NFL Odds, Picks, Predictions For Colts vs. Cardinals: Buy Low on Arizona? Our Expert’s Christmas Betting Guide

NFL Odds, Picks, Predictions For Colts vs. Cardinals: Buy Low on Arizona? Our Expert’s Christmas Betting Guide article feature image

Getty Images. Pictured: Colts RB Jonathan Taylor and Cardinals WR Kyler Murray (left to right)

NFL Odds: Colts vs. Cardinals

Colts Odds+3
Cardinals Odds-3
Time8:15 p.m. ET
TVNFL Network
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute NFL odds here.

The Indianapolis Colts will play for the second Saturday in a row, but this time on the road in an inter-conference matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.

These teams are headed in opposite directions, with the Colts having won two straight (and four-of-five) to improve to 8-6 on the year after starting 0-3 out of the gates. They're trending in the right direction and peaking at the right time.

Coming into Week 16, the Colts occupied the fifth seed in the AFC playoff standings. A win would go a long way in locking up a playoff spot and help keep their hopes alive for a division title. They entered the week one game back of the Titans in the AFC South, but it's effectively a two-game deficit since Tennessee swept the seasons series.

The Colts do have an easy remaining schedule after this week, with a home game against the Raiders and a trip to the Jaguars. However, the Titans also have two winnable games to close out the year against the Dolphins at home and the Texans on the road. In all likelihood, the Colts will ultimately get one of the conference's wild-card spots and be a team no higher seed wants to face in the first round.

Meanwhile, Arizona comes into this week in the midst of a mini-slump. After racing to a 7-0 start, the Cardinals have dropped four of their last seven with the latest loss coming in embarrassing fashion in Detroit against the hapless Lions.

The Cardinals, who currently sit in No. 4 in the NFC playoff picture, can clinch their first postseason berth since 2015 with a victory on Saturday and put themselves in the driver's seat for the division.

Also, despite having the same record as the Rams, the Cardinals do sit in first place in the NFC West as a result of a better division record. As a result, the Cardinals control their own destiny in regards to the NFC West title, but the path isn't easy with the Cardinals' final three games coming against the Colts, Cowboys and Seahawks.

Arizona's shocking loss to Detroit pretty much killed its chances of getting the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC — and the highly-coveted sole bye. The Cardinals now sit a full game behind the Packers, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker.

So, which team has the edge in a game that will have massive playoff seeding implications in both conferences? Let's take a closer look.

Click the arrow to expand injury reports

Colts vs. Cardinals Injury Report

Colts Injuries

Find the Colts' complete injury report here.

Cardinals Injuries

Find the Cardinals' complete injury report here.

Colts vs. Cardinals Matchup

Colts OffenseDVOA RankCardinals Defense
Colts DefenseDVOA RankCardinals Offense
Football Outsiders' DVOA measures efficiency by comparing a team's success on every play to the league average based on situation and opponent.

Colts Are Complete Package

The best running back in the NFL resides in the AFC South. I'll let you decide if it's either Derrick Henry or Jonathan Taylor, the latter of whom is having a monster year for the Colts.

Indianapolis' offense goes as Taylor goes, and he usually goes forward for extra yards after contact. On the season Taylor has more than 1,000 yards after contact, averaging a whopping 3.74 in that department, which only trails Nick Chubb and Tony Pollard among 43 backs with at least 100 carries. Here's a few more nuggets to illustrate just how dominant the Wisconsin product has been in 2021:

  • Taylor has three games with 170+ rushing yards; the rest of the league has two combined.
  • He has more first-down runs than 14 teams have total.
  • He's also in a different stratosphere when it comes to rush yards over expectation.

When you have to add an extra level, to each dimension of a graph, to fit #Colts RB: Jonathan Taylor in it…

— Lawrence Owen (@Colts_Law) December 21, 2021

He's also averaging 5.6 yards per rush on 270 attempts. Here's the list of running backs to average at least 5.6 yards in a season with at least 240 carries in the history of the NFL:

  • Jim Brown (twice)
  • Barry Sanders (twice)
  • O.J. Simpson
  • Adrian Peterson
  • Chris Johnson

Not bad company.

Through Week 15, the Colts offense ranks sixth in EPA per play, primarily as a result of a rushing attack that ranks first in the league in Rush EPA by a wide margin.

The passing attack has graded out right around league-average and slightly below after adjusting for opponent, but Carson Wentz has certainly exceeded most preseason expectations. For the season, he has the following ranks among 32 qualified quarterbacks for additional perspective about his relative performance:

  • 19th in EPA+CPOE composite
  • 15th in EPA per play
  • 27th in CPOE
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images. Pictured: Carson Wentz

Both Taylor and Wentz also benefit from working behind one of the league's top offensive lines that ranks in the top seven in both Line Yards and Adjusted Sack Rate — but they'll be missing three of their starters this Saturday, with Quenton Nelson landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday.

On the other side of the ball, the Colts defense excels at stopping opposing ground games, ranking second overall in Rush EPA. They are a bit vulnerable against the pass, ranking 26th in drop back success rate. In fairness, a bottom-five pressure rate doesn't do the secondary any favors.

After adjusting for opponent, it's a slightly above average defense. It's not the most talented unit outside of a pair of stars in Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner, who are a major reason why Indy boasts such a stout run defense. Kenny Moore is also one of the best slot corners in the league (and also rock solid against the run), while edge rusher Kwity Paye has flashed plenty of potential in his rookie season.

