrew Luck defied his body's taxing time behind a leaky offensive line and turned a franchise threatened by mediocrity into a side worth watching every week.
Well, it wasn't only Luck.
First year head coach Frank Reich brought his experience as OC for the Super Bowl champion Eagles with him from Pennsylvania to lead Jim Irsay's club. His offensive system was designed to speed up the play of his QB by providing easy receptions within seconds of the snap - it worked, the Colts thrived last season, and then Andrew Luck retired days before Week 1 of the 2019 campaign.
Though their QB's abrupt exit sounds like a catastrophe, the team has rallied admirably around back-up Jacoby Brissett. The former Patriot arrived in an emergency trade when the long-term shoulder injury Luck was dealing with in 2017 ruled him out for another season. Now Brissett's replaced the Stanford product permanently.
The Colts have been competitive with him this season. Running back Marlon Mack has looked more and more a workhorse back too and TY Hilton has been as reliable as ever. New arrivals Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell have offered targets for the QB, and Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle have alwasy been capable tight ends.
Which makes last week's shock loss to the Oakland all the more stunning. The upset can be largely attributed to injuries. Mack was hurt during the game, Hilton missed it entirely and Funchess was already done for the season. Luck could turn the likes of Zach Pascal, Chester Rogers and Mo-Alie Cox into game-winning receivers. Brissett can't.
Problems are also mounting on defence. Linebacking powerhouse Darius Leonard was out last week and will miss Sunday's game. Defensive backs Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers are also gone for the KC trip. Derek Carr wasn't pressured by the line either.
It raises questions about a team that could've held out hope of an AFC title game appearance - or better - if events fell their way.
Chiefs charging again
One team that won't be expecting to rely on chance to go that far is the Chiefs.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes joined very select company last season by throwing over 50 touchdowns - in just his second season in the league - and if the flip of a coin had gone his team's way, or his defence had got a stop in overtime in the AFC Championship game, he'd probably have a first Super Bowl ring by now.
This season has been complicated by, first, the threat of suspension for Tyreek Hill, then his injury in Week 1. He's back practicing this week, but there's no need to rush because KC haven't missed him all that much. Rather, coach Andy Reid seems to have a conveyor belt of fill-in options available whenever one of his crucial offensive pieces disappear.
Kareem Hunt was cut last season for off-field indiscretions, and was replaced by Damien Williams without skipping a beat. Williams remains a factor this year, though LeSean McCoy was snapped up after being released by Buffalo, and another Williams, Darrel, has also emerged as a useful runner.
In the pass attack, Demarcus Robinson has assumed a sizable role with Hill out, Sammy Watkins also opened the season hot, and rookie Mecole Hardman looks threatening too.
Up until last week against the Lions they looked like the clear class among those hoping to beat the Patriots in the AFC, but a very fortunate turnover and TD proved pivotal at Ford Field, benefitting the Chiefs and proving a decisive score when the games finished 34-30 in their favour.
That score line also confirms there is a soft side to the KC defence still. Steve Spagnuolo, former Giants DC when they beat the undefeated Patriots in 2008, was brought in toughen it up after last year's failure t the penultimate hurdle. They've turned over playing personnel too - Frank Clark, Anthony Hitchens, rookie Juan Thornhill are some of the new faces on D - but with limited returns so far.
They've allowed 26, 28 and 30 points in three of four games - only the Raiders have been held out by them.
If the Colts can get some of their offensive pieces healthy enough to play, there's plenty to encourage them here.
That's a big if though. The indications are that Hilton won't play, and Mack may not either. Darius Leonard is already ruled out because of concussion. Hooker, Geathers, Funchess, Anthony Walker, these are all missing too.
It's really crippling this team in a very tough spot.
With the line having drifted to 11 because of the injuries, this comes down to how you think the KC defence will go against a limping Colts offence. Nyheim Hines backs up Mack and has shown some ability. Jordan Wilkins and Jonathan Williams also have talent, while the Chiefs defence ranks among the worst against the run in the league and the Colts' O-line can manufacture yards.
For these reasons, you'd have to think the Colts can chew up clock, even in a loss, and the back-door cover looks a threat too with a defence as porous as KC's. I'd take the visitors with the points.
On a similar basis, the under on the total of 56.5 appeals too. The line opened at 54.5 and that's high assuming the Colts can get the ground game going and keep the clock ticking over. If they limit Pat Mahomes' time on the field, the under should be good.
On the touchdown markets, there are almost too many options to pick from, and the injury uncertainty around Indy is a further wrinkle, but I'd look at Mecole Hardman for the Chiefs in all scoring markets. He's seeing game time because of Hill's injury, and, though he was contained by the impressive Lions defence last week, Indianapolis aren't on their level. They're also hurting in the secondary and rookie Hardman has shown his ability already in previous weeks with two scores to his name.
Finally, KC's #1 receiver Sammy Watkins has seen his target share decline every week from Week 1. If that continues, there's more opportunity for Hardman, and I'd take him in both Anytime and First TD markets at 6/4 and 9/1.
If you combine him with the under and handicap picks on the Sportsbook for a Same Game Multi you'll get a nice 14/1 too.