Tampa Bay won’t be joining the NFC playoff picture at any point this season but they’ve suddenly won three of their last four games and two of their last three losses have come by six points or less. The suddenly surging Bucs will have a chance to close the season strong with games against the tanking Detroit Lions and the 3-9 Atlanta Falcons left on the schedule. The same can be said for the Colts, who will play three of their final four games against teams with losing records. Can the Colts get back on the winning track on the road against a Bucs team that has won three of its last four contests?
At 6-6, Indianapolis still has a chance to make the postseason but the road ahead will be tough, as the Pittsburgh Steelers hold the tiebreaker thanks to a Week 9 win. Indianapolis will also need some help from the division-rival Tennessee Titans, who took last week’s pivotal matchup in Indy 31-17. Head coach Frank Reich made a mind-boggling decision to try a 63-yard field goal with just over 5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of a tied game. The field goal was blocked and returned for a touchdown and Tennessee added another score late to seal the game. Jacoby Brissett finished with 319 passing yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions on the day while Zach Pascal caught seven balls for a team-high 109 yards in the loss. According to ESPN’s Mike Wells, the Colts had a 63 percent chance of winning prior to the field goal attempt and a made field goal would have only boosted their chances of winning by eight percent (up to 71 percent). ESPN’s win probability model gave Indianapolis just a 10 percent chance of winning following the blocked field goal.
Tampa Bay put together one of its best all-around performances of the season last week in a 28-11 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The defense had five sacks and forced four turnovers while limiting Jacksonville to just 242 yards of total offense on the day. Jameis Winston threw for 268 yards without an interception and Peyton Barber scored two touchdowns on the ground to help the Bucs escape with their third win in four games. With Chris Godwin and Mike Evans largely held in check last week, Tampa Bay diversified its passing game, getting critical contributions from Breshard Perriman and tight end OJ Howard. Perriman, in particular, had himself a nice game, catching five passes for a career-high 87 yards.
Mack returns to practice for desperate ColtsAccording to ESPN, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri told reporters that he might not play again this season due to a knee injury. The NFL’s all-time leading scorer has been dealing with a sharp pain in his knee and is awaiting the results of an MRI. Despite working out 11 kickers at two different times this season, Indianapolis has stuck with Vinatieri, who has made a career-low 68 percent of his field-goal attempts this season. Two of his misses have cost the Colts games and his injury makes last week’s decision to kick even more puzzling.
Desperate for playmakers on the outside, the Colts have been forced to rely upon Zach Pascal and Jack Doyle in the passing game. The two pass-catchers soaked up 21 targets last week -- 58.7 percent of the target share. Doyle and Pascal are also tied for second on the team in red-zone targets with 10 each and there figures to be plenty of opportunities to go around with Eric Ebron and T.Y. Hilton both injured for the foreseeable future.
There is some good news for the Colts though, as running back Marlon Mack has a chance of returning to the field this week. After missing the past two games, the Colts’ leading rusher practiced on Wednesday and will have a chance to play on Sunday. Wide receiver Parris Campbell also practiced.
Arians sticking with Jones at running backAfter getting benched last week, running back Ronald Jones got a vote of confidence from head coach Bruce Arians on Wednesday. Arians called Jones “his guy” and confirmed that he will be the starter this coming weekend. A talented runner, the second-year running back has struggled in pass protection and with blitz pickups this season. Jones has rushed for 482 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 3.9 yards per carry and the Bucs will look to get him going against a Colts team that gave up 154 yards on the ground last week.
While Arians was adamant about sticking with Jones at running back, he wasn’t as quick to give quarterback Jameis Winston a vote of confidence beyond this season. When asked if Winston would be part of the organization’s plans, he declined to comment, adding further fuel to the speculation that this could be the former No.1-overall pick’s last season in Tampa Bay.
The organization will also have to make a decision on two other key impending free agents: Shaquille Barrett and Chris Godwin -- both of whom are due for a big pay raise. Barrett leads the NFL in sacks at 14.5 and is in the conversation for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Meanwhile, Godwin has officially broken out in 2019 with 74 catches for 1,142 yards and nine touchdowns. He ranks second in the NFL in yards and is tied for first in touchdowns. The former third-round pick has been a weapon out of the slot, leading the league in catches of 20 yards or more.
- Colts are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games as an underdog of 0.5-3.0
- Colts are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games in Week 14.
- Colts are 1-6-1 ATS vs. a team with a losing record.
- Buccaneers are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games in December.
- Buccaneers are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games after allowing less than 250 total yards in their previous game.
- Buccaneers are 7-2 ATS in their last 9 games after allowing less than 15 points in their previous game.