Oakland Raiders 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Needs

Defensive Tackle

The Raiders’ current trio of Antonio Smith, Justin Ellis, and Pat Sims at defensive tackle is underwhelming. On top of that, Smith is going into an age 34 contract year, while Sims is a free agent this off-season. Ellis has the best long-term potential, as he was a 4th round rookie in 2014 and has 3 three years on his deal, but he still graded out slightly below average last season. They need to add someone else to the mix. They won’t pass on Leonard Williams if he falls to them at 4, assuming Williams’ stock doesn’t fall before the draft and assuming the Raiders are unable to sign Ndamukong Suh, an elite defensive tackle who is expected to be their focus of free agency.

Guard

The Raiders signed Austin Howard to a 5-year, 30 million dollar deal last off-season and made a weird decision to move him from right tackle to right guard. Howard struggled mightily in his first season at his new position, grading out 59th out of 78 eligible guards. The Raiders should move him back to right tackle, where he was Pro Football Focus’ 32nd and 47th ranked offensive tackle in 2012 and 2013 respectively, and where Khalif Barnes and Menelik Watson combined to split starts and be an absolute train wreck for the Raiders in 2014. Look for the Raiders to be on the lookout for a new right guard this off-season.

Cornerback

DJ Hayden hasn’t been what the Raiders expected of him, when they drafted him 12th overall in 2013. He’s missed a combined 14 games in his first 2 seasons in the league and has graded out below average in both seasons when on the field. It’s too soon to write him off as a bust, but he shouldn’t be guaranteed a starting role going into 2015 and they definitely can’t count on him for 16 starts. Meanwhile, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers are both free agents, so the Raiders will need another cornerback to go with Hayden and promising 2014 7th round pick TJ Carrie.

Defensive End

The Raiders struck gold with Khalil Mack 5th overall in last year’s draft. He was arguably the best defensive rookie in the league and, while he technically played outside linebacker in base packages, he rushes the passer off the edge in sub packages. However, the Raiders need an edge rusher opposite him for the future. Justin Tuck was solid as a starting defensive end last season, but he’s going into an age 32 contract year and often rushes the passer from the interior in sub packages. LaMarr Woodley was supposed to provide help at the defensive end position, but he struggled before predictably going down for the season with injury, leaving the underwhelming duo of CJ Wilson and Benson Mayowa to play in his absence. Woodley is going into an age 31 contract year and could easily be a cap casualty, coming off of the worst season of his career and with a significant injury history. Randy Gregory makes a lot of sense 4th overall if he’s still available and Leonard Williams isn’t.

Middle Linebacker

Nick Roach missed all of 2014 with concussion problems, leaving the incredibly overmatched Miles Burris to start in his absence. He made all 16 starts for the Raiders, despite grading out as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked middle linebacker by a mile. Roach is expected to be back in 2015, but you never know with concussion problems. They should bring in better insurance than Burris, because he was horrible. Roach wasn’t exactly a great player before the injury either, serving as a solid run stopping 3rd linebacker in Chicago with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs early in his career, but grading out slightly below average in each of his last two healthy seasons in Oakland as an every down player.

Wide Receiver

Wide receiver isn’t the Raiders’ biggest need, but Amari Cooper still makes a lot of sense for them at #4 overall if Gregory and Williams aren’t available. The Raiders have some decent players at wide receiver, but none of James Jones, Andre Holmes, Kenbrell Thompkins, or Brice Butler is the #1 receiver that young quarterback Derek Carr needs. They can get away with going into 2015 without adding significantly at the position, but it’s not an overall strong group.

Tight End

Mychal Rivera was a decent pass catcher last year, but he wasn’t that good, catching 58 passes for 534 yard and 4 touchdowns, hardly enough to make up for the fact that the 6-3 245 pounder is a horrific run blocker. Overall, he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked tight end last season, including dead last in run blocking grade. The Raiders don’t have much depth behind him on the depth chart so they should add competition for him this off-season.

Running Back

The Raiders offense was noticeably better down the stretch, allowing them to actually win some games. Part of the reason for that was the emergence of Latavius Murray. His 5.17 YPC was a big upgrade over Darren McFadden, who averaged just 3.45 YPC. Murray is very talented, but the 2013 6th round pick is still unproven with only 82 career carries and only averaged about 4.12 YPC aside from one 90-yard run against Kansas City. Some competition should be added because McFadden is unlikely to be back as a free agent this off-season, not that the Raiders should want him back anyway.

Safety

Charles Woodson is a free agent heading into his age 39 season and, while he’s expressed interest in returning and showed enough last season that the Raiders should welcome him back if he wants to play, no one should be surprised if he decides to hang them up or sees his abilities drop off significantly next season. He’s certainly not a long-term solution. Meanwhile, opposite him, Tyvon Branch has missed 28 of 32 games over the past 2 seasons combined and his replacement, Brandian Ross, has not proven to be starting caliber. They should add at this position this off-season.

Center

Stefen Wisniewski has been a solid starter at center for the Raiders over the past 3 seasons, but the 2011 2nd round pick is a free agent this off-season. If he’s not retained, he’ll need to be replaced as the Raiders don’t seem to have an internal replacement.

Key Free Agents

C Stefen Wisniewski

Stefen Wisniewski graded out slightly below average in 2014 (22nd out of 41 eligible centers), but he’s still one of the Raiders’ few talented young starters. After struggling at guard as a rookie, the 2011 2nd round pick moved to center in 2012 and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th and 11th ranked center in 2012 and 2013 respectively. They’d be wise to try to re-sign him as he’s not the type of player who is going to break the bank.

DT Pat Sims

An underwhelming reserve in Cincinnati from 2008-2012, after they drafted him in the 3rd round in 2008, Sims had a breakout year in 2013 with the Raiders, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked defensive tackle, showing above average abilities as both a pass rusher and a run stopper. The Raiders smartly re-signed him to a cheap 1-year deal for 2014, but he proved to be a one year wonder, grading out below average. Still, with depth problems at defensive tackle, bringing Sims back for a 3rd year in Oakland on another 1-year deal wouldn’t be a bad move. If the Raiders don’t bring him back, expect him to end up with a 1-year reserve deal elsewhere.

CB Tarell Brown

Brown was a 3-year starter in San Francisco, grading out 32nd, 13th, and 31st in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Brown turned down a 3-year, 10 million dollar deal from the 49ers last off-season, instead choosing to bet on himself and rehab his value after missing 3 games and being limited in others by rib problems in 2013, but that seems to have been a mistake. Brown made 3.5 million over 1 season in Oakland, missed another 2 games with injury, and graded out below average. He’d be an intriguing pickup as a cheap starter for a team, but, going into his age 30 season after two down seasons, he won’t command much on the open market.

S Charles Woodson

Woodson looked done after a 2012 season in which he missed 9 games in Green Bay with injury, going into what was an age 37 season in 2013, but, remarkably, Woodson has played at a solid level over the past 2 seasons in Oakland and has made all 32 starts. No longer the shutdown cornerback he once was, Woodson has reinvented himself as a safety and the Raiders seem open to his return as a starter for his age 39 season in 2015. A future Hall-of-Famer, Woodson will contemplate retirement this off-season and it seems like he’d only play for the Raiders, the team with whom he started his career, if he does return, but there’s a decent chance we see Woodson on the field again for an 18th season in 2015.

CB Carlos Rogers

Rogers was a bust of a first round pick in Washington for 6 years from 2005-2010, grading out about average pretty much every season, but the 49ers picked him up on a 1-year deal in 2011 and he responded by grading out 7th among cornerbacks that season. The 49ers rewarded him with a 4-year, 28 million dollar deal, but Rogers did not reward them, ranking 46th in 2012 and 71st in 2013 (below average), which led to his release last off-season. The Raiders picked him up cheap to be their 3rd cornerback, but he struggled in 7 games, before going down for the season with a knee injury. Going into his age 34 season, coming off of that injury, he might have to wait a bit to get signed this off-season. Outside of 2011, he’s never been a particularly effective player in the NFL.

WR Denarius Moore

Moore looked like a steal of a 2011 5th round pick as a rookie, as he caught 33 passes for 618 yards and 5 touchdowns in 13 games, including 19 catches for 406 yards and 3 touchdowns during a 6 game stretch to end the season. However, despite ESPN.com AFC West reporter Bill Williamson saying that Moore would be the best receiver in the AFC West in 3 years, Moore never really progressed, averaging 36 catches for 517 yards and 4 touchdowns over the next 3 seasons, including a very disappointing 12/115/0 2014 season after he fell out of favor with the coaching staff. Purely a deep threat that the NFL figured out very quickly, Moore will have a hard time finding playing time this off-season.

RB Darren McFadden

McFadden has never been able to live up to his billing as the 4th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and was never able to live up to his huge 2010 season, in which he rushed for 1157 yards and 7 touchdowns on 223 carries (5.19 yards per carry) and added 47 catches for another 501 yards and 3 scores. In 4 seasons since, he’s played a total of 45 games out of 64 and rushed for just 2234 yards and 13 touchdowns on 601 carries (3.72 yards per carry) and he’s been under 3.4 yards per carry in each of the last 3 seasons. A change of scenery and better blocking could help him, but he’s not going to be a hot commodity on the open market whatsoever this off-season.

Cap Casualty Candidates

RB Maurice Jones-Drew

MJD is about as done as they come. It’s been a steady decline for the ex-Jaguar since he led the NFL in rushing in 2011, rushing for 1606 yards and 8 touchdowns on 343 carries (4.68 YPC) He averaged a solid 4.81 yards per carry in 2012, but he was limited to 84 carries in 6 games by a foot injury and was never the same. He rushed for just 803 yards and 5 touchdowns on 234 carries in 2013, a 3.43 yards per carry average. The Raiders took a flier on him last off-season, but it didn’t pan out, as he rushed for just 96 yards on 43 carries. The Raiders can save 2.5 million in cash and on the cap by cutting him this off-season and, even with minimal depth at the running back position, they won’t think twice about doing so. Even though he’s only going into his age 30 season, his career is probably over.

QB Matt Schaub

Here’s another guy who had a steady decline. Schaub completed 64.3% of his passes for an average of 7.37 YPA, 22 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions for a 12-4 Texans team in 2012, but in 2013, he completed just 61.2% of his passes for an average of 6.45 YPA, 10 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions for a 2-14 Texans team. The Raiders traded a 6th round pick for him last off-season and reworked his contract with the goal of having him as their starting quarterback, but he lost the starting job to 2nd round rookie Derek Carr in training camp and ended up just throwing 10 passes, completing 5 for 57 yards and throwing 2 interceptions. Owed a non-guaranteed 5.5 million dollars, I don’t expect the Raiders to keep him around. Going into his age 34 season, Schaub will have to look for backup work at a cheaper salary elsewhere.

DE LaMarr Woodley

The Raiders signed LaMarr Woodley to a 2-year, 12 million dollar deal last off-season, but he ended up missing 10 games with injury and struggled while on the field. Woodley showed pass rush ability in Pittsburgh, grading out above average there as a 3-4 outside linebacker in every season from when they drafted him in 2007 to when they let him go in 2013, including 6 years as a starter from 2008-2013. However, he missed 14 games in his final three seasons in Pittsburgh and there was serious concern about his durability and conditioning, part of why they released him. Now he’s coming off of the worst season of his career, another injury, and is going into his age 31 season in 2015, owed a non-guaranteed 5.35 million dollar salary. They could easily let him go.

