Indianapolis Colts 2018 NFL Season Preview


For years, the Colts have had great quarterback play. They had Peyton Manning as the starter for 13 straight seasons and then when he missed a year with injury they got the #1 pick in the draft with the clearest #1 choice since Manning and drafted his replacement in Andrew Luck. Luck has not been as good as Manning, but, much like Manning towards the end of his tenure in Indianapolis, Luck has been able to mask a lot of problems on this roster. He even brought them to the post-season in his first 3 seasons, although that was largely because they had a 18-4 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and went 16-2 against a division that was the worst in football back then.

When Luck missed the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury, the Colts bottomed out, much like they did when Manning was out. The Colts won 4 games, but those wins came against the Brian Hoyer led 49ers, the Tom Savage led Texans (twice), and the Deshone Kizer led Browns and none of those wins came by double digits. The Colts ranked 30th in point differential at -141 and were even worse than that suggests, as they did that despite having a +5 turnover margin. They lost a league high 5 games in which they won the turnover margin. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis, so the Colts won’t be able to rely on that again in 2018, and, outside of their turnover margin, they were arguably the worst team in the league last season. They finished dead last in first down rate differential at -6.01%, despite a relatively easy schedule.

Offensively, they finished 31st in the NFL in first down rate. Backup Jacoby Brissett was obviously not great, but he wasn’t bad all things considered and he was far from the only problem. He finished as Pro Football Focus’ 31st ranked quarterback out of 40 eligible. The bigger problem was their lack of supporting cast, which has been an issue for years. It’s usually been masked by strong quarterback play, but the Colts have drafted a total of just 3 Pro-Bowlers since 2007. One of them was Luck, which was a no brainer pick. Another was punter Pat McAfee. And the third is TY Hilton, a 3rd round pick in 2012. In 11 years, they’ve drafted just one position player who exceeded his draft slot and made a Pro Bowl.

Given the players around him, Brissett had little chance. He completed 58.8% of his passes for an average of 6.61 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions, while rushing for 260 yards and 4 touchdowns on 63 carries (4.13 YPC). His worst attribute was that he held the football too long and took too many sacks. He averaged 2.68 seconds from snap to throw, 5th slowest in the NFL. The Colts had offensive line problems, but Brissett didn’t help matters, taking a sack on 23.1% of his pressured drop backs, 3rd highest in the NFL. The Colts led the NFL with 56 sacks allowed, which stalled many drives.

Brissett’s interception rate of 1.49% is impressive and was arguably the biggest reason for their positive turnover margin, but interception rates tend to be inconsistent on a year-to-year basis and it’s unlikely that Brissett would have continued what would have been the lowest interception rate of all-time for much longer. Luck is also unlikely to have an interception rate that low, as he’s thrown interceptions on 2.57% of his career passes.

Luck is also a major question mark after missing all of last season with a throwing shoulder injury. Luck originally suffered the injury in 2015, opted not to have surgery, played through it in 2016, and then had surgery on it in January 2017 in hopes of returning for training camp. Instead, Luck did not return at all in 2017 and did not even start throwing a football again until this summer, more than 500 days after the initial surgery. He’s expected to return week 1 and he’s definitely doing better this off-season than last off-season, but he’s considered questionable for training camp and nothing can be taken for granted with him.

Prior to the injury, Luck finished 14th, 8th, and 3rd on PFF among quarterbacks in his last 3 healthy seasons respectively (2013, 2014, and 2016). Despite a weak supporting cast, he’s completed 59.2% of his passes for an average of 7.20 YPA, 132 touchdowns, and 68 interceptions in his career and has added 1,442 yards and 14 touchdowns on 286 carries (5.04 YPC). He’s still only going into his age 29 season and the Colts will obviously be hoping he returns to form, but that’s far from a guarantee at this point.

The Colts were confident enough in him long-term to eschew drafting a quarterback at the top of what was one of the strongest quarterback classes in years. Rather than staying at 3 and taking a quarterback, they traded down to 6 with the Jets, who drafted USC quarterback Sam Darnold, and picked up a trio of second round picks in the process. They received picks 37 and 49 in 2018 and another second round pick in 2019, much needed for a team with holes across the depth chart. Even if Luck returns to form, they’ll need their supporting cast to be better for the Colts to contend for a playoff spot in an improved division.

Grade: B

Offensive Line

After trading down, the Colts used the 6th pick on Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. Nelson was arguably the top player in the draft and would not have been a bad pick at 3, but fell out of the top-5 because of his position. At the very least, he’s probably the safest and most NFL ready pick in the draft. He’ll plug in as an immediate starter at a major position of need and could be one of the better guards in the league in a few years. He’ll be an obvious upgrade over Jeremy Vujnovich, who started 16 games at left guard last season and ranked dead last out of 80 eligible guards on Pro Football Focus.