Still, it's Matt Eberflus — one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL for my money — who consistently maximizes the production of this group via high-quality scheme and adjustments.

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Cardinals On Down Swing

The Cardinals have come back down to Earth after a red-hot start. They certainly had the ball bounce their way in a number of different areas early on in the season, such as fumbles, penalties and third downs.

For example, the Cardinals led the league with a ridiculous 0.624 EPA per play on late downs through the first seven weeks. That's a completely unsustainable rate on the highest-variance downs. They're still above-average since Week 8, but only 0.090, which ranks eighth overall. They've also seen a severe decline in red-zone production over the past few games.

So, some regression shouldn't be too surprising. Arizona has also dealt with a number of key injuries, which hasn't helped matters.

For the season, the Cardinals offense ranks in the top seven in both EPA per play and Success Rate. However, it's been trending down of late due to a slide in the production of Kyler Murray since his return from injury.

Since Week 8, Murray ranks just 24th in EPA+CPOE composite. In comparison, he ranked second over the first seven weeks, trailing only Matthew Stafford. After throwing for 17 touchdown and five interceptions in his first seven games, he's only thrown three touchdowns to five interceptions in his past four with a 10% drop in completion percentage. Murray also no longer has the services of top receiver DeAndrew Hopkins, who remains sidelined with an injury.

Adjusting for opponent, Arizona's offense actually only grades out right around league-average for the entire season. The Cardinals are a much better passing offense (eighth in DVOA) than a rushing one (24th in DVOA). Fortunately for head coach Kliff Kingsbury, the recent return of Chase Edmonds could provide a much-needed boost in that department. Edmonds actually leads all backs, including Taylor, with a 5.9 yards per carry average and would rank second (behind Taylor) in rush yards over expectation if he qualified.

When most people think of Arizona, they think of the offense. However, the defense has been the far superior unit this season, ranking fifth in overall DVOA, including top-10 rankings against both the rush and pass. The only other teams that can make that claim are the Patriots, Bills, Saints and Rams.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph deserves a ton of credit for what he has done with this group, especially in the secondary. The Cardinals rank fourth overall in both EPA per Play and Drop Back. Having two very productive edge rushers certainly makes life easier for the defensive backs.

That said, the defense has also been on a bit of a downswing. Since Week 8, Arizona ranks just 18th in EPA per play and 21st in Success Rate after ranking second and ninth over the first seven weeks, respectively. A lot of that has to do with inevitable late-down regression the offense has also suffered from.

The run defense is the primary weakness, particularly at the linebacker position. On the season, Arizona ranks 23rd in Rush Success Rate and has allowed the highest percentage of runs to gain between 5 to 10 yards. The Cardinals also rank dead last in Defensive Rush Explosiveness compared to a top-three ranking in Pass Explosiveness. That could spell trouble against Taylor and a Colts rushing attack that ranks third in that same category.

NFL Pick: Colts vs. Cardinals

This is a classic buy-low, sell-high NFL betting spot.

The Cardinals' loss to the Lions in Detroit has created value against a Colts team coming off a huge win over the Patriots that everybody saw in primetime.

Here's are betting trends that support how good this spot has been since 2003, per our Action Labs data:

  • Teams off a loss as a favorite in which they didn’t cover by 24+ points: 106-62-2 (63.1%) against the spread (ATS)
  • When that team has a winning record: 52-24 (68.4%), covering by 5.5 points per game (32.8% ROI)
  • If that previous loss came against a team with a losing record: 25-9 ATS (73.5%)
  • If in Week 14 or later: 17-4 ATS (81%)

There's concern about Arizona's struggles at home this season, but I think that's mostly noise. Kingsbury's late-season results do worry me a bit. For his career, he's 18-8 ATS over the first eight weeks compared to just 9-11-2 ATS thereafter. But this should be a maximum-effort, fully-prepared group after that embarrassing loss last week — especially after Arizona collapsed down the stretch last year.

While the Cardinals have begun to experience some imminent regression, that might be coming for the Colts, who lead the NFL with a +14 turnover margin. They do a tremendous job of forcing fumbles, but opponents have lost an unlucky 14-of-22.

Wentz could also have interceptions coming his way. He has 23 touchdowns to just six interceptions on the season, but his 17-to-14 ratio of big-time throws to turnover-worthy plays hints he's been fortunate.

Yes, Taylor will get his on the ground, but it will be much more challenging with the expected offensive line absences.

From a matchup perspective, this sets up for a nice bounce-back spot for the Cardinals offense. As I mentioned above, the Colts don't really generate pressure — their 18.8% pressure rate is the third-lowest in league. For reference, the only other teams under 20% are the Falcons, Bears and Giants.

The Colts also have a league-low hurry rate of 5.1%, which won't be ideal against Murray, who should have no issues buying time to find open holes in the their zones or use his legs. For what it's worth, Murray has shredded zone defenses, which the Colts run a high frequency of.

Finally, while Indianapolis has a very strong run defense, it has struggled against non-standard runs by quarterbacks and receivers. This might also be a good opportunity for Arizona's red-zone offense to get back on track against a defense that ranks in the bottom-five in red-zone TD% allowed.

I backed the Colts last week against the Patriots and believe Indianapolis has potential to make a run in the AFC. However, I have to back the Cardinals in a classic buy-low, sell-high spot — especially since I show value in the number and fancy some of the on-field matchups.

Pick: Cardinals -2 | Bet to: -2.5

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