Tennessee Titans (4-8) at Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
Last week, I bet against the Colts because I felt they were an overrated team and the Lions were an underrated team. I felt the Colts were overrated because they’ve had a very easy schedule and they’ve actually had a -43 points differential despite their then 7-4 record. They’ve won just 1 game by more than a touchdown, but they’ve lost 3 by more than 20. The Lions were the exact opposite, as their points differential of -13 was much better than their then 4-7 record and they also had the much tougher schedule.
The Colts were 7-4, because of a 6-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less, something that tends to even out over time. That’s what Pythagorean Expectation is based on. Teams who win a game by a touchdown or less will win their next game just 52% of the time if it’s decided by a touchdown or less. I don’t feel, with a few exceptions, that certain teams are good or bad in close games. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have won close games so consistently in their career that they have to be exceptions and Matt Ryan might be on the verge of joining them, but I’m not ready to put the rookie Luck in that group.
Well what happened? The pick was working out pretty well for a while. The Lions led by 12 with about 3 minutes left. The Colts got one touchdown and they were able to get the ball back and score another one to pull off a miraculous comeback, winning 35-33 on the final play of the game and destroying what looked like at least a push (Detroit -5). The real line for that game, based on points per drive, was at Detroit -9 and the public action was still on Indianapolis. In spite of that, the line was climbing. Everything about it seemed like a trap line, but the Colts still busted it.
I’m still not really willing to admit that Luck is in that Manning/Brady group, but even if he is, even if he has some sort of special ability to win close games, I really like the Titans here as dogs of more than 4. There are other reasons why, which I’ll get into later, but at the very least, I don’t have to worry about any sort of Luck magic throwing this one off. The Colts have 3 wins by more than 4 points all season. One was in overtime, one was on the strength of a special teams touchdown (7 points), and the other one was against the Blaine Gabbert led Jaguars. Only that 7 point win against the Bills was a home game. They can win yet another close game and I can still win against the spread.
We are actually getting some line value with the Colts. I like to use net points per drive to compute real line. Net points per drive is offensive points per drive minus offensive points allowed per drive and it grades teams on a per drive basis. You can take the difference between the two teams’ net points per drives and multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per game) and add 3 points for home field advantage.
This suggests that the Colts should be 8 point favorites. While the Colts’ points differential is much worse than their record, the same can also be said about the Titans, though to a lesser extent. The Titans are 4-8, which isn’t great, but not as bad as their -111 points differential, which is the 4th worst in the league, only ahead of Kansas City, Jacksonville, and Oakland. The Titans have a whopping 5 losses by 21 or more this season, and only one win by more than a field goal. The Colts haven’t really been blowing teams out, but the Titans have been getting blown out by almost everyone. That’s one of the concerns I have with the Titans.
However, that 8 point line doesn’t hold up to DVOA. I like to look at DVOA to compare because it is net points per drive based, but takes into account other things, including strength of schedule. The Colts rank 28th in DVOA (27th in weighted) and the Titans rank 29th. This makes sense as the Colts are playing a last place schedule, while the Titans are playing a 2nd place schedule. The Colts have also yet to face Houston, who Tennessee has played twice.
The Colts are 23rd in net points per drive to Tennessee’s 29th, but it doesn’t look like that 8 point real line holds up against DVOA. In fact, since these teams are right next to each other in those rankings, the 5.5 point favorites the Colts actually are might even be too high. It’s interesting to note that the public is predictably pounding the Colts, but the line has dropped from -6 to -5.5 and is even at -5 in some places. Not only do I like to fade the public whenever I see it fit, as the public always loses money in the long run, this one looks like it has trap line written all over it. The odds makers want people to bet on the Colts, possibly because they also feel they’re an overrated team and you never really want to do what the odds makers want you to. There’s a reason they’re rich.
Aside from the line stuff, there are other reasons with the Titans are the play this week. When these teams played earlier this season, the Colts pulled the upset as road dogs in Tennessee, winning in overtime by 6 (one of their 3 wins by 4 or more that I mentioned earlier). Well, that actually helps the Titans this week. Teams are 51-25 ATS as road dogs trying to avenge a same season loss as home favorites since 2002.
This is probably because it’s so tough to sweep a season series, especially when two teams have comparable talent levels, which is often the case between teams who alternate dogs/favorites depending on the home team in their two matchups. It might sound weird to say these teams have similar talents levels, but everything I mentioned earlier would suggest that they might be more similar talent wise than you’d think.
Meanwhile, the Titans are dogs before being favorites as they host the lowly Jets next week. Teams are 102-57 ATS in this spot in the last 2 seasons as teams tend to be extra focused as dogs with no distractions on the horizon. That trend gets even more powerful when the favorite in the matchup will next be dogs, as the Colts will be next week, when they go to Houston. Dogs are 114-57 ATS since 2008 before being favorites when their opponent will next be dogs.
Going off that, divisional home favorites are 15-47 ATS before being divisional road dogs since 2002, including a ridiculous 4-26 ATS when their opponent will next be favorites. This game simply means different things for these two teams. For the Colts, it’s a chance to catch their breath between a tough comeback and before heading to play the biggest game of their season in Houston. For the Titans, this is by far the biggest game of their season left and a big divisional revenge game. Besides, that 4-26 ATS trend is very, very hard to ignore. Add in that Indianapolis is overrated and that this may be a trap line and the Titans are one of my 3 co-picks of the week.
Public lean: Indianapolis (80% range)
Sharps lean: TEN 15 IND 11
Final thoughts: This line has dropped to -4.5 and -4 in most places. This has trap line written all over it. I’m glad I got this at +5.5. I can’t add any more units for that reason, but this might be my favorite play of the week.
Tennessee Titans 20 Indianapolis Colts 17 Upset Pick +200
Pick against spread: Tennessee +5.5 (-110) 4 units