The Colts also used one of their 2nd round picks on Auburn’s Braden Smith, who can play offensive tackle, but most project to guard because he has just 32 1/4 inch arms at 6-6 315. He’s unlikely to start at guard as a rookie though, with Jack Mewhort returning from injury. Mewhort has missed 17 games with knee injuries in the past 2 seasons, so they need good insurance for him, but he’s been great for them when healthy and will be given another shot in 2018, in only his age 27 season.

Prior to the injuries, he finished 14th among guards in 2015 and he’s earned a positive grade from PFF in all 4 seasons in the league. The Colts re-signed the 2014 2nd round pick to a one-year deal worth just 1.5 million this off-season, an absolute steal given Mewhort’s age and upside. Smith, meanwhile, could play right tackle. Mewhort also has experience at right tackle and could also move out there at some point, though he’s been a lot better at guard.

Joe Haeg, Denzelle Good, and Le’Raven Clark all made starts at right tackle last season, but all three struggled. The Colts also added veteran right tackle Austin Howard and he has a good shot to earn the starting job. He has 88 starts in the past 6 seasons and signed a one-year deal that pays him low end starters money at 3.75 million this off-season, after spending 2017 with the Ravens. Howard has been inconsistent in his career and he’s going into his age 31 season, but he was about a league average starter in Baltimore last season and could give the Colts much needed veteran stability at right tackle.

Along with Jack Mewhort, the Colts also get center Ryan Kelly back from injury, after he was limited to 394 snaps in 7 games by foot and head injuries. A first round selection in 2016, Kelly was seen as one of the safer picks in the draft, but he was underwhelming in 16 starts as a rookie and struggled through injuries in 2017, finishing 28th among 38 eligible centers on PFF. Kelly could be much better in his 3rd season in the league if he’s healthy, but his career has gotten off to a disappointing start and he’s no guarantee to ever improve.

Left tackle Anthony Castonzo was their only starting offensive lineman to earn a positive grade in 2018. A first round selection in 2011, Castonzo has made 105 starts in 7 seasons in the league and has been one of their few good high draft picks. He’s never made a Pro Bowl, but he’s earned a positive grade from PFF in 6 straight seasons and could have easily made at least a couple Pro Bowls. He finished a career best 6th among offensive tackles on PFF in 2017, but he also finished 16th in 2016 and 9th in 2014. His age is becoming a minor concern in his age 30 season in 2018, but he’s shown no signs of slowing down and he’s rarely had major injuries, playing all 16 games in 5 of 7 seasons in the league. He should remain a good blindside protector in 2018 and the rest of the offensive line should be much improved as well, with Kelly and Mewhort returning and Nelson, Howard, and Smith added to the mix.

Grade: B+

Running Backs

An improved offensive line should be good for Luck, especially returning from a major injury, but the Colts don’t have a ton of skill position talent around Luck, especially at running back. The Colts ranked just 28th in the NFL in yards per carry in 2017 with 3.68, led by lead back Frank Gore, who averaged 3.68 yards per carry on 261 carries. Gore was better than that suggests though, earning a positive grade from Pro Football Focus and ranking 23rd with a carry success rate of 44%, pretty good considering the lack of talent around him on offense. Gore left as a free agent this off-season though and the Colts did not do much to replace him, only using 4th and 5th round picks on North Carolina State’s Nyheim Hines and Mississippi’s Jordan Wilkins.

Second year running back Marlon Mack is likely to be the lead back, but he was pretty underwhelming as a rookie. The 2017 4th round pick averaged just 3.85 yards per carry despite having 7 of his 93 carries go for 15+ yards. He had 45.8% of his 358 yards on those 7 carries and averaged just 2.26 yards per carry on his other 86 carries, consistently getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage. He flashed as a receiver, with a 21/225/1 slash line on 33 targets on 169 routes run, but he allowed 3 sacks as a pass protector and needs to improve his blocking technique. He has some upside, but he’s a weak starting option.

Hines, meanwhile, is an 5-8 198 scatback who reminds of Tarik Cohen, while Wilkins was a late round prospect who doesn’t have a huge upside. Hines will probably be limited to change of pace/passing down work, while Wilkins does not project as a lead back in the NFL. The Colts also have veteran Robert Turbin, but he’s been suspended for the first 4 games of the season for performance enhancing drugs and has averaged just 3.83 yards per carry and 4.44 carries per game in 6 seasons in the league. He’s a capable passing down back and is probably their pass protector, but his career high is 80 carries in a season and he’s unlikely to surpass that in 2018, even in a wide open backfield like this. The Colts arguably have the weakest running back group in the NFL.

Grade: C-

Receiving Corps

The one key skill position player they have is #1 receiver TY Hilton. Hilton did not have good chemistry with Jacoby Brissett and also was not as good himself, possibly not giving as much effort on a last place team. After averaging a 81/1250/6 slash line in 4 seasons as a starter from 2013-2016 and finishing in the top-31 among wide receivers on Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons, Hilton had just a 57/966/5 slash line in 2017, finishing under 1000 yards since his rookie season in 2012, and was about a league average receiver on PFF.

Still in the prime of his career in his age 29 season, Hilton has obvious bounce back potential if Luck can return to form. In 2016, he and Luck connected for 91 catches for 1448 yards and 6 touchdowns and he was PFF’s 4th ranked wide receiver, the highest he’s ranked in his career. He’ll face plenty of double teams with the Colts lacking other good options at wide receiver, but he should be Luck’s go to receiver and could be one of the league’s leaders in targets.

Donte Moncrief and Kamar Aiken were their #2 and #3 receiver last season in terms of snaps with 614 and 587 respectively, but neither is with the team anymore. Neither played well, but they didn’t really do much to replace them. Chester Rogers has been their #4 receiver the past 2 seasons and the 2016 undrafted free agent has not been great, struggling on 447 snaps as a rookie and 429 snaps last season, but, for lack of a better option, he’ll compete with free agent acquisition Ryan Grant for the week 1 starting job opposite Hilton, with the loser of that battle likely playing as the 3rd receiver.

Grant originally signed with the Ravens on a 4-year, 29 million dollar deal, but the deal did not go through because the Ravens failed him on his physical. That will likely prove to be a blessing in disguise for the Ravens, as that contract would have guaranteed him 14.5 million over the next 2 seasons. Instead, he gets 5 million on a one-year deal from the Colts and he may not even be worth that. After being drafted by the Redskins in the 5th round in 2014, Grant was only a depth receiver until last season, when he played a career high 613 snaps, but he posted an underwhelming 45/573/4 slash line and has never earned a positive grade for a season from PFF in 4 seasons in the league. He was a desperation signing for a team with a thin receiving corps and money to spend.

With several high picks, I expected the Colts to draft a wide receiver early, but instead they only used 5th and 6th round picks, taking Northern Iowa’s Daurice Fountain and Clemson’s Deon Cain. Cain has had a strong off-season, but it’s too early to tell if that will translate to the field. It’s possible neither would be an upgrade as rookie if they saw action. Fellow rookie Nyheim Hines is also an option as a receiver because he’s a good pass catcher and has the versatility to move around the formation.The Colts could also pursue Dez Bryant or another veteran receiver on the free agent market to help one of the thinnest wide receiver groups in the NFL.

The Colts did add talent at tight end, signing ex-Lion Eric Ebron to a 2-year deal worth 13 million. Incumbent starter Jack Doyle remains, so the Colts could run a lot more two tight end sets this season to offset their lack of depth at tight end. Doyle had an impressive 80/690/4 slash line in 2017, despite the quarterback situation, but that was largely because he received 107 targets and played 910 snaps (3rd most among tight ends). In 2016, he played 748 snaps and had a 59/584/5 slash line on 75 targets in his first season as a starter. He’ll play significantly fewer snaps in 2018 with Ebron coming in, so his 2016 numbers are probably a more reasonable expectation. The 6-6 262 pounder is not that explosive and averages just 8.52 yards per catch in his career, but he’s good at finding soft spots in the underneath coverage, he has reliable hands, and he’s a good blocker.

Ebron, meanwhile, is an athletic freak that ran a 4.60 40 at 6-4 250 at the combine and went 10th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he did not pan out in 4 seasons with the Lions and they released him ahead of his 5th year option for 2018, which would have paid him 8.25 million. Ebron was considered a matchup nightmare coming out of college and has showed flashes of it, but he’s averaged just a 47/518/3 slash line thus far in his career, topping out at a 61/711/1 slash line in 2016, and he never developed as a blocker either. Still only 25, the Colts are taking a flyer on him and hoping he can put it all together, but he hasn’t been the most reliable player thus far in his career. In a thin receiving corps, Doyle and Ebron could easily be 2nd and 3rd on the team in receiving.

Grade: C+

Defensive Line

The Colts were not quite as bad defensively as they were offensively in 2017, finishing 22nd in first down rate allowed at 35.28%. Their defensive line was actually pretty good, particularly against the run (3.95 YPC allowed, 8th in the NFL), but they are transitioning from a bigger 3-4 defense to a more athletic 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, whose recent experience was with a Tampa 2 defense in Dallas with Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli, and they are making major changes on the defensive line as a result. Johnathan Hankins, Margus Hunt, Al Woods, and Henry Anderson all excelled against the run on 686 snaps, 576 snaps, 563 snaps, and 380 snaps respectively last season, but Hankins was let go, owed 8.5 million non-guaranteed in 2018, while Anderson was traded to the Jets for a late round pick ahead of the final year of his rookie deal.

Woods and Hunt, meanwhile, are poor fits for the new scheme. Woods is a 6-4 330 pounder who has never earned a positive pass rush grade in 8 seasons in the league and is unlikely to improve, while Hunt is a bit of a tweener in a 4-3 system at 6-8 298 and earned negative grades from Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons in a 4-3 defense with the Bengals prior to arriving in Indianapolis last off-season. Both are also going into their age 31 season, so they’re highly unlikely to repeat the best seasons of their careers in a new system.They’ll likely be limited to base package snaps at defensive tackle and defensive end respectively, assuming they make the final roster, each owed 2.5 million non-guaranteed.

In sub packages, expect the Colts to regularly use 3 and 4 defensive ends at the same time, lining up a defensive end or two inside. Defensive end is where they have the most depth and they have a few defensive ends with the size to line up inside in passing situations. Margus Hunt is one option, even though he’s never been much of a pass rusher, and the Colts also have the 6-3 265 pound Jabaal Sheard and 6-3 269 pound Tyquan Lewis, who both have experience rushing the passer from the inside.

Sheard figures to lead this line in snaps, after finishing 3th among 3-4 outside linebackers on 900 snaps in 2017. He had just 5.5 sacks, but added 8 hits and 54 hurries and was a great run stuffer. A versatile player who has proven himself in multiple systems in his career, Sheard has earned positive grades from PFF in 6 of the past 7 seasons, including 5 straight seasons. His best seasons came in 2017 and in 2015, when he was PFF’s 4th ranked 4-3 defensive end as a hybrid defensive lineman with the Patriots. He figures to have a similar role in Indianapolis’ new 4-3 defense. Lewis should have a similar role too, but the 2nd round rookie probably won’t play a ton of snaps in his first season.

The Colts also selected Kemoko Turay in the 2nd round, another defensive end. He’s smaller than Lewis at 6-5 253 and is more of an edge rusher, but he should at least have an immediate role in sub packages on a reworked defensive line. The Colts also have last year’s 3rd round pick Tarell Basham, a 6-4 266 pounder who played 220 snaps as a rookie. He struggled against the run, but flashed as a pass rusher and is a better fit in their new 4-3 defense than their old 3-4. He should have a larger role in his 2nd season in the league.

The Colts also have John Simon, who has 11.5 sacks and 20 hits as a rotational 3-4 outside linebacker over the past 3 seasons, but he is not a great fit for their new scheme at 6-1 260. He’s currently penciled in as the third outside linebacker in base packages and may see some rotational snaps as an edge rusher in sub packages, but he’s also not considered a roster lock at a 3.5 million dollar non-guaranteed salary. His fit in the scheme is a concern, but he’s earned a positive run stopping grade in each of his first 4 seasons in the league on PFF and the Colts don’t need the cap space, so keeping him makes sense.

At defensive tackle, the Colts added ex-Raider Denico Autry on a 3-year, 17.8 million dollar deal in free agency this off-season. Autry is undersized for a defensive tackle at 6-5 270, struggles against the run, and was probably an overpay, but he perfectly fits what this new coaching staff is looking for out of a defensive lineman. He’ll likely have a significant role as a sub package interior pass rusher. In 3 seasons as a heavy rotational player in Oakland, he totaled 10.5 sacks and 11 hits and he earned a positive pass rush grade from PFF in 2 of 3 seasons.

The Colts also have 2016 4th round pick Hassan Ridgeway and 2017 4th round pick Grover Stewart, but Ridgeway has played just 617 underwhelming snaps in 2 seasons in the league, while Stewart is purely a base package player at 6-4 333 and is not an ideal fit in this new scheme. The Colts have a lot of rotational options, but lack impact players on this defensive line outside of Sheard. This is line is unlikely to play as well as they did last season.

Grade: C+


The Colts also will look different in the linebacking corps this season. Jon Bostic and Antonio Morrison started 14 games and 15 games respectively for this team in 2017, but the former signed with the Steelers this off-season, while the latter finished 51st among 52 middle linebackers on Pro Football Focus and is not a lock to remain a starter. Bostic was a solid run stuffer, but struggled in coverage. His likely replacement is 2nd round rookie Darius Leonard, an athletic 6-2 234 pounder who is basically the opposite of Bostic. He comes from a small school (South Carolina State) and is a bit undersized, but he’s a perfect fit as a sideline to sideline linebacker in this defense. He’ll fill the Sean Lee role in this linebacking corps, though he’s obviously not as proven.

The other every down linebacker job is up for grabs. Morrison could remain the starter, for lack of a better option, but he’ll face competition from 2017 5th round pick Anthony Walker. He played just 117 snaps as a rookie, but is their best internal competition for Morrison. Morrison was a 4th round pick in 2016, so both he and Walker have some upside, but the other middle linebacker spot should remain a position of weakness in 2018. Leonard will need to step up big time as a rookie.

The Colts may mix safety Clayton Geathers in as a linebacker in sub packages, as the 6-2 220 pounder has experience in that role and could be a good fit in this new defense, but he has yet to practice this off-season and was limited to 112 snaps in 5 games by a neck injury in 2017. He earned a positive grade on 558 snaps in the first significant action of his career in 2016, after going in the 4th round in 2015, but his neck injury threatens to derail his development. Consider him out indefinitely.

As mentioned, John Simon will be the 3rd linebacker unless he’s let go. He’s an odd fit for the scheme and will only play about half the snaps as a linebacker, either coming off the field or moving to the defensive line in sub packages when a 5th defensive back enters. He won’t elevate this linebacking corps much. With a 2nd round rookie as their top linebacker, the Colts have serious issues at linebacker. They completely lack proven starting 4-3 linebackers and are hoping for young players to step up.

Grade: C-


Part of the reason they could use Geathers at linebacker is that they’re actually pretty deep at safety. Even if healthy, Geathers might not be any higher than their 4th safety on the depth chart. The Colts used a 1st round pick on Malik Hooker in 2017 and a 2nd round pick on TJ Green in 2016, but 2016 undrafted free agent Matthias Farley led this team in snaps by a safety with 927. Despite only playing 67 snaps as a rookie, Farley actually played pretty well in a mini breakout season, finishing 25th among safeties on Pro Football Focus. Hooker is expected to be back for week 1 if not sooner, after tearing his ACL last October, but Farley is likely to remain a starter. He might not be quite as good and last season could prove to be a fluke for a player who was not highly thought of coming into the league, but he could also remain a capable starter.

His biggest competition will be TJ Green. Green was a relatively high pick, but has been a disappointment thus far in his career. He finished dead last among 90 eligible safeties on 477 snaps as a rookie and was limited to 381 underwhelming snaps last season, even with Hooker going down with injury. Only going into his age 23 season, he still has upside, but thus far he’s been a massive bust. Hooker, on the other hand, was having a solid rookie year before the injury. Just 22 years old, Hooker still has a huge upside, but the injury could set his development back a little bit. If he’s on the field, he should be a capable starter at least, but it could take a couple years for him to reach his potential.

Their safeties are not bad, but they have arguably the worst cornerbacks in the NFL. Cornerback was a problem last season and they lost Rashaan Melvin, PFF’s 19th ranked cornerback last season, to the Oakland Raiders in free agency. Despite that, they did basically nothing to address the position this off-season, aside from adding some undrafted free agents. Instead, they’ll go into 2018 with a trio of 2nd year cornerbacks, Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston, and Kenny Moore, and journeyman Pierre Desir atop the depth chart.

Wilson has the most upside, after flashing on 402 snaps as a rookie, but he’s not somewhat you want as your de facto #1 cornerback. Hairston, meanwhile, went in the 5th round and struggled on 537 snaps as a rookie, while Moore played 382 nondescript snaps as an undrafted rookie. Neither profiles as a long-term starter. Desir does not either, already on his 4th team in 4 seasons in the league since the Browns drafted him in 2014. He’s never played more than 399 snaps in a season and would be a desperation play in a larger role than that in 2018. They have arguably the thinnest cornerback group in the NFL, which brings this whole secondary down significantly.

Grade: C


The Colts should get Andrew Luck back from injury this season, but they have arguably the worst supporting league in the league. They’ve improved their offensive line, but they lack depth at wide receiver and running back and their defense could be the worst in the league, as they transition to a completely new defensive scheme. Johnathan Hankins and Rashaan Melvin were arguably two of their top-3 defensive players last season, but neither are with the team anymore, while players like Al Woods and Margus Hunt are coming off of career years that they likely won’t repeat and do not fit the new scheme. The Colts have the lowest active spending on their roster and it shows. It’ll take a career year from Andrew Luck to get them back into the post-season and I don’t see that happening.  I will have an official prediction later in the off-season.

Prediction: XX-XX XX in AFC South

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (4-11) at Indianapolis Colts (3-12)

Both of these teams are absolutely terrible. The Texans’ defense has not been the same since losing both JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus back in week 6 and their offense has been abysmal since losing quarterback Deshaun Watson for the season in practice in week 9, thanks to horrible quarterback play and arguably even worse offensive line play. Things have actually gotten even worse for them in recent weeks, as they are now down to 3rd string quarterback TJ Yates, who is somehow noticeably worse than Tom Savage, and they are now without #1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who will miss the first game of his career this week with a calf injury.

Hopkins has been their entire offense since Savage went down, accounting for 294 of their 459 passing yards over the past 3 weeks, a ridiculous 64.05%. The only success Yates has had has come when he’s tried to force the ball to Hopkins, who might be the best contested ball receiver in the league. Even with Hopkins out there, the Texans have been outscored 105-29 over those 3 games, although their competition has been pretty tough (the Jimmy Garoppolo led 49ers, the Jaguars, and the Steelers).

The Colts are a major step down in competition. Outside of the Texans, the Bryce Petty led Jets, and the Browns, the Colts are the worst team in the league right now. Their 3 wins have come by a combined 12 points, while their 12 losses have come by a combined 162 points, giving them a point differential of -150, 2nd worst in the NFL, despite the fact that they actually have a positive turnover margin at +4. They enter this game dead last in first down rate differential at -6.70% and have a league high 5 losses in which they won the turnover margin.

They have also lost safety Malik Hooker, cornerback Rashaan Melvin, outside linebacker John Simon, defensive end Henry Anderson, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, and left guard Jack Mewhort in the last couple months, all of whom were key players, so this team is even worse than they were earlier in the year, a big part of the reason why they haven’t won a game in about 2 months. All 3 of their wins have come against terrible teams, the Browns, the Brian Hoyer led 49ers, and the Tom Savage led Texans and none of those wins would have covered this 6-point spread.

Their only win by more than a field goal was their 20-14 win in Houston back in week 9, but, just because the Colts won by 6 in Houston doesn’t mean they are necessarily going to win by more than 6 at home in Indianapolis in this game, even though the Texans are now starting Yates and are now without Hopkins. For one thing, the Colts are also more banged up than they were then, as Henry Anderson, Johnathan Hankins, and Rashaan Melvin played in that game and played well defensively for the Colts.

On top of that, teams tend to cover in same season revenge games, as road underdogs are 68-39 ATS since 2002 in regular season divisional revenge games against a team that previously defeated them earlier in the season as road underdogs, as the Colts were in Houston. I have no interest in actually betting on this game because both teams are terrible and both teams could have one foot in the off-season at the end of an awful season, but this line is too high, so the Texans are the pick for pick ‘em pool purposes.

Indianapolis Colts 17 Houston Texans 13

Pick against the spread: Houston +6

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (3-11) at Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

The Ravens are 8-6 and in the driver’s seat for a wild card spot in the AFC, but they are a little overrated. They’ve had the 2nd easiest schedule in the NFL in terms of opponents strength of schedule and that doesn’t even take into account that they’ve gotten to face a number of backup quarterbacks. Of their 8 wins, only one has come against a team that currently has a winning record, the Detroit Lions, who also have next to no success against quality football teams. Four of those wins have come against teams with backup quarterbacks, the EJ Manuel led Raiders, the Tom Savage led Texans, the Matt Moore led Dolphins, and the Brett Hundley led Packers. Their other 3 wins have come against the Browns (twice) and the Bengals.

They have an impressive margin of victory and rank 7th in the NFL in point differential at +89, but that’s largely because of a league best +17 turnover margin. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so that’s not something the Ravens are necessarily going to be able to count on going forward, especially as their competition gets harder in the post-season. They rank just 10th in first down rate differential at 1.72%, despite the easy schedule. The Ravens are still a top-6 team in the AFC and a deserving playoff team, but if they were in the much tougher NFC and faced a tougher schedule, they’d probably be the 10th or 11th best team in the conference.

The good news for them is their schedule doesn’t get any harder this week, as the host the 3-11 Indianapolis Colts. As bad as the Colts’ record is, it’s arguable they are even worse than that suggests. Their 3 wins have come against the Browns, 49ers, and Texans, 3 of the worst teams in the league, by a combined 12 points, while their 11 losses have come by a combined 155 points. Their point differential at -143 is 2nd worst in the NFL, despite the fact that they actually have a positive turnover margin at +4. They enter this game dead last in first down rate differential at -6.84% and have a league high 5 losses in which they won the turnover margin. They have also lost safety Malik Hooker, cornerback Rashaan Melvin, outside linebacker John Simon, defensive end Henry Anderson, and left guard Jack Mewhort in the last couple months, so this team is even worse than they were earlier in the year.

The Ravens are in a good spot to cover because they have another relatively easy game on deck, with the Bengals coming to town next week. Favorites of 6+ are 72-43 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 6+ again, as superior teams tend to take care of business against inferior teams when they don’t have any upcoming distractions. Unfortunately, this line has strangely shot up from Baltimore -10 on the early line last week to Baltimore -13.5 this week, so we’re not getting any line value with the Ravens.

The Ravens easily could blow out the Colts like they have with several other bad teams, but their offense is mediocre, so I’m not confident that they can do that without winning the turnover battle, which is far from a guarantee. I have this line calculated at -11, so we’re actually getting some line value with the Colts. The Ravens are my pick for pick ‘em purposes because of the good spot they’re in, but I wouldn’t recommend betting either side.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Indianapolis Colts 10

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -13.5

Confidence: None

Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (4-9) at Indianapolis Colts (3-10)

Both of these teams have had tough seasons at 4-9 and 3-10 respectively. Despite their similar records, I have the Broncos ranked significantly higher than the Colts, who I think are a bottom-3 team. The Broncos have the 5th worst point differential at -86, but that’s still significantly better than the Colts, who rank 2nd worst at -131. That’s despite the fact that the Broncos rank 2nd worst in turnover margin at -14, while the Colts are actually at +3. Turnover margin tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Broncos should do better going forward in turnover margin, which should make a noticeable difference in the box score, while the best the Colts can probably hope for is maintaining their current margin.

The Broncos’ quarterback situation is so bad that they will probably continue throwing a lot of interceptions, but their talented defense only has 13 takeaways through 13 games, which will likely improve going forward. Denver’s defense enters this game 4th in first down rate allowed at 31.38%, so, while their defense hasn’t been as good as it has been in the past under Wade Phillips, it is still one of the best defenses in the league and easily the best unit in this game. Their offense is a problem, as they rank 29th in first down rate at 29.48%, but they are still significantly better in first down rate differential than the Colts, as they rank 23rd at -1.90%, while the Colts are dead last at -6.97%.

The Broncos also enter this game in a better injury situation, as the Colts have lost key contributors for the season like safety Malik Hooker, cornerback Rashaan Melvin, outside linebacker John Simon, defensive end Henry Anderson, and left guard Jack Mewhort, all of whom were big parts of this team in the middle of the season. The Broncos are missing some guys too, but enter this game with the clearly better roster. The Colts have only beaten the Browns, 49ers, and Texans, 3 of the worst teams in the league, this season. The Broncos are a step up in class.

The Colts are also in a terrible spot, playing on a short week after an overtime game. Teams are understandably just 3-22 ATS all-time with 4 days of rest or fewer after an overtime game, as long as they are not playing a team that is also coming off of an overtime game. The Colts just almost played the Bills to a tie in a blizzard, so they could definitely be flat for this one. This line is at 2.5 in favor of the visiting Broncos, so Denver basically just needs to win straight up (about 9% of games are decided by 2 points or fewer). Given that, I like the Broncos a lot this week, as they should be able to win, facing a weaker opponent that is dealing with tough circumstances. I like them a lot less if this line creeps up to 3, but this is a high confidence pick to start the week at 2.5.

Also, by request, I’m going to be posting lines I lock in early in the week during my Thursday Night writeups this season, so readers can lock them in before they move. These are not all my picks for the week, just picks where I think the line may move in an unfavorable direction (usually underdogs). The rest of the writeups will continue to be posted over the weekend as normal.


NE -2.5 @ PIT

Denver Broncos 19 Indianapolis Colts 13

Pick against the spread: Denver -2.5

Confidence: High

Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (3-9) at Buffalo Bills (6-6)

The Bills started 5-2, but have since fallen to 6-6. What happened? Well, this decline should have been expected, given how reliant they were on the turnover margin to win games early in the season. They started the season with a +14 turnover margin in their first 7 games, but turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so they were unlikely to be able to continue relying on that going forward. Sure enough, the Bills have a -8 turnover margin in their last 5 games and are 1-4 in those 5 games as a result.

