Indianapolis Colts at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)

The Colts are just 6-6 after back-to-back divisional losses to the Texans and Titans, but they could be 8-4 right now if not for missed makeable field goals against the Chargers and Steelers. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 10th in the NFL at +2.25%, which is more in line with an 8-4 record than a 6-6 record. They are changing kickers this week, with ex-49ers and Chargers kicker Chase McLaughlin coming in to replace long-time veteran Adam Vinatieri, who is dealing with an injury and has just a 68.0% field goal percentage and a 78.6% extra point percentage on the season. McLaughlin is 13 on 17 field goals and 15 of 15 on extra points this year and could shore up a spot that’s been an obvious weakness for the Colts this season.

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have also been better than their record suggests, with a -6 point differential and a +0.84% first down rate differential, but they’re behind the Colts in both metrics. Despite that, this line suggests these two teams are about even, favoring the hometown Buccaneers by a field goal. With that in mind, we’re getting a little bit of line value with the visiting Colts at +3, but not nearly enough to bet on them confidently. My calculated line is Tampa Bay -1.5 and I do still expect the Buccaneers to win straight up, though it is close to a toss up.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Indianapolis Colts 26

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +3

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (6-5) at Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

The Titans have been significantly better offensively since switching quarterbacks from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill before their week 7 game. Through their first 6 games of the season with Mariota under center, the Titans had a 32.69% first down rate that ranked 26th in the NFL. In 5 games since switching to Tannehill, the Titans have a 42.76% first down rate that is only behind the seemingly unstoppable Ravens over that time period. This offense probably won’t be the second best in the league over the rest of the season, but Tannehill is a capable starting quarterback and they have a good supporting cast around him, so they don’t need great play from him to be a tough opponent. 

They’re especially strong on defense, finishing last season 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.77% and they rank 9th this season at 33.88%, despite key players like Jurrell Casey (2 games), Jeffery Simmons (6 games), and Jayon Brown (2 games) having missed time with injury. All three players have since returned. Relatively healthy overall, the Titans rank 9th in my roster rankings and could easily end up playing their way into a playoff spot in the unsettled and underwhelming AFC.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of line value with the Titans in the past week, as a result of their blowout victory over the Jaguars last week. Underdogs of 3.5 points a week ago on the early line in this matchup with the Colts in Indianapolis, the Titans are just 1.5-point underdogs this week. I have the Titans as the better team in this matchup, but the Colts are no pushover, entering this game 11th in first down rate differential at +2.03% and 12th in my roster rankings. I have this line calculated at even, so we’re still getting a little bit of line value with the underdog, but not enough for this game to be worth betting.

Tennessee Titans 26 Indianapolis Colts 24 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +1.5

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (6-4) at Houston Texans (6-4)

This is a huge Thursday night game, as these two teams enter tied atop the AFC South. This line, favoring the hometown Texans by 3.5 points, suggests the Texans are the slightly better team. First down rate suggests that as well, as these two teams are close to even in that metric (+2.60% vs. +2.30%), but the Texans have faced the tougher schedule (5th in opponent’s DVOA vs. 27th). However, these two teams are going in different directions injury wise. While the Texans’ chances of making a deep playoff run took a big hit a few weeks ago when JJ Watt went down for the season with a torn pectoral, the Colts enter this game arguably healthier than they’ve been all season.

The Colts have had as many injuries to key players as any team in the league, as quarterback Jacoby Brissett, wide receiver TY Hilton, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, linebacker Darius Leonard, cornerbacks Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore, and safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers have all missed varying amounts of time with injury, but all eight of those players practiced in full on Wednesday and are expected to play this week, with both Desir and Hilton expected to play for the first time in about a month. Brissett was probably their biggest absence because the Colts barely lost both games in which he missed time. Most of the Colts’ wins have been close, but they could easily be 8-2 right now if Brissett hadn’t gotten hurt and something tells me the Colts would not be 3.5 point underdogs if they were 8-2.

The Colts aren’t 100% healthy, with running back Marlon Mack set to miss his first game of the season, but the Colts have enough running back depth to compensate and the Texans are also missing talented safety Justin Reid for the first time this season, a big loss. My roster rankings currently have the Colts about two points better than the Texans, which is a more accurate representation of how the talent level on these two teams compares. Given that, we’re getting good line value with the Colts as underdogs of more than a field goal (roughly 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer), so the Colts are worth betting this week.

