It’s Christmas and four teams that hope they get a playoff berth this season are in action today in a National Football League double-header. The early game finds the Green Bay Packers hosting the Cleveland Browns while the nightcap from Arizona has the Cardinals entertaining the Indianapolis Colts.
Green Bay is one of two NFL teams that are assured a postseason date this season, the other being the NFC East Division winners, the Dallas Cowboys. The Cardinals were the last team to fall from the unbeaten ranks this season, but have now been caught in the NFC West standings by the Los Angeles Rams and could miss the postseason if they continue to lose.
They have gone down to defeat in their last two outings in games against the Rams and Detroit Lions and have only compiled a 3 and 4 record since the Packers handed them their first loss of the year on October 28. Their decline has been a combination of injuries and inexperience at winning.
Their opponent today, the Indianapolis Colts, have flipped that kind of season. Frank Reich’s squad lost their first three, four of their first five games, and since those early season setbacks have been one of the dominant teams in the league. The Colts have spent the entire season chasing the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South Division and need to pass them in games won and lost if they are to capture the division title. Indianapolis lost both contests this year in head-to-head meetings with the Titans.
In the early game, the Browns have been inconsistent and had more problems than trying to start an old car with a weak battery on a cold morning. Injuries and players missing games with COVID outbreaks have derailed what at one point looked like a promising season for the Browns. But, like the Cardinals, the Browns inexperience at winning has seen them find ways to lose games that on talent alone Cleveland should have won.
The Packers are currently leading in the hunt for the lone opening playoff week bye in the National Football Conference, and are not likely to take Cleveland lightly given their quest for that top seed. Yet, in the real world, the Browns slim postseason hopes ride on them winning their remaining three games and that motivation is more powerful than the lofty goals of the Pack.
The point spread of a touchdown or more, favoring the Packers at Lambeau Field, appears to lend a slight lean to the visitors, but not enough to offer a wager on this contest.
As for the Colts/Cardinals matchup, I started this week really liking the Colts chances in this game and still consider them the percentage side of the play. Yet, we have COVID once again play a role in an NFL game that tips the scale away from our initial handicapping.
When the Colts got out of the gate slow this season, part of the reason for their failures was that two key offensive players missed the preseason with injuries. Their first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the 6th overall selection, Quenton Nelson, and recently acquired quarterback Carson Wentz, had similar leg injuries that sidelined them in August. Both players returned to the Colts lineup ahead of schedule, but the missed time inhibited both of them during the first month of the 2021 campaign.
Yesterday, Nelson was added to the COVID list and will not be available tonight in this key contest in Arizona. It is the third Indianapolis player that will be missing from their offensive line. Center Ryan Kelly is still away from the team while grieving the death of his infant daughter and starting right guard Mark Glowinski is also sidelined on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
A makeshift offensive line is not something I can back with a wager on the road against a quality team looking to snap a two game losing streak. It is also not enough for me to ignore a number of factors that I initially saw in liking the Colts in this game.
The NFL has a pair of Christmas games for your pleasure, something I can’t add to with a financial reward by recommending a play on either game.