Indianapolis Colts (4-2) at Detroit Lions (3-3)
This is another game I locked in earlier this week, back when the line was 2.5, and I am glad I did because sharp money has pushed this line up to 3 since and about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. What caused me to lock this game in when I did was seeing linebacker Darius Leonard return to practice in the Colts’ first practice following last week’s bye and, in fact, Leonard is not even listed on the injury report this week, after missing the Colts’ previous two games with injury prior to the Colts’ bye week.
Despite not having Leonard for the past two games, the Colts still rank 3rd in first down rate allowed, but that’s a testament to how good the Colts’ defense was with Leonard (#1 in first down rate allowed), not a sign that the Colts didn’t miss Leonard, as their first down rate allowed climbed from 28.17% in the 4 games with him to 30.34% in the 2 games without him. The Colts haven’t faced a tough slate of offenses overall and “only” rank 6th in schedule adjusted first down rate allowed, but with Leonard back in the mix, the Colts look like one of the top few defenses in the league, both statistically and in terms of their talent level on paper.
The Colts’ offense isn’t quite as good, but they still rank 5th in the NFL overall in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.34%, despite being without one of the top defensive players in the league over the past two games. The Lions, meanwhile, rank 30th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -5.22%, despite a decent 3-3 record. The Lions beat the Cardinals week 3, but needed to win the turnover battle by 3 in that game to win by just three points and lost the first down rate battle by 8.96%. The following week, the Lions only lost by 6 to the Saints, but needed 3 fourth down conversions just to make it that close and lost the first down rate battle by 9.89%.
In their last two games, the Lions have beaten the Jaguars and Falcons and won the first down rate battle in both of those games, but those are their only two first down rate battle victories of the season and they came against the teams ranked 31st and 29th respectively in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. It helps that offensive stats are more consistent and predictable than defensive stats because the Colts’ edge over the Lions in offensive statistics isn’t nearly as big as their edge in defensive statistics, but the Lions are still unlikely to be competitive in the first down rate battle and will need to rely on more unpredictable things like turnover margins and 4th down performance to have a chance to win this game. It’s possible they could do that, but this line is too low at 2.5. My calculated line favors the Colts by 5.5, with the Lions having in fans in attendance at home, so we’re getting great line value with the visitors.
The Colts have a tough game on deck after this one, as they host the Ravens next week, a game that may seem like a distraction for this Colts team, especially since road favorites cover at a 38.6% rate before being home underdogs (the Colts are +4 on the early line). However, that should be minimized by the Colts coming off of a bye, as road favorites tend to do well after a bye, covering at a 60.9% rate over the past 30 seasons, including a 65.9% rate as road favorites of 3.5 or more. The line isn’t that high, but it arguably should be, so the logic holds that the Colts should be focused and fresh this week and we’re getting good line value to boot.
I’m leaving this as a medium confidence pick for now because of some injury question marks, including the possible absence of Lions’ left tackle Taylor Decker, the possible absence of Lions’ center Ryan Kelly, and the possible season debut of Colts’ defensive end Kemoko Turay, who has begun the season on the PUP list, but I like the Colts for a bet regardless and if the injury news is good, I’ll boost this to a high confidence pick.
Indianapolis Colts 26 Detroit Lions 20
Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -2.5