Indianapolis Colts (9-4) at Houston Texans (11-2)
The Texans were calling last week’s game in New England their biggest game in franchise history and rightfully so. This is a very young franchise that has played just 2 playoff games in its history and going to New England as an 11-1 #1 seed in week 14 on Monday Night Football is almost as big as it gets. The Texans got destroyed, losing 42-14, which had to be demoralizing. Teams tend to struggle off a Monday Night Football blowout anyway. It’s just not enough time to regroup. Teams are 23-38 ATS since 2002 off a Monday Night Football of 17+, including 2-11 ATS in a divisional game off a road loss.
Meanwhile, for the Colts, this is their biggest game of the Andrew Luck era. The Texans are still the class of the AFC South and still are tied for the league’s best record at 11-2. Because of the Texans’ loss last week, the Colts now control their own destiny for the AFC South. Granted, to do that, they’d have to beat the Texans twice in three games, which seems very improbable, but don’t try to tell them that. This is a gigantic game for them. They’ll be extra focused as they don’t have anything to worry about next week, with only a trip to Kansas City on the schedule.
The Colts have the major trends advantage. I already mentioned the teams off a MNF blowout one, but there are more. Teams are 105-62 ATS as dogs before being favorites in the last 2 seasons. Going of that, double digits dogs, like the Colts are here, are 46-29 ATS since 2002 before being favorites, including 14-7 ATS as divisional double digit dogs before being non-divisional favorites. If we go back to 1989 to get a larger sample size, that trend is 39-16 ATS. Also since 1989, teams are 16-7 ATS as double digit dogs before being away favorites, which the Colts will be in Kansas City next week.
All that being said, I still feel the Colts are overrated. Of their 9 wins, only 1 has come by more than a touchdown. Meanwhile, 3 of their 4 losses have come by 20 or more. As a result, they have a -37 points differential that is significantly worse than their 9-4 record. For reference, the 5-8 Dolphins are at -36. They’ve also played a joke schedule. They are playing a last place schedule in the weaker of the two conferences. They play in arguably the worst division in football and they have yet to play Houston, the only other competent team in their division, thanks to a scheduling quirk. They have had to face the tough NFC North, but also the crappy AFC East, which is probably the 2nd worst division in the NFL, so that kind of balances out.
As a result of this, they rank 22nd in net points per drive at -0.30 and even worse in DVOA and weighted DVOA, which take things like schedule into account. They rank 28th and 26th respectively in those two statistics. The Texans, meanwhile, rank 6th in net points per drive at 0.55. In DVOA, they are also worse than they are in net points per drive. After all, they haven’t faced a particularly tough schedule either. They rank 8th in both.
We can safely say that any real line computed from net points per drive will hold up to DVOA. If we take the difference between these two teams’ net points per drives and multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per game per team) and add 2.5 points for home field advantage, we get a real line of Houston -12. That means we have line value with the Texans, before even taking into account that Houston has had the slightly tougher schedule, playing a 1st place schedule, instead of a last place schedule.
In spite of this, the public is still on the Colts, which makes them a public underdog. I love fading the public every chance I get, but I especially love fading them when they back a dog. The public always loses money in the long run. Despite the fact that the Colts are publicly backed, this line, which looks weird if you only consider records, is getting even bigger. It opened around 8 or 8.5 and now it’s at 10. That’s reverse line action and is normally the sign of a trap line. Trap lines are much more common when the public is on a favorite, but in theory it can happen when the public is on a dog.
I think the odds makers have known the Colts are overrated for a long time. They’re not stupid. They know all the net points per drive stuff and all this stuff I mention. That’s why they were +9.5 in New England, where they got blown out as public dogs. That’s why they opened -3 for the Bills at home and then dropped down to -2.5 even though the public was all over the Colts. They easily could have lost that game if not for a special teams touchdown and even a 7 point home win over the Bills is nothing to brag about.
The following week, we had a similar situation to the one here, with the Colts being a public dog and the line moving in the opposite direction as they opened as 5 point dogs against a 4-win Detroit team, but ended up being 7 point dogs when the lines closed, in spite of all the public action on the Colts. And they were down 12 in that game to the crappy Lions, before mounting an improbable comeback. Last week, they opened as 5.5 home favorites against the crappy Titans. That went down to 4.5 before the end of the week even though the Colts were the most heavily backed public team of the week and the Colts did not cover, beating the crappy Titans by just 4 and even trailing by multiple scores early in the game.
All the trends say the Colts are the right side, but I just can’t take them. They’ve only beaten one good team all season, the Packers in that ChuckStrong game early in the season and that was at home. They’ve gotten blown out by the only two good teams they’ve faced on the road, losing by 20 in Chicago and 35 in New England.
They really struggle on the road in general, with only 3 road wins against the crappy Jaguars, the crappy Lions, after a huge comeback, and the crappy Titans, in overtime by 6. Meanwhile, they’ve lost by 20 in Chicago, 35 in New England, even the freaking Jets blew them out by 26. I really don’t think they can hang with the Texans on the road. Even with all the trends in their favor, this looks like a blowout waiting to happen and the odds makers actions support that. They’re certainly expecting a blowout and they’re not a bad group of people to have agree with you. I can’t put a big play on the Texans, but they should be the right side.
Public lean: Indianapolis (50% range)
Houston Texans 27 Indianapolis Colts 16
Pick against spread: Houston -10 (-110) 2 units