G Kevin Boothe

The Raiders brought in Boothe last off-season to compete for potentially a number of starting jobs on the offensive line, but he ended up only playing 19 snaps. He’s a versatile reserve but, owed 1.7 million next season, his age 32 season, he could easily be cut and replaced with someone who can provide similar depth for half the price.

S Tyvon Branch

Branch has the Raiders’ top cap number for 2015 at 9.657 million. The Raiders can only save 2.986 million on the cap immediately by cutting him, but doing so would get them out of salaries of 5.5 million in 2015 and 6.5 million in 2016 and 2017 and he’d be completely off of their cap by 2016. Branch was once a solid safety, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked safety in 2011 and their 30th ranked safety in 2012, but he’s missed all but 4 games with injuries over the past two seasons combined and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever be the same player again.

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Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots: 2014 AFC Championship Pick

Indianapolis Colts (13-5) at New England Patriots (13-4)

After the Ravens beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh, ensuring that they would go to New England in the 2nd round for yet another Patriots/Ravens playoff matchup, I started discussing on Twitter who the Patriots would choose to play in the 2nd round if they had the choice, the lower seed Ravens or the higher seed Colts. It was pretty unanimous support for the Colts and I agreed. Even ignoring that the Colts have lost by final scores of 59-24, 43-22, and 42-20 to the Patriots in the Chuck Pagano/Andrew Luck era and that the Patriots have never covered against the Ravens in the playoffs in the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era (both of those are too small of sample sizes), I thought the Ravens were a significantly better team and matched up with the Patriots better.

Coming into the playoffs, I thought the Ravens were the best playoff team that played on wild card weekend and they didn’t do anything to disprove that theory by beating the Steelers convincingly in Pittsburgh. Le’Veon Bell or no Le’Veon Bell, that’s still impressive. The Ravens went 10-6 despite a 2-4 record in games decided by a touchdown or less, so they were a rare 10+ win team that was actually better than their record. They finished 5th in DVOA, and their +107 point differential was 6th among playoff teams. In terms of rate of moving the chains, they moved them at a 75.93% rate, as opposed to 70.31% for their opponents, a differential of 5.62% that ranked 3rd in the NFL this season, behind only Denver and Seattle and actually ahead of New England.

Baltimore had a weak schedule, but even when you take schedule into account, the Ravens only fall to 4th in differential at 4.94%, trading spots with New England, who is at 5.40%. The Ravens also came into the playoffs as the 4th hottest team, ranking 4th in schedule adjusted rate of moving the chains differential among playoff teams over the final 4 games of the season at 10.56%, only behind Seattle, Carolina, and Dallas. That’s a little skewed because the Ravens faced back-to-back 3rd string quarterbacks against Houston and Cleveland and even schedule adjusted differential doesn’t take injuries into account, but it’s still very impressive, especially since they did it without Haloti Ngata.

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. They also don’t have nearly the pass rush that Baltimore has, which has always been the key to beating New England, because Brady has always struggled mightily when pressured.

The Ravens definitely seemed like they’d be a tougher matchup for the Patriots than the Colts. I’ve always thought giving the top overall seed the choice of which team they want to host in the divisional round would be interesting. It would give an added incentive for getting the top seed and it would make for some very interesting situations. Would the top seed always select the lower seed to avoid pissing off their future opponent and giving them added incentive? Would the lower seed still be pissed off and motivated extra by being chosen by the #1 seed? Would this system make a difference long-term in terms of the results of divisional round matchups involving the #1 overall seed? These are all things that would be interesting to know and, either way, I thought last week that the Colts would be an easier matchup for the Patriots than the Ravens.

The Ravens gave the Patriots a tough game, losing 35-31 in a game that literally could have gone either way. The Patriots moved the chains at an 85.00% rate, as opposed to 82.05% for the Ravens. However, the Colts definitely exceeded my expectations, winning 24-13 in Denver in a game in which they moved the chains at a 76.47% rate, as opposed to 66.67% for the Broncos. Considering the way the Colts played in the 2nd half of the season, and the way they’ve generally played on the road and against tough opponents over the past 3 seasons with Luck and Pagano, and considering the Broncos finished the regular season #1 in rate of moving the chains differential and schedule adjusted rate of moving the chains differential, that was really surprising. The Broncos kind of limped into the playoffs, ranking 9th out of 12 playoff teams in schedule adjusted rate of moving the chains differential over the final 4 games of the season, but I thought Julius Thomas and Brandon Marshall coming back healthy would really help and Peyton Manning never looked as bad as he did against the Colts, not even in the road loss in Cincinnati and definitely never at home.

I’m 5-3 against the spread in the playoffs, but I’ve missed both of the Colts games. I wasn’t concerned that I was underrating the Colts when they beat the Bengals in Indianapolis because I wasn’t confident in Cincinnati, because that was in Indianapolis, and because the Bengals aren’t a very good team without AJ Green. However, last week’s win in Denver was different. It was on the road and against a very good team. I still think they’re the weakest of the 4 remaining playoff teams, but they could give the Patriots more trouble than I thought they would before last week.

I’m still taking the Patriots here. The Colts are still just 3-9 ATS on the road since 2002 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 are 1-3 against playoff teams on the road, losing those 3 games by margins of 7, 17, and 35. The Patriots meanwhile, have been arguably the best offensive team in the league this season, as long as Gronk is on the field. With the exception of the first 4 weeks of the season, the Patriots moved the chains at an 80.87% rate with Gronk on the field this regular season. They’re a pretty average team defensively, allowing opponent to move the chains at a 71.66% rate, but when their offense is on, they’re a very dangerous team.

On top of that, they are incredible at home, winning 17 straight home games that actually matter over the past 2 seasons, going 11-6 ATS in those 17 games. This regular season, excluding week 17, they move the chains at a 80.00% rate at home, as opposed to 71.37% for their opponents (a differential of 8.63%), while they move the chains at a 75.10% rate on the road, as opposed to 71.90% for their opponents (a differential of 3.20%). Last week was tough for them, but I think this will be an easier game for them and they should cover. I’m not that confident because I still might be underrating the Colts, but the Patriots should be the right side. If you’re concerned that I haven’t made any picks that are medium or higher and need something to wager money on this week, I’d recommend a New England -1, Seattle -1.5 6 point teaser.

New England Patriots 34 Indianapolis Colts 24

Pick against the spread: New England -7

Confidence: Low

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Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks: 2014 NFC Championship Pick

Green Bay Packers (13-4) at Seattle Seahawks (13-4)

The Packers beat the Cowboys last week, beating a team that was 8-0 on the road previously and improving to 9-0 at home themselves. However, because they are 9-0 at home, that also means they are just 4-4 on the road this season. Away from Lambeau, they haven’t been the same team. All 4 of their losses came by more than a touchdown (2 of which came against non-playoff opponents) and 3 of them came by double digits. That’s important considering this line is at 7.5. Meanwhile, two of their road wins were by a field goal. On the season away from home, they move the chains at a 77.33% rate, as opposed to 76.15% for their opponents, an underwhelming 1.18% differential.

On the other hand, everyone knows about Seattle’s home dominance. Since 2007, the Seahawks are 49-20 at home, including playoffs, and they aren’t just having success straight up as they are 47-21-1 ATS. They outscore opponents on average by 8.01 points per game at home. This is opposed to a 27-42 record away from home (31-37-1 ATS), getting outscored by 2.80 points per game, a roughly 11 point swing. This homefield advantage wasn’t as pronounced this regular season as the Seahawks were good everywhere they went, moving the chains at a 74.06% rate at home, as opposed to 66.96% for their opponents (a differential of 7.10%), while moving the chains at a 76.10% rate on the road, as opposed to 70.42% for their opponents (a differential of 5.67%). However, they’re still 7-2 ATS at home this year (including playoffs).

Seattle’s home dominance and the Packers’ relative road struggles were on display week 1 when the Packers lost in Seattle by the final score of 36-16. That game was as lopsided as the final score would suggest, as the Seahawks moved the chains at an 85.29% rate, while the Packers did so at a 72.41% rate. The Seahawks are almost definitely a better team now than they were then as they have shaken off some of the complacency that comes with being defending Super Bowl champs and they have gotten healthy at the right time. The Seahawks ranked 1st in schedule adjusted rate of moving the chains differential over the final 4 games of the season, at 16.11%. They also ranked 1st in that aspect over the final 8 games of the season at 11.68%. Green Bay, meanwhile, ranked 8th and 3rd in those two aspects respectively, with differentials of 5.76% and 8.08% respectively.

The Seahawks’ 14 point win over the Panthers last week at home wasn’t as lopsided as the final score suggested. The Seahawks moved the chains at a 79.17% rate, as opposed to 74.19% for the Panthers. If Kam Chancellor doesn’t pick off that pass and take it back 90 yards, that’s a very different final score and you can’t always rely on plays like that. However, Carolina was the 2nd hottest playoff team coming in behind Seattle (in terms of the last 4 games of the season) so it’s somewhat excusable. Green Bay’s win last week was hardly dominant either as the Packers moved the chains at an 83.87% rate, as opposed to 82.76% for the Cowboys. Sure, the Cowboys were an 8-0 road team coming in, but Rodgers being less than 100% with injuries can’t be ignored, especially now that they have to go on the road.

The one reason I’m not making a big play on the Packers is because their loss in Seattle earlier this year could easily work to their advantage. Teams are 28-14 ATS since 2001 in the playoffs against a non-divisional opponent that they already lost to earlier this season in the same location. However, the Seahawks do seem like the right side here. Even better, the public is split on this game so the odds makers won’t take a huge loss if the Seahawks cover, which always makes betting on a favorite easier. I’m not putting any money on this one though.

Seattle Seahawks 27 Green Bay Packers 17

Pick against the spread: Seattle -7.5

Confidence: Low

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Jacksonville Jaguars 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Needs

Defensive End

The Chris Clemons signing didn’t really work out for the Jaguars. Clemons was dominant in Seattle when Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley was the defensive coordinator, but he’s over the hill. He was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked 4-3 defensive end last season and isn’t going to get any better, going into his age 34 season in 2015. With all of his guaranteed money already paid out, Clemons could easily be cut this off-season, owed 4.5 million in salary and bonuses next season. The Jaguars really need to find a long-term edge rusher who can be what Clemons was in his prime in Seattle. Nebraska’s Randy Gregory could be very intriguing at #3 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Offensive Tackle

Luke Joeckel has been a disappointment as the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He struggled at right tackle as a rookie before going down with an ankle injury. In 2014, his first season at left tackle, he was even worse, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 67th ranked offensive tackle out of 84 eligible. He could still pan out and it’s too early to write him off as a bust, but he might be better off moving to right tackle. The Jaguars could target a blindside protector in free agency or in the draft and move Joeckel to the right side. Even if they don’t do that, they’ll need a new right tackle as Austin Pasztor, Sam Young, and Cameron Bradfield all struggled there this season.

Middle Linebacker

5th round rookie Telvin Smith was a surprise this year, playing 723 snaps, grading out right around average, and looking like a long-term starter. He also showed some versatility, playing both inside and outside linebacker. However, both Geno Hayes and JT Thomas are free agents this off-season (the latter was horrible this season anyway), while Paul Posluszny could be a cap casualty this off-season, after missing 9 games with injury last season. If all three aren’t brought back, the Jaguars will need someone to play every down linebacker inside if they keep Smith outside or someone to play every down outside if they move Smith inside. If they bring some of them back, linebacker is still a need because Smith is the only one who projects as a long-term every down starter.

Tight End

Marcedes Lewis was limited to 8 games and 443 snaps last year by injury. Coming off the worst season of his career, he could easily be cut, going into his age 31 season. He’s owed 6.8 million in salary and bonuses in 2015 and the Jaguars can save that amount on the cap immediately by cutting him. If they do that, they’ll need another tight end because Clay Harbor wasn’t very good in his absence.

Safety

John Cyprien and Josh Evans have been their starters at safety over the past two seasons. Both struggled as rookies in 2013, but Cyprien improved in 2014. Evans, however, did not, as he was Pro Football Focus’ 85th ranked safety out of 88 eligible in 2014 and their 78th ranked safety out of 86 eligible in 2013. This should not be a surprise because, unlike Cyprien, a 2nd round pick, Evans was available in the 6th round. They should find an upgrade on him this off-season.

Center

The Jaguars were forced to start 6th round rookie Luke Bowanko at center this season and he predictably struggled, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 29th ranked center out of 41 eligible. As is the case with Evans, if you’re starting a 6th round rookie, it’s generally a bad sign. 6th round picks rarely become starters in the NFL (hence why they fall to the 6th round). The Jaguars should bring in some competition for him this off-season.

Running Back

Denard Robinson flashed in his first season of significant action, making 9 starts and rushing for 582 yards and 4 touchdowns on 135 carries (4.31 YPC). However, he’s still unproven, with just 155 career carries and it’s still unclear if the 6-0 197 pound former quarterback can handle the load long-term. There’s a reason he fell to the 5th round in 2013 and he didn’t do anything to quell durability concerns by ending the season on injured reserve with a significant foot injury. They should add another running back this off-season because they have absolutely nothing behind him and would be in trouble if he got hurt again.

Notable Unrestricted Free Agents

WR Cecil Shorts

Cecil Shorts, a 2011 4th round pick, once looked like a very promising young receiver. After a rookie year where he didn’t see the field much (179 total snaps and 2 catches), Shorts caught 55 passes for 979 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2012. He was even better than those numbers suggested, as he did that despite missing 2 games with injuries and not playing more than 50% of his team’s snaps until the team’s 6th game of the season. He ran 423 routes on the season, giving him 2.31 yards per route run, 8th in the NFL, and he did that despite playing with the likes of Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne at quarterback. However, injuries prevented him from taking that next step. He missed 6 games with injury in 2013 and 2014 combined and averaged 60 catches for 667 yards and 2 touchdowns per season. He’s never played a 16 game season in his career, playing 50 out of a possible 64 games in his career and being limited in many others. He’s talented and could post solid numbers somewhere with a better quarterback, but durability is a big concern.

OLB Geno Hayes

Geno Hayes was once one of the better young linebackers in the NFL, as the 2008 6th round pick graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th and 11th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2009 and 2010 respectively. However, he struggled in his contract year in 2011, grading out 40th among 45 at his position. He was forced to take a one year deal with the Bears in free agency and ended up playing just 141 snaps with them in 2012, but he’s had somewhat of a career revival in Jacksonville over the past two seasons, making 25 starts. He graded out slightly below average in 2013, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker last season. Only going into his age 28 season, he deserves to be a starter in 2015.

CB Alan Ball

Ball came to the Jaguars as a 6-year veteran two off-seasons ago. The hybrid cornerback/safety had graded out below average in 5 of those 6 seasons. The only season he had graded out above average prior to 2013 was 2009, when he played just 303 snaps and he played a combined 598 snaps in 2011-2012. The only season he was ever a starter during that time span was 2010, when he was Pro Football Focus’ 78th ranked safety out of 85 eligible. However, his tenure in Jacksonville was pretty solid, as he was Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked cornerback in 2013, making all 16 starts. He wasn’t quite as good in 2014, but he still graded out about average on 508 snaps as the #3 cornerback. He’d be a solid depth signing for a team.

OLB JT Thomas

Thomas, a 2011 5th round pick, played 202 snaps in his first 3 seasons in the league before being forced to make 10 starts in 2014 because Paul Posluszny missed significant time with a torn pectoral. He predictably struggled, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 55th ranked middle linebacker out of 60 eligible, with no one playing fewer snaps at the position and grading out worse. He shouldn’t be anything more than a reserve.

DE Tyson Alualu

Alualu was a surprise pick as the 10th overall pick in 2010 and he was a massive bust, with the likes of Anthony Davis, Ryan Matthews, Brandon Graham, Earl Thomas, and Jason Pierre-Paul going 11-15 after him. He was Pro Football Focus’ 66th ranked defensive tackle out of 76 eligible in 2010, 88th ranked out of 88 eligible in 2011, and 84th ranked out of 85 eligible in 2012. The Jaguars then converted him to 4-3 defensive end, but he wasn’t any better there, grading out 48th out of 52 eligible at the position in 2013 and 50th out of 59 eligible in 2014. Few players have seen regular snaps and been worse than him over the past 5 years at any position. He shouldn’t be considered a lock to make anyone’s 53 man roster in 2015.

Cap Casualty Candidates

DE Chris Clemons

Chris Clemons had a strong stretch in Seattle from 2010-2012, grading out as a top-12 4-3 defensive end in all 3 seasons on Pro Football Focus, excelling at getting to the quarterback. However, he tore his ACL in the post-season in 2012 and hasn’t been the same since. He was Pro Football Focus’ 43rd ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 52 eligible in 2013 and he was even worse in 2014 as even former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley couldn’t get it back out of him. He was the 2nd worst ranked player at his position this year. The Jaguars can save 4.5 million in cash and immediate cap space by cutting him this off-season.

TE Marcedes Lewis

Lewis, a 2006 1st round pick, has been one of the most underrated and underappreciated players of the last decade or so. Lewis hasn’t put him big numbers in the passing game, catching 315 passes for 3789 yards and 27 touchdowns in 128 career games, maxing out with a 58/700/10 line in 2010. However, that’s largely because he’s been stuck with terrible quarterbacks and been asked to stay in to pass protect more than any tight end in the league over that time period, something he excels at. He doesn’t excel as a pass catcher, but he’s been decent and he’s a dominant blocker both in the run game and the pass game. However, he’s coming off of the worst season of his career, grading out below average for the first time since 2008 and missing 8 games with injury. He’s missed a combined 13 games over the past 2 seasons and hasn’t been the same player on the field. Going into his age 31 season, owed 6.8 million, the Jaguars could easily cut him loose. They’d save that amount on the salary cap immediately by cutting him.

MLB Paul Posluszny

Paul Posluszny is the Jaguars’ highest paid player, making 7.5 million next season, and he’s not worth it as he’s largely been an average starter overall in Jacksonville over the past 5 seasons. He had a good start to his tenure in Jacksonvillle, grading out above average in both 2010 and 2011, including 7th in 2011, but he’s graded out below average in each of the last 3 seasons. He’s a team leader and the Jaguars aren’t strapped for cap space so they could keep him, but he’s going into his age 31 season, he missed 9 games with a torn pectoral last season, his best years are behind him, and the Jaguars can save all 7.5 million of that immediately in cap space so they could pull the trigger.

RB Toby Gerhart

The Jaguars signed Gerhart to a 3-year, 10.5 million dollar deal last off-season, hoping that the 2010 2nd round pick could emerge as a starter, out of Adrian Peterson’s shadow. Instead, he flopped, rushing for 326 yards and 2 touchdowns on 101 carries (3.23 YPC). Part of that had to do with the offensive line’s ineffectiveness, as well Gerhart’s nagging injuries, but he’s been passed by Denard Robinson on the depth chart and the Jaguars can avoid paying him 3 million in non-guaranteed money if they cut him this off-season.

DE Red Bryant

Red Bryant didn’t flop nearly as badly as fellow ex-Seahawk Chris Clemons did in his first season in Jacksonville. He did what he was brought in to do, stop the run, as he was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd best at his position in that aspect. However, he once again got no pass rush and the Jaguars might not want to pay 4.25 million non-guaranteed to an aging two-down player. He’ll turn 31 in 2015.

WR Justin Blackmon

It’s easy to forget that Justin Blackmon is still on the Jaguars’ roster as he hasn’t been on the field since week 8 of 2013. Blackmon has missed 28 games combined over the past 2 seasons with drug abuse related suspensions. Though he’s tentatively expected to be reinstated for the 2015 season, his 2.9 million dollar salary for 2015 is non-guaranteed as a result of the suspension so he could be let go. However, his natural talent should get him a 2nd chance (or 3rd or 4th at this point). The 5th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Blackmon had a solid rookie season, catching 64 passes for 865 yards and 5 touchdowns and then excelled in 4 games as a sophomore in 2013 before getting suspended. His 2.58 yards per route run was 4th best in the NFL among eligible receivers as he caught 29 passes for 415 yards and 1 touchdown on 161 routes run in those 4 games.

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Tennessee Titans 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Needs

Quarterback

Arguably the most intriguing spot in the first round of the draft is #2 where the Titans are picking. Ken Whisenhunt drafted Zach Mettenberger in the 6th round last year and he showed some promise as a rookie, completing 59.8% of his passes for an average of 7.89 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. Whisenhunt has praise for Mettenberger in the end of season press conference, but stopped short of naming him the starter for 2015. Quarterbacks who fall as far in the draft as Mettenberger did rarely work out as long-term starters. There’s a decent chance that the Titans fall in love with Jameis Winston’s upside at #2, in spite of the off the field issues and some developing that still needs to happen on the field, or the Titans could go into 2015 with Mettenberger as their guy and hope he develops into a functional starter. Either way, it’ll be a franchise defining decision for the Titans.

Rush Linebacker

The Titans really struggled for edge rush last season outside of Derrick Morgan. Other than Morgan, no rush linebacker had more than 3 sacks. Morgan is a free agent, unfortunately for the Titans, and easily could not be back next season. Kamerion Wimbley was the starter opposite him and he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 44th ranked rush linebacker out of 46 eligible and could easily be a cap casualty this off-season. Quentin Groves was the #3 guy and he would have ranked 4th worst at his position (just ahead of Wimbley) if he had been eligible, despite playing just 246 snaps. He’s a free agent this off-season anyway. If the Titans pass on Winston at #2, Nebraska edge rusher Randy Gregory is going to look awfully attractive.

Offensive Tackle

Michael Oher predictably struggled in his first season in Tennessee, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 75th ranked offensive tackle out of 84 eligible. Considering he struggled in 2013 as well, grading out as 68th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible and that all of his 9 million dollars in guaranteed money has already been paid out, the Titans could easily cut him this off-season, that would save them 4 million in cash, immediately free up 2 million in cap space, and put a swift end to a poorly thought out free agent signing. They’d need a replacement though, opposite Taylor Lewan, who will continue to man the blindside.

Safety

Bernard Pollard should be back in 2015, after missing most of 2014 with a torn Achilles, even though he’ll be in his age 31 season, coming off of a significant injury, and owed 3.1 million dollars in cash. When healthy, he’s a solid starter. However, Michael Griffin opposite him, could easily not be back. The inconsistent former first round pick will be owed 6.3 million in non-guaranteed salary in 2015, his age 30 season, and was Pro Football Focus’ 5th worst safety last season. The Titans will need to replace him as George Wilson, who filled in for Pollard last year, was the 6th worst safety and will be a free agent going into his age 34 season this off-season.

