Indianapolis Colts (1-2-1) at Denver Broncos (2-2)
Normally I like to take non-divisional home favorites on Thursdays, as teams tend to be at a serious disadvantage if they have to travel on the road to face a non-divisional opponent that is comparable to or better than them. As a result, non-divisional home favorites cover at a 64.2% rate on Thursday Night Football, including 65.1% when favored by more than a field goal. Unfortunately, we’re getting line value with the visitor in this game, which offsets that. This line favored the Broncos by just 2.5 points on the early line last week, but that has since shifted to 3.5, a bigger shift than you might think, given that 1 out of 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal.
The shift is probably because the Colts because to the Titans and had two of their most important players get injured, with every down linebacker Shaq Leonard out and feature back Jonathan Taylor questionable, but Leonard has been out for most of the season anyway and Taylor seems more likely than not to suit up, even if he’s not at full strength. The Broncos also had key players go down with injury last week, losing feature back Javonte Williams and top edge defender Randy Gregory, a big loss for a Broncos team that had already gotten off to an underwhelming start to the season.
The Broncos are 2-2, but they’ve faced one of the easiest schedules in the league and have especially struggled on offense, ranking 31st in first down rate, a concern because offensive performance tends to be significantly more predictive than defensive or special teams performance. Their offense could get better going forward as new quarterback Russell Wilson and new offensive minded head coach Nathaniel Hackett develop better chemistry, but the loss of Williams on an already injury plagued offensive unit doesn’t help matters.
In terms of overall schedule adjusted efficiency, which weights offense more heavily and takes into account strength of schedule, the Broncos enter this game ranked 31st in the NFL, 6.5 points below average, significantly behind the Colts, who rank a middling 17th. We’re only four games into the season, which is a small sample size, and my roster rankings have a much smaller gap between these two teams, giving the Colts a one point edge, but it’s hard to see how the Broncos deserve to be 3.5-point favorites, even in a good spot on a short week and even if Jonathan Taylor ends up not playing for the Colts. The Colts aren’t bettable this week, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes at +3.5, though I would drop all confidence on them if Taylor ultimately did get ruled out.
Update: Taylor has been ruled out, despite saying earlier this week that he expected to play. I’m still on the Colts, but for no confidence. These two teams are about even with the Colts missing Taylor, so in a normal circumstance, the +3.5 would still be intriguing, but this is also a tough spot for the Colts on a short week.
Denver Broncos 23 Indianapolis Colts 20
Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +3.5