I’m also locking in a few lines I like before the line moves. I will have full write-ups for these games and all games on Saturday as normal.

NYG +6 @ CHI

NYJ +3 vs. OAK

WAS +3.5 vs. DET

LAR +3.5 vs. BAL

Houston Texans 24 Indianapolis Colts 23

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-4)

The Colts lost at home as double digit favorites to the Dolphins last week and, as a result, the line for their game this week against the Jaguars has shifted from Indianapolis -3.5 on the early line to -2.5 this week. That’s a significant shift given that about one in six games are decided by exactly a field goal and I don’t think it’s justified, as the Colts were without starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett last week and had to start backup Brian Hoyer, who did not resemble a starting caliber quarterback in his first action in two seasons. 

Hoyer took over for Brissett when he got hurt early in their week 9 game against the Steelers and the Colts won the first down rate battle both in that game (+8.95%) and in their game against the Dolphins (+6.40%), but Hoyer’s 97-yard pick six was the difference in a 2-point loss to the Steelers and then Hoyer followed that up by throwing a trio of interceptions in a 4-point loss to the Dolphins. On the season, the Colts rank 15th in first down rate differential at +1.09%, despite missing several key players for varying periods of time with injuries. They’re still not at full strength, with top wide receiver TY Hilton being their most notable absence, but relatively speaking they’re closer to 100% than they’ve been and they still rank 15th in my roster rankings without Hilton.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, rank 24th in first down rate differential at -3.01% and 21st in my roster rankings. They get quarterback Nick Foles back from injury, but I’m not sure how much he’ll help this team, as backup quarterback Gardner Minshew wasn’t really the problem. Minshew didn’t play badly, but lack of talent around the quarterback has resulted in this offense ranking 25th in first down rate. By default, their defense is their best unit, but they’re a far cry from their dominant 2017 unit. With just 4 of the top-14 in snaps played from that defense expected to be active for them this weekend, the Jaguars enter this game 13th in first down rate allowed.

All of this suggests that I should take the Colts at home as 2.5-point favorites, a line that suggests these two teams are more or less even, but unfortunately the Colts are in a horrible spot. Not only do they have a key divisional matchup in Houston next week, but they have that matchup on a short week on Thursday Night Football. Divisional home favorites are just 29-64 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs and favorites cover at only a 45% rate all-time before Thursday Night Football. The Jaguars have a key divisional matchup next week as well, taking on the Titans, but they at least get a normal week and will be at home. The Colts are still my pick, especially since they only need to win by a field goal to cover, but I don’t think I’d bet on them in this spot.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -2.5

Confidence: Low

Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts: 2019 Week 10 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (1-7) at Indianapolis Colts (5-3)

The Dolphins won their first game of the season last week, but that wasn’t all that surprising. Winless teams tend to be good bets this late in the season (55-31 ATS in week 8 or later) because they tend to be undervalued and highly motivated to get their first win and the Dolphins were at home facing a Jets team that didn’t rank much higher than them. The Dolphins’ win moved this line from Indianapolis -15 on the early line last week to Indianapolis -11.5 this week, but the Dolphins are unlikely to have that same motivation after winning their first game.

In fact, after basically winning their Super Bowl last week, I expect the Dolphins to be relatively flat, especially with a much bigger divisional game against the Bills on deck. The Dolphins are +7.5 on the early line and teams have a lot of trouble covering before being big home underdogs, going 43-77 ATS before being home underdogs of 6+ since 2014. On top of that, underdogs of 6+ are 59-92 ATS before being underdogs of 6+ again the following week, over that same time period.

The Dolphins being flat would be a big problem because they still rank dead last in both my roster rankings and in first down rate differential (-9.38%) and they have a much tougher matchup this week than last week. The Colts haven’t won a game by more than 7 points this season, but they haven’t lost by more than 7 points either and something tells me they won’t have much of a problem winning against a bottom level team like the Dolphins, who already have 5 double digit losses this season and 20 since the start of the 2017 season.

