Indianapolis Colts (4-5) at Atlanta Falcons (6-3)
The Falcons are 6-3, but not as good as their record. Their 3 losses came against New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and San Francisco. Just 2 of their 6 wins have come by more than a touchdown and the toughest team they’ve beaten is probably Philadelphia, who they only beat because they were at home and Philadelphia missed a makeable field goal at the end of the game. The Falcons have exceeded pre-season expectations, but aren’t too much more talented than their 4-win team from 2013 or their 6-win team from 2014. They’ve simply lucked out getting close wins (4-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less) and playing easy opponents.
They would seem to have lucked out again, given that they’re facing the Colts without Andrew Luck, who is missing the first of multiple games with a lacerated kidney. Luck is certainly a better player than backup Matt Hasselbeck and has more upside, but Luck was not playing well when on the field this season, completing 55.3% of his passes for an average of 6.42 YPA, 15 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Hasselbeck is a solid, experienced backup and played well in two spot starts in place of Luck earlier this year. The Colts moved the chains at a 73.85% rate in those 2 games, as opposed to 69.66% in their other 7 games with Luck.
Given that, the Falcons should not be favored by 5 points here over the Colts. They rank 12th on the season in rate of moving the chains differential, as their defense has been solid this season (11th), allowing them to be competitive, despite inconsistencies and struggles at the quarterback position. They’ve had a way tougher schedule too, facing Carolina, Denver, New England, and the Jets, who would all be the toughest opponent Atlanta has seen all season. They haven’t played any of those teams without Luck, but they should still be able to keep it close in Atlanta. Close to 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer, including 3 of the Falcons’ wins, so as long as the line is 4.5 or more, the Colts should be the right side.
Atlanta Falcons 27 Indianapolis Colts 23
Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +5