Indianapolis Colts (0-1) at Denver Broncos (1-0)
Coming into the season, I thought the Colts were one of the most overrated teams in the league. They get Andrew Luck back after an 8-8 2015 season, but their passing offense wasn’t the problem last season, as Matt Hasselbeck was serviceable until the last couple weeks of the season and actually outplayed Luck statistically. Their defense took a step back from the season before and they struggled mightily running the ball and protecting the quarterback. Their running backs and offensive line remain a problem and the defense could take another step back. They lost top linebacker Jerrell Freeman in free agency and have the oldest defense in the league, which looks like one of the worst in the league on paper, especially with Trent Cole, Henry Anderson, Patrick Robinson, and Vontae Davis all out with injuries. Luck’s obviously a big re-addition, but it’s probably not enough for this team to get back to the playoffs.
However, I also thought the Broncos were overrated coming into the season. They finished last regular season just 11th in rate of moving the chains differential and might not have even made the playoffs if not for an unsustainably good record in games decided by a touchdown or less, 9-3. This off-season, they lost two defensive starters in Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, who were not replaced, as well as talented guard Evan Mathis. They’re starting a 2nd year 7th rookie pick at quarterback, one of the least qualified week 1 starting quarterbacks in years, and have underwhelming talent around him on offense, especially with Demaryius Thomas dealing with a limiting hip injury. Even if they do win here, it could easily be another close game for a team who has won 12 of their last 16 wins by 7 points or fewer (including last post-season), relevant considering this line is 6.5. That seems way too high to me, even with the Colts banged up.
The Broncos won last week at home against a tough Carolina team and looked good doing it, but easily could have lost if not for a missed field goal at the end of the game (or if not for a timely Gary Kubiak timeout, which forced Graham Gano to re-kick after making the first one). Besides, defending Super Bowl champions tend to do well week 1. In the last 10 instances, Super Bowl Champions who open at home on a Thursday Night are 8-1-1 ATS, but the previous 9 teams are just 2-7 ATS the following week. Opening as Super Bowl champions is a very emotional game, so it makes sense teams would play well, but it’s also hard to carry that kind of performance into the following week.
Teams are also 48-74 ATS since 2012 off of a win as home underdogs. Teams tend to be overconfident and overvalued off of a big home win against a superior opponent. At the very least, the Broncos are overvalued here at 6.5, especially considering this line was at just 3.5 a week ago. I think a line of 4 or so would have much more appropriate. The Broncos also have a tougher opponent next week, as they head to Cincinnati, while the Colts host the Chargers. Underdogs are 80-56 ATS since 2012 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. Coming off an emotional, close win, the Broncos could easily not be focused for an inferior opponent, especially with another tough game on deck, while the Colts figure to be focused, facing the defending champions, with an easier home game on deck. I think it’s very unlikely that the Broncos win by more than 7. I’ll take 6.5 if I have to, but it’d be a bigger play at 7. The money line at +230 is also a good value if you like to take bigger risks.
Denver Broncos 23 Indianapolis Colts 20
Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +6.5