Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (9-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)

The Jaguars have the league’s worst record at 2-14 and are coming off of an embarrassing blowout defeat in New England last week, losing by a score of 50-10 in a game that was never competitive. However, there is reason to expect a lot better effort from the Jaguars this week. For one, they figure to be at least somewhat healthier, getting back starting right guard Ben Bartch, top cornerback Shaq Griffin, and starting edge defender Dawaune Smoot from COVID protocols, with starting left tackle Cam Robinson, stud starting center Brandon Linder, and starting safety Andrew Wingard possibly joining them.

Teams tend to bounce back well after a blowout loss anyway, as teams cover at a 56.3% rate all-time after a loss by 35 points or more. That is because teams tend to be highly motivated to bounce back from embarrassment, while opponents overlook them and oddsmakers and the public undervalue them based off of an overreaction to one big loss. That last part certainly seems to be the case here as the Jaguars have moved from being 8.5-point home underdogs on the early line last week to now being 15.5 point home underdogs, even with the Colts disappointing last week in a loss as big home favorites against the Raiders.

The Jaguars are inarguably one of the worst teams in the league, but the Colts are not a good enough team to be favored by this many points on the road against anyone. The Colts have a better point differential (+101) than their 9-7 record suggests, but they have also benefited from an easy schedule and a +16 turnover margin, which is not a predictive metric, while ranking just 12th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which is based on more predictive metrics like yards per play and first down rate. 

There is some uncertainty in this game with the Jaguars having the three aforementioned key players in the