The Colts have an injury concern with quarterback Jacoby Brissett questionable with a knee injury, but I don’t think the drop off from Brissett to backup Brian Hoyer would be all that significant, especially in a matchup like this. Hoyer led the Colts to a loss in Pittsburgh last week in relief of Brissett, but he also threw three touchdowns on the road against a good defense and led the Colts to a +8.95% first down rate differential, with the game swinging entirely on a 97-yard pick six. With Brissett under center, I would have this line calculated at Indianapolis -14.5 and with Hoyer I would have it at Indianapolis -14, giving us line value either way. Add in the Colts being in a better spot and there’s enough to bet the Colts confidently this week.

Update: Brissett has been ruled out, but this line has dropped to 10.5 to compensate, so I still like the Colts.

Indianapolis Colts 33 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -10.5

Confidence: Medium

Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (5-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-4)

The Steelers have been one of the most impacted by injury teams in the league this season. The big injury was obviously to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who went down for the season with an elbow injury in the first half of the second game of the season. With backup Mason Rudolph under center for most of the season, the Steelers have fallen to 21st in first down rate at 34.35%, a year after ranking 6th in at 40.55% in 2018. They’ve also suffered a major injury on defense as well, with All-Pro caliber defensive end Stephon Tuitt out for the season with a torn pectoral, though they have more talent on defense to make up for his absence, led by Cameron Heyward and TJ Watt, who have also played at an All-Pro level in 2019. This week, the Steelers will also be without starting running back James Conner and starting left guard Ramon Foster. 

The Colts have also been very impacted by injuries. They’ve had 7 expected starters miss time with injury this season: wide receiver TY Hilton, cornerbacks Kenny Moore and Pierre Desir, safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers, linebacker Darius Leonard, and defensive end Jabaal Sheard. They were as healthy as they’ve been all season in a near home loss to the Broncos last week, but this week they could be without Desir, Hilton (already ruled out), Hooker, and defensive end Justin Houston. Despite the Colts’ 5-2 record, these two teams aren’t far apart, as all seven games the Colts have played have been decided by seven points or less. I tentatively have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -3, factoring in the Colts’ injury situation, but it’s hard to make a definitive call on this game without knowing the status of Desir, Hooker, and Houston. I’ll likely have an update tomorrow morning. 

Sunday Update: Houston and Hooker will both play, despite not practicing Friday. I have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -2, so there’s not enough here to take the Steelers with confidence.

Pittsburgh Steelers 19 Indianapolis Colts 17

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh PK

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts: 2019 Week 8 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (2-5) at Indianapolis Colts (4-2)

The Colts are 4-2 and lead the AFC South, but all 6 of their games could have gone either way. Their average margin of victory is 4.5 points per game. Their average margin of defeat is 6.5 points per game. And none of their 6 games have been decided by more than a touchdown. I expect this to be another close game, with the Broncos coming to town this week. The Broncos just got embarrassed by the Matt Moore led Chiefs at home on Thursday Night Football last week, but that game was much closer than the 30-6 final score suggested. The Chiefs managed just 14 first downs and won the first down rate battle by just 2.59%, as they scored 20 points from a fumble recovery touchdown, a busted coverage long passing touchdown, an ill-advised Denver fake punt, and a long punt return, while the Broncos missed 4 points on kicks. 

Prior to last week’s loss, the Broncos’ previous 4 losses this season came by a combined 23 points, while their two wins also have come by a combined 23 points. Even with last week’s loss included, they still rank 17th in first down rate differential at -0.70%, which is actually slightly better than the Colts, who rank 18th at -0.89%. The Broncos also rank slightly higher than the Colts in my roster rankings as well. I have this line calculated at Indianapolis -2, so I like getting 5 points with the Broncos this week, especially given how close all of the Colts’ games have been this season. Even if the Colts end up winning this game, it likely won’t be by much.

Sunday Update: Despite right tackle Ja’Wuan James being active for the Broncos for the first time since week 1, this line has weirdly moved up to 6.5 this morning. I am moving this up to a high confidence pick.

Indianapolis Colts 20 Denver Broncos 19

Pick against the spread: Denver +6.5

Confidence: High