When the Indianapolis Colts called Jeff Saturday out of a TV studio to be their interim coach, the critics howled. The move was supposedly an insult to the coaching profession and the franchise was portrayed as an embarrassment to the NFL.
With Saturday on the sideline the past two Sundays, the Colts (4-6-1) are 1-1 with a one-point loss to the Eagles. The critics are quiet as Indianapolis prepares to host the Steelers on Monday night.
As it turns out, a six-time Pro Bowl center who played with Peyton Manning for more than a decade looks more qualified for the job than a handful of other head coaches in the league. Saturday is not Bill Belichick, but he’s not Nathaniel Hackett, either.
A head coach needs to be a strong leader and a smart game manager, and so far Saturday has been both. The biggest change he made was reinserting Matt Ryan as the starting quarterback, and Ryan has responded by passing for a total of 435 yards without an interception in two games. The return of running back Jonathan Taylor also has been a boost, with Taylor carrying the ball a combined 44 times for 231 yards in those two games.
While the focus is on an offense that still has a long way to go, the Indianapolis defense is making a difference. The Colts, who held Philadelphia to 314 yards and a season-low 17 points, are getting outstanding play from defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and corner Stephon Gilmore to compensate for a season-ending injury to star linebacker Shaquille Leonard.
Pittsburgh (3-7) has all sorts of problems, and rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett is not capable of working miracles behind a bad offensive line and without a strong running attack.
It’s risky to lay points in what should be a low-scoring game with a total of 39.5, but the Colts have a couple of more positive factors in their favor.
Pick: Colts -2.5
Four more plays for Week 12:
PANTHERS (+1) over Broncos: Russell Wilson leads the league’s lowest-scoring offense at 14.7 points per game, so that fact alone makes it difficult to justify Denver being a road favorite against a Carolina team that won its past two home games against Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Sam Darnold will be the Panthers’ third different starting quarterback in three weeks, and that’s not exactly reassuring.
BROWNS (+3.5) over Buccaneers: Cleveland has lost six of its past seven, but three of the losses were by three points or fewer. Jacoby Brissett played well last week in a 31-23 loss to Buffalo, passing for 324 yards and three touchdowns. Tampa Bay, which will be without injured running back Leonard Fournette, has failed to score more than 22 points in any of its past six games. With high winds in the forecast, this should be a low-scoring game.
TITANS (+1.5) over Bengals: Despite being 8-0 straight up and 7-1 ATS since Week 3, Tennessee gets little respect in the betting market. Derrick Henry and the Titans will have the far more effective rushing attack. A critical key to winning will be getting a clean performance from quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who threw three interceptions in a 19-16 playoff loss to Cincinnati.
Packers (+6.5) over EAGLES: In the past two games, Philadelphia’s offense averaged only 289 yards and 19 points. Are defensive coordinators starting to figure out ways to slow Jalen Hurts and the Eagles? With Aaron Rodgers slumping — and finally revealing his right thumb is broken — it’s tough to put too much faith in the Packers. Still, Green Bay’s ability to run the ball with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon is a strength that should work against Philadelphia’s defensive weakness.
Last week: 2-2-1 against the spread