Indianapolis Colts (12-5) at Denver Broncos (12-4)
Last week was an overall successful weekend. I hit 3 out of 4 plays, including both of my big plays (Baltimore +3 and Carolina -6). The one I missed was the Indianapolis/Cincinnati game, as I made a low confidence pick on Cincinnati. I understood the AJ Green absence would be huge and that Indianapolis was a good home team and overall the better team on the season, but Cincinnati was the better of the two teams in the 2nd half of the season by a significant margin as their defense got it together as the season went on.
The Colts came into the playoffs as the 2nd worst team in the 2nd half of the season in rate of moving the chains differential when adjusted for schedule at -0.21, only ahead of Detroit at -1.18%. The Colts went 6-2 in their final 8 games, but their 6 wins came against the likes of Jacksonville, Washington, Tennessee, Houston, Cleveland and the New York Giants and they didn’t beat them by enough to offset the fact that they were crushed by the only two playoff teams they faced over that time period, Dallas and New England. Their offense was the unit that declined the most significantly and it’s easy to understand why given that Andrew Luck’s play slipped and players got hurt, most importantly Ahmad Bradshaw, who was playing fantastic football before going down.
The Colts beat the Bengals last week, but I still am not convinced they’re quite able to match up with top level competition. The Bengals were a solid team this season, but ranked 12th, 8th, and 6th in schedule adjusted rate of moving the chains differential among playoff teams on the season, in their final 8 games, and in their final 4 games respectively, and they were missing AJ Green. Besides, that game was at home, where they’ve been significantly better this season than on the road.
At home, they’ve moved the chains at a 75.89% rate this season, as opposed to 66.39% for their opponents (a differential of 9.50%), and on the road, they’ve moved the chains at a 74.02% rate, as opposed to 73.93% for their opponents (a differential of 0.09%). This is nothing new, as the Colts are 21-5 straight up at home in the Andrew Luck/Chuck Pagano era, outscoring opponents by an average of 6.23 points per game, while they are 14-12 straight up on the road over that same time period (since 2012), getting outscored by an average of 2.58 points per game, a swing of almost 9 points.
They’re just 2-9 ATS on the road over that time period against teams with winning records. Of their 8 straight up losses against winning teams on the road over that time period, all 14 of them have come by two touchdowns or more. This season, they were 0-3 against playoff teams on the road, losing those 3 games by margins of 7, 17, and 35. Their closest game was a 24-17 loss in Denver week 1. They did cover the spread (it doesn’t factor in to that 2-9 ATS record because Denver was 0-0 at the time), but only by half a point, as the line was 7.5 points. However, they moved the chains at a 75.00% rate in that game, as opposed to 82.35% for Denver (a differential of -7.35%), so it wasn’t quite as close as the final score suggested (Denver led 24-0 at one point) and their history against good teams on the road suggests this game won’t be quite as close.
The reason this isn’t a bigger play is because Denver kind of limps into the playoffs. They finished the regular season #1 in both rate of moving the chains differential and rate of moving the chains differential adjusted for schedule at 6.77% and 6.92% respectively, but just 9th among playoff teams in schedule adjusted in their final 4 games at 3.00%, as their offense slipped to end the season and Peyton Manning didn’t look quite as good. Still, I think they have a good chance to hand the Colts another big disappointing road loss to a tough opponent (having Julius Thomas and Brandon Marshall back and healthy after the bye could be key), and, as long as this line is a touchdown or lower, I’m going to make a significant play on them.
Denver Broncos 34 Indianapolis Colts 20
Pick against the spread: Denver -7