Running Back

2014 2nd round pick Bishop Sankey struggled in his first year as a starter in 2014, rushing for 569 yards and 2 touchdowns on 152 carries (3.74 YPC), but he’ll be the starter in 2015 again. They need another running back to provide competition though. Veteran backup Shonn Greene is highly unlikely to be back in 2015, owed 3.35 million in an age 30 season.

Cornerback

The Titans really missed Alterraun Verner this season, as Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson both struggled mightily opposite Jason McCourty this season. They graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 96th and 104th ranked cornerbacks out of 108 eligible last season. Some competition should be added this off-season.

Center

2013 4th round pick Brian Schwenke has struggled in his first 2 seasons in the league. He’s made 20 starts, but he’s graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 30th ranked center out of 36 eligible in 2013 and 32nd ranked center out of 41 eligible in 2014. The Titans should add competition this off-season.

Notable Unrestricted Free Agents

OLB Derrick Morgan

A rare first round hit by the Titans, Derrick Morgan’s career got off to a slow start as he was limited to 112 snaps by a torn ACL as a rookie in 2010 and struggled in his return from that injury in 2011, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 64th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 67 eligible. However, he’s graded out above average in each of the past three seasons, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2012, 11th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2013, and 8th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2014. Most importantly, he’s missed just 2 games over the past 4 seasons and doesn’t have any significant injuries on his record other than that torn ACL. His scheme versatility and his pass rush ability will make him a hot commodity on the open market.

LT Michael Roos

Michael Roos missed 11 games with a knee injury in 2014 and the Titans really missed him. Prior to 2004, he was as dependable as a left tackle could be, missing just one start from 2007-2013. Even including last season, he’s graded out above average in every season dating back in 2007. He’s going into his age 33 season, which is a serious concern as he comes off that injury. He’s reportedly considering retirement, but if he doesn’t end up retiring, he could be a nice cheap option on the open market.

QB Jake Locker

Jake Locker didn’t live up to the Titans’ expectations, after they took him 8th overall in 2011. Locker sat behind Matt Hasselbeck as a rookie and only played in 29 of 48 games over the past 3 seasons. His numbers weren’t terrible, as he completed 57.5% of his passes for an average of 7.01 YPA, 27 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions, while rushing for 644 yards and 5 touchdowns on 95 carries. but they don’t offset the variety of injuries he’s had. The Titans sat him behind Zach Mettenberger at times last season even when Locker was healthy, opting to see what the rookie had in Locker’s contract year. That suggests they’re very likely to move on from him this off-season, in favor of Mettenberger or a quarterback they take early in the draft. However, in a league where the quarterback position is so valuable and good quarterbacks are so scarce, Locker will draw interest on the open market as a buy low quarterback and be given a chance to compete for a starting job. He’s only going into his age 27 season and he still has natural talent if he can ever stay on the field long enough to develop it.

WR Nate Washington

Nate Washington has been around for a while, playing in every game in each of the last 9 seasons, catching 411 passes for an average of 6296 yards and 40 touchdowns with the Steelers and Titans. He’s never been great, with only one season of 1000+ yards, but he’s always been decent and dependable. However, now he’s going into his age 32 season and coming off of an underwhelming season in which he caught 40 passes for 647 yards and 2 touchdowns and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 96th ranked wide receiver out of 110 eligible in pass catching grade. He’ll be seen as a depth receiver and nothing more on the open market this off-season.

S George Wilson

A long-time Bill, George Wilson graded out above average in every season from 2008-2012, including 3 seasons as a starter (2009, 2011, and 2012). His best seasons were 2009 and 2012, when he was Pro Football Focus’ 4th and 8th ranked safety respectively. As a free agent in 2013, Wilson, then going into his age 32 season, was forced to settle for a short-term deal and only played 420 snaps as a reserve in 2013, though he did play well. Wilson moved into the starting lineup when Bernard Pollard got hurt in 2014, but he struggled mightily, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 83rd ranked safety out of 88 eligible. Now going into his age 34 season, he won’t draw much interest on the open market.

DT Karl Klug

Karl Klug, a 2011 5th round pick, has never played more than 520 snaps in a season and has only once played more than 338 snaps. However, he’s graded out above average in all 4 seasons he’s been in the league, maxing out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked defensive tackle in 2013 despite playing just 330 snaps. The 6-3 275 pounder is only a situational player, but can provide valuable interior pass rush in sub packages and would be a nice pickup for anyone who signs him this off-season.

Potential Cap Casualties

OT Michael Oher

In one of the NFL’s most head-scratching moves last off-season, the Titans gave Michael Oher a 4-year, 20 million dollar deal, even though he was coming off of an awful season to end a generally inconsistent and disappointing 5-year tenure in Baltimore, after going in the first round in 2009. In 2013, his final year in Baltimore, he was Pro Football Focus 68th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible. In 2014, his first year in Tennessee, Oher predictably struggled once again, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 75th ranked offensive tackle out of 84 eligible in 11 games, before going down for the season with an injury. The 9 million dollars they guaranteed him was absurd, but it’s already been paid so it’s a sunk cost. The Titans could easily cut him this off-season, a move that would save them 4 million in cash and immediately free up 2 million in cap space.

RB Shonn Greene

Another weird free agent signing by the Titans, Shonn Greene was a backup caliber running back masquerading as a starter in New York with the Jets for 4 years to start his career, but, even in a league where the position is becoming devalued, the Titans gave him a 3-year deal worth 10 million dollars with 4.5 million guaranteed 2 off-seasons ago. Greene rewarded them with 171 carries for 687 yards (4.02 YPC) and 6 touchdowns over the past 2 seasons, while catching 7 passes for 52 yards. Owed 3.35 million between salary and bonuses in the final year of his contract, the Titans should cut him to save that amount in cash and on the cap. He’s going into his age 30 season, got arrested this year, and shouldn’t be making anything more than the league minimum.