The Bills are even worse than their 6-6 record too, as they have a point differential of -56, 9th worst in the NFL. Having a point differential that bad, despite still having a positive turnover margin at +6, is very rare. The Bills have struggled mightily to move the ball this season and to get off the field without forcing takeaways. They rank 29th in first down rate at 29.83%, 30th in first down rate allowed at 36.76%, and 31st in first down rate differential at -6.93%. The only team the Bills rank higher than in that metric are their opponents this week, the Indianapolis Colts, who rank dead last at -7.63%.

Making matters even worse for the Bills, they have to start rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman this week with Tyrod Taylor injured and he has struggled mightily in limited action this season, showing why he fell to the 5th round of the draft in April in the first place. The Colts are one of the worst teams in the league, especially with valuable players like left guard Jack Mewhort, defensive end Henry Anderson, outside linebacker John Simon, cornerback Rashaan Melvin, and safety Malik Hooker out for the season. However, I still have this line calculated at -3 with Peterman in the lineup because I have these two teams about even at the moment.

The Colts are also in a good spot in their second of two road games.  Teams typically do better in their second of two road games, as opposed to a single road game sandwiched between two home games. Teams are 256-274 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.89 points per game, as opposed to 379-523 straight up in a road game that’s sandwiched between two home games, getting outscored by an average of 2.94 points per game, a difference of about 2 points. Lines don’t really adjust for that, which can give us some good betting spots, especially with road underdogs off of a road loss, like the Colts are this week. Teams are 121-78 ATS since 2008 as road underdogs off of a road loss in their second of two road games.

The Colts are 3-9 with their only wins coming against the 49ers, Browns, and Texans, three of the worst teams in the league. However, the Bills are arguably just as bad as those teams right now, so the Colts have a chance to pull this upset straight up and, even if they don’t, we get a good cushion at +3.5, as about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. At the very least, I’m happy getting more than a field goal with the significantly better quarterback, which is what Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett is in this matchup with Peterman. The Colts are worth a small bet at 3.5.

Buffalo Bills 17 Indianapolis Colts 16

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (3-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (7-4)

The Jaguars lost last week in Arizona as 5 point road favorites, but it was a very close game that could have gone either way and the Jaguars still had a positive first down rate differential in the game, +4.78%. On the season, they rank 4th in first down rate differential at +4.76%. Part of that is because of their easy schedule, but they are a top-10 team because of their defense and running game. In a lot of ways, they remind me of the 2015 Denver Broncos. I’m not saying I’d pick them to win the Super Bowl, but I wouldn’t have picked the Broncos to win the Super Bowl in 2015 either. At the very least, the Jaguars will be a tough out in the first round of the playoffs.

The Jaguars return home this week and get another easy game with the Colts coming to town. While the Jaguars are a likely playoff team, the Colts are one of the worst teams in the league, as they rank in the bottom-5 in both my roster rankings and in first down rate differential. This line is pretty high at 9.5, but I have this line calculated at -13.5, so we’re still getting some line value with the Jaguars. I wish the Jaguars weren’t missing talented outside linebacker Telvin Smith, but they are deep enough at linebacker with Myles Jack and Paul Posluszny to get by. Even without Smith, this is still arguably the best defense in the NFL. The Colts, meanwhile, will be without starting center Ryan Kelly and top cornerback Rashaan Melvin. Jacksonville is worth a small bet as long as this line is below 10.

Jacksonville Jaguars 23 Indianapolis Colts 10

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville -9.5

Confidence: Medium

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (6-4) at Indianapolis Colts (3-7)

The Titans were 6.5 point favorites over the Colts on the early line last week, but this line has since moved to a field goal, as a result of Tennessee’s big blowout loss in Pittsburgh last week. I typically love betting against significant week-to-week line movements because they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play and that’s the case here as well. Tennessee obviously looked terrible last week, but they were on the road on a short week against one of the toughest teams in the league. Marcus Mariota threw a career high 4 interceptions, but he previously has never thrown more than 2 in a game and turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis anyway, so the Titans have a great chance to bounce back this week in a much easier matchup.

The Titans are still a borderline top-10 team in my rankings, while the Colts are one of the worst teams in the league. This line suggests these two teams are about 6 points apart, but I have them about 8.5-9 points apart, so I have this line calculated at -6, close to the early line last week. About 30% of games are decided by 3-6 points, so we’re getting significant line value with the Titans as mere 3 point favorites. At 3, this is my Pick of the Week. This line is at -3.5 in some places, but you can at least get -3 with extra juice everywhere. This could be a field goal game, so I would pay a little extra for the field goal protection if I had to.

Tennessee Titans 26 Indianapolis Colts 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3

Confidence: Pick of the Week