While it may not be the most exciting match-up for Monday Night Football this week, it’s still Monday Night Football, and being the only football show in town for the start of a new week, it’s time to get excited for what should be a scrappy match-up between the Indianapolis Colts (0-3) who will look for their first win on the season on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tonight from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
The Indianapolis Colts limp into this match-up reeling from key personnel injuries, not the least of which starts at their quarterback position. With Peyton Manning continuing to be out of the line-up for the first time since his rookie season, and with back-up QB Kerry Collins suffering concussion symptoms and not being at all effective at full health, the Colts turn control over to first-time starter Curtis Painter, who will try to keep the Colts tradition of playing well on Monday Night (9-2 all-time) alive. Painter will also look to help the team stay away from their worst start since 1998, but will have to find a way to get one of the league’s worst offenses going in a tough game against a Tampa Bay foe that will be hyped up to play at home. On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts are struggling as well, ranking 29th in the league giving up 28 points per game, and not likely to see much improvement with both defensive signal-caller LB Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt both hitting the injured reserve list in the middle of last week.
Tampa Bay on the other hand hasn’t been all too spectacular this season either, but still sports a winning 2-1 record after some scrappy play through the first 3 weeks. The main area that Indy will try an exploit tonight is in the interception department, which Tampa QB Josh Freeman has been visiting a few times too often this season (he’s been picked 4 times, and thrown just 2 TDs to match). Though Freeman has been good at getting the ball to his receivers (67.9 percent completion rate, 4th in the league), he’s got just a 76.1 passer rating, which is near the bottom of the list amongst NFL QBs, has fumbled twice already, and leads an offense ranked just 24th in passing (223 yards/game). Against an Indy pass rush that is still pretty stout, Freeman will have to stay strong in the pocket and target his main receiver Mike Williams, who could use a big game tonight after starting the year with just 10 catches, 89 yards and 1 TD through 3 games played.
Betting lines for Indianapolis vs. Tampa Bay:
Betonline.com Sportsbook features tonight’s Monday Night Football match-up with a hefty favorite going towards the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at -10 on the points spread (-110 odds), while the Bucs are also a massive -510 favorite on the money line, one of the biggest favorites in recent MNF memory. The Colts on the other hand get +10 points on the spread, are +415 underdogs to win on the road tonight, and with their struggling offense combined with a Tampa Bay team that isn’t all too offensively productive, the over/under for the game stands at a week-low 40 points (-110 odds for either over or under).
Our Pick To Win:
This game has the makings of being an ugly affair, no point lying about it. Tampa is 24th in passing, Indy is 29th. Tampa is 23rd in rushing, Indy 24th. Both sides are in the bottom 10 in defense as well. The one major difference between these two teams is the confidence level brought into tonight’s game. Tampa has recently not been known for winning pretty, but rather for just winning. They like grinding games, especially at home, and with Indy’s injury problems and lack of confidence around their first-time starter Curtis Painter tonight, it’s very hard to pick a Colts win out of the betting pile this evening. Though Josh Freeman will likely make mistakes that keep Indy close in a must-win situation for the Colts, Tampa overcomes on a better ground attack led by LeGarrette Blount, and gets a ball to Mike Williams in the end zone en route to a 24-10 win at home.
Players to Watch, Indianapolis:
Joseph Addai, RB – Addai hasn’t been all too shabby this year going along at a 4.8 yards/carry clip, but with just 39 touches (13 per game), he’s just simply not been able to get enough production due to the Colts playing catch-up all the time this season. If Indy can get a short passing game going and free up the rush, Addai could play a major factor in this game tonight.
Curtis Painter, QB -Painter makes his first NFL start tonight, and the first thing he needs to do is figure out how to hook up often with Reggie Wayne, who had just 3 catches for 24 yards last week. You have to have your best players being productive if you want to win in the NFL, and Painter will need to limit the big mistakes, improving his accuracy all the while hooking up with both Wayne and Pierre Garcon enough to take pressure off the running game.
Players to Watch, Tampa Bay:
Mike Williams, WR – The receiving leader last season, Williams has just 10 catches for 89 yards to rank third on the team this season through 3 games. With a banged up secondary, the Colts could be exploited deep tonight provided Tampa can keep the Indy pass rush from flushing Freeman out of the pocket all too often.
LeGarrette Blount, RB – One of my picks in fantasy football to stand out this year, Blount hasn’t really taken off like I thought he would. Running at just a 4.0 yards/carry clip, Blount is still looking for a breakout game, and will need to get more touches to do so (averaging on 13.7 touches per game so far). In a game that doesn’t feature much in terms of passing, Blount could have a big game against the 20th ranked Colts rushing defense.