TE Craig Stevens

Purely a blocking tight end, the Titans still signed Stevens to a 4-year, 14.4 million dollar deal before the 2012 season. Stevens was a good blocker in his first 2 years in 2012 and 2013, but only caught a combined 25 passes. In 2014, he played just 70 snaps before going down with an injury. Considering the Titans forced him to take a significant pay cut last off-season to stay on the team, there’s little to no chance he sees his scheduled non-guaranteed 3.5 million dollar salary in 2015, which will be his age 31 season.

OLB Kamerion Wimbley

Kamerion Wimbley struggled mightily opposite Derrick Morgan last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 44th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker out of 46 eligible. Owed 2.75 million in cash going into his age 32 season in 2015, Wimbley is unlikely to be back. The Titans would save only 950K on the cap by doing so, but it would get them out of 6 million dollars owed over the next two seasons and he’d be off of their cap completely in 2016, when his cap number would otherwise be 5.15 million (1.8 million if they cut him next off-season.

DT Sammie Lee Hill

Sammie Lee Hill signed a 3-year, 11.4 million dollar deal with the Titans 2 off-seasons ago. In 2013, he graded out about average on 389 snaps and in 2014, he struggle on 597 snaps. He’s owed a non-guaranteed 4 million dollars in 2015 between salary and bonuses and the Titans would save that amount in cash and cap space by cutting him this off-season. Given that he’s a marginal player and that he was investigated for sexual assault this season, they could easily do that.

S Michael Griffin

Griffin has been the picture of inconsistency throughout his career in Tennessee since they drafted him in the first round in 2007. He has had slightly above average years in 2007, 2010, well above average years in 2008 (9th), 2011 (10th), and 2013 (14th), and below average years in 2009 (87th out of 88), 2012 (87th out of 88), and 2014 (84th out of 88). The Titans gave him a 5-year, 35 million dollar deal with 15 million guaranteed three off-seasons ago. All that guaranteed money is expired and, given how horrible he was last season, he could easily be let go ahead of his age 30 season in 2015. The Titans would avoid 6.3 million in salary and 6.5 million in salary in 2015 and 2016 respectively and save 4.5 million immediately on the salary cap by doing so.

G Andy Levitre

This is one that I’ve heard rumored, but it’s not likely. Levitre signed a 6-year, 46.8 million dollar deal 2 off-seasons ago and all the guaranteed money has already been paid out. Levitre was very solid in 4 years in Buffalo to start his career, making all 64 starts over that period, including 5 at left tackle and 1 at center. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked guard in 2011 and their 8th ranked guard in 2012. He was once again solid in the first season of his contract in Tennessee in 2013, making all 16 starts and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked guard. However, last season, he graded out below average, though he did once again play all 16 games. He’s owed a non-guaranteed 6.5 million in 2015 and the Titans can save 2.3 million on the cap immediately by cutting him this off-season. However, I think it’s more likely they keep him around. They’re not that pressed for cap space and, when he’s right, he’s the kind of top level player that the Titans have a severe shortage of.

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Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers: 2014 Divisional Round NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (13-4) at Green Bay Packers (12-4)

This is the first time in NFL history that an 8-0 home team has met an 8-0 road team in the playoffs and both teams are in the location where they’ve had the most success this season, the Packers in Lambeau and the Cowboys, well, anywhere other than AT&T Stadium. This season, the Cowboys were 7-1 ATS on the road, while the Packers were 6-2 ATS at home. Dallas’ lone non-cover came as 3.5 point favorites in New York against the Giants in an eventual 3 point Cowboys win. The Packers also had a close non-cover, winning by 7 points week 2 as 7.5 point favorites over the Jets. Their other non-cover was by a few more points, in a 6 point home win as 12.5 point favorites over the Falcons, but it was a game that the Packers led 31-7 at halftime before letting the Falcons get back into it, though they were never really in danger of losing, unless Atlanta managed to improbably recover a late onside kick.

For both of these two teams, this isn’t just a one year thing. Though this has happened for them to a greater extent this season, there is more of a sample size than just one season for both teams. As long as Aaron Rodgers starts (minus any games he’s been knocked out very early with injuries), the Packers are 27-10-1 ATS at home since 2010 and 34-4 straight up, with an absurd +564 point differential, meaning they outscore opponents, on average, by 14.84 points per game. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are 21-20 at home since 2010, outscoring opponents by an average of 2.24 points per game, as opposed to 22-18 on the road, getting outscored by an average of 0.25 points per game, a mere 2.5 point difference that’s one of the league’s smallest over that time period. As a result, they are 14-27 ATS at home, as opposed to 23-16 ATS on the road, a road ATS record that improves to 16-8 ATS when they are underdogs.

Re-focusing on this past regular season, the Packers moved the chains at an 81.27% rate at home, as opposed to 73.48% for their opponents, a differential of 7.79%, while the Cowboys moved the chains at a 77.73% rate on the road, as opposed to 72.84% for their opponents, a differential of 4.89%. The Packers have been better at home than the Cowboys have been on the road, but this line is at 6 so it gives us some wiggle room with the Cowboys. The Cowboys have two valuable defensive players, Jeremy Mincey and Rolando McClain, questionable with concussions, but Aaron Rodgers is playing at less than 100% for the Packers and could be knocked out of the game at any moment so that cancels out. The sharps seem to agree as this line has dropped from 7 to 6.5 and now down to 6 and even 5.5 in some places, despite the public being on Green Bay. It’s not a game I’d put money on because I hate wagering against Rodgers at home, but the Cowboys look like the right side.

Green Bay Packers 34 Dallas Cowboys 31

Pick against the spread: Dallas +6

Confidence: Low

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Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos: 2014 Divisional Round NFL Pick

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

Confidence: Medium

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