The Super Bowl betting odds are updated in light of the playoff matchups being set, and while I’m not a betting man, I do like to make hypothetical wagers. One that intrigued me was the Indianapolis Colts, who are a 30-1 longshot to win the Lombardi Trophy. In a league that’s seen teams come out of the first round with frequency of late, aren’t those odds kind of tantalizing?
This notion might seem peculiar from the same writer who in this same space last week, decried the premature coronation of Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck. And yes, if Luck does win the Super Bowl, I have no doubt that the mainstream media—including every single game commentator on every network—will become absolutely unbearable. At the rate his coronation is already going, a third-year run to a championship might win him the Nobel Peace Prize.
But the question here is not whether the media would go nuts. It’s not even whether they’re the Colts are likely to win it all—they’re probably not. The question is whether they’re good enough to make a flyer at 30-1 a value bet.
I find it intriguing, and ironically, because of Luck. In the same piece last week where I pointed out his failings, I also described a few positives, including the fact that I like him in an underdog role. It’s that positive I now want to expound on.
There’s nothing that’s more valuable if you’re betting an NFL playoff longshot, than the ability to weather adversity and not mentally give in. Most games—especially playoff games—are going to be close anyway, and that’s certainly true if you’re an underdog hoping to pull a road upset. The last thing you need is a quarterback who loses his confidence if things go wrong.
Luck’s turnover problems make him suspect in the front-runner’s role, but he’s got outstanding mental makeup that’s extremely attractive as an underdog. If you fall behind 10-0 early and he throws an interception, he’s not going to wilt. He’s not going to become timid in the pocket in the face of a hostile crowd. He plays at his best when behind.
And ultimately, if Indianapolis gets the ball down by four points with about five minutes left, you can feel good about their chances. Luck has the clutch gene in his makeup. The biggest question he and his teammates face is, can they consistently get themselves in these kind of situations over the course of the next month?
Indianapolis’ problems are no secret to NFL observers. They only have one good offensive lineman, Anthony Castonzo, who protects Luck’s blind slide. Gosder Cherilus at the other tackle, has been disappointing and deprived Luck of at least being able to trust the perimeter of his protection. The interior of the line isn’t very good, and none of the lineman—including Castonzo—are all that dominant in the drive-blocking so crucial to running the ball consistently.
The loss of Ahmad Bradshaw for the season further damaged the running game, and took away a good receiving option out of the backfield. The defense has been hurt all year by Robert Mathis first being suspended and then tearing an Achilles. The Colt defense relies almost exclusively on Vontae Davis being a shutdown corner and Cory Redding playing pretty well at end.
That’s a thin reed to hold onto, and while they’ve had some good games, we’ve also seen good teams—notably Pittsburgh and New England—bury the Colt defense by both air and ground.
But at the risk of stating the obvious, of course there’s going to be significant problems. If there’s not, you aren’t getting 30-1 odds. You’re getting something more like 12-1, which is what the Steelers are. Or 8-1, where the Dallas Cowboys are priced.
Indianapolis hasn’t beaten good teams the way they did in the early part of last year (when the Colts knocked off San Francisco, Seattle and Denver). But they’ve swept the Houston Texans, who finished with a winning record. The Colts won a home game over the playoff-bound Baltimore Ravens. Indy shut out the Cincinnati Bengals, albeit when Cincy was missing A.J. Green.
The Colts might not have fared well against the AFC’s elite, but they have consistently beaten other teams that are .500 and above. And this is still a lot of the same players who won this big games in the early part of 2013. It might not be this year, but it’s not as though some key players—including Luck and big-play receiver T.Y. Hilton have no idea how to beat a really good team.
Would I pick Indianapolis to win the Super Bowl in a straight-up pool? Are you kidding? But at 30-1, to take a shot on Luck’s clutch skills overcoming his turnover issues? Sure, why not. Just bet the Colts, and also bet an equivalent amount of one of the two co-favorites, Seattle and New England, who are both 5-2. If one of the co-favorites win, you make a little money. If the Colts win, you make a lot.
I’m not all negative on Andrew Luck. From a handicapping standpoint, the spot Luck is in right now is right in his wheelhouse—the feisty underdog.
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