Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (7-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10)

The Jaguars don’t have the worst record in the NFL, but they’re arguably the worst team in the league. They rank dead last in the NFL in first down rate differential at -7.39% and have been even worse since trading away cornerback Jalen Ramsey, with a -10.47% first down rate differential since sending him to the Rams in week 7. The Jaguars’ defense ranked a respectable 13th in first down rate allowed at 35.71% through the first 6 games of the season, but have allowed a 40.74% first down rate over the past 9 games, 3rd worst in the NFL over that stretch. Their offense, meanwhile, has struggled throughout the season, ranking 31st in the NFL with a 31.34% first down rate. They’re an awful team on both sides of the ball and have been for weeks. This week, they could be even worse, with injured cornerback AJ Bouye and running back Leonard Fournette resting in a meaningless game and news breaking that head coach Doug Marrone will likely be fired after the game. They might not give any effort this week.

Meanwhile, the Colts are out of the post-season race at 7-8, but they’re a solid team, ranking 15th in the NFL at +1.16%. They have a positive point differential at +6, despite getting awful play (68.0% field goal, 78.6% extra point) from kicker Adam Vinatieri, costing them at least two games. Vinatieri is on injured reserve now and replacement kicker Chase McLaughlin has missed just one kick in 3 games. If the Colts had him all season they could easily be in a strong position for a playoff spot. The Colts are favored by 4 points on the road, but I think this line is still too low, as my calculated line is Indianapolis -7. If the Colts hadn’t lost to the Chargers and Steelers because of makeable kicks, I have a feeling this line would be much closer to a touchdown. This isn’t a big bet, but there’s enough line value here for the Colts to be worth a wager. 

Indianapolis Colts 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -4

Confidence: Medium

Carolina Panthers at Indianapolis Colts: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (5-9) at Indianapolis Colts (6-8)

The Kyle Allen era in Carolina got off to a great start, as the 2018 undrafted free agent won his first 4 starts after taking over for an injured Cam Newton week 3, but things have gone south in a hurry. Since that 4-game winning streak, the Panthers have lost 7 of 8 games to fall out of playoff contention completely. Over that stretch, they have the 3rd worst first down rate differential in the league at -4.42%. 

The offense actually hasn’t been the problem, as they’ve had a 36.65% first down rate over that stretch, 11th in the NFL, but their defense, which ranked 7th in first down rate allowed at 33.97% in the first 6 games of the season, but has fallen to 31st in first down rate allowed at 41.07% over the past 8 games. The Panthers fired head coach and de facto defensive coordinator Ron Rivera a couple weeks ago, but it hasn’t seemed to make a difference in two games against the Falcons and Seahawks.

After firing their head coach a couple weeks ago, the Panthers are now benching Allen for third round rookie Will Grier. Even though the offense hasn’t really been the problem, it’s understandable why the Panthers would make this decision. Allen hasn’t played well, with the offense being carried by feature back Christian McCaffrey and #1 wide receiver DJ Moore, and, in a lost season, it’s worth giving Grier a shot. 

I don’t have high expectations for Grier though. He struggled in the pre-season, losing the backup job to Allen as a result, and could also be without starting wide receiver Curtis Samuel after he picked up an injury at practice this week. The Panthers are also in a tough spot this week, playing a meaningless non-conference matchup before a big divisional home matchup against the Saints to close out the season next week. Teams are 20-42 ATS since 2016 before being 7+ point home underdogs and the Panthers are 10.5-point home underdogs on the early line.

This isn’t an easy matchup for the Panthers either, on the road in Indianapolis. The Colts are just 6-8, but they’ve played better than their record has suggested, ranking 16th in first down rate differential at -0.17%. They got blown out against the Saints last week, but before that their only loss by more than a touchdown came against the Titans in a game in which the Colts were about to take the lead in the 4th quarter before a blocked kick returned for a touchdown. I wouldn’t recommend betting on the Colts this week because they could be flat after getting eliminated from post-season contention last week, but I think they’ll be more focused because they were just blown out, so they should be able to take care of business against an inferior team in a bad spot.

Indianapolis Colts 26 Carolina Panthers 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -6.5

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at New Orleans Saints: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (6-7) at New Orleans Saints (10-3)

The Saints didn’t just lose a big conference matchup against the 49ers last week. They also lost a pair of key defensive linemen for the season in Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport. The Saints are still talented enough to win the Super Bowl without them, but that’s a big blow to their defense. Both were missed badly after going down last week in a game in which the Saints allowed the 49ers to move the chains at a 49.21% rate, dropping the Saints to 17th in the league in the season with a 35.98% first down rate allowed on the season. Their offense has been better, moving the chains at a 40.31% rate when Drew Brees is in the lineup, most equivalent to the 3rd ranked Chiefs on the season. They’ll need to continue playing at a high level for this team to make a deep playoff run without Rankins and Davenport.

The Colts also have injury concerns, with top cornerback Kenny Moore out and top wide receiver TY Hilton a gametime decision after a 2-game absence, but the Colts have been missing key players all season and are arguably in better injury shape now than they’ve been in most of the season, especially if Hilton can suit up. Despite their injuries, they’ve been competitive, losing just 1 game all season by more than 7 points. 

The Colts are likely out of the playoffs at 6-7 barring a miracle, but they’ve played slightly better than their record suggests, ranking 14th in first down rate differential at +1.06%. Kicker Adam Vinatieri struggled mightily this season, making just 68.0% of his first goals and 78.6% of his extra points and costing them at least a couple games, but he’s been placed on injured reserve and replaced with Chase McLaughlin, who has a 75.0% field goal percentage and 100% extra point percentage on the season, so kicker isn’t as much of a problem anymore. 

If Vinatieri hadn’t missed very makeable field goals against the Chargers and Steelers, the Colts would be 8-5 right now and very much in the mix in the AFC South. I doubt they’d be 9 point underdogs in New Orleans in that circumstance, so with that in mind we’re getting some line value with the Colts. How much line value ultimately depends on whether or not Hilton plays and if the line moves in response. If Hilton plays and this line stays above a touchdown, I’ll likely place a bet on the Colts. I’ll probably be updating this writeup before gametime Monday night.

Final Update: Hilton is active, so the Colts are worth a bet this week.

New Orleans Saints 30 Indianapolis Colts 24

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +9

Confidence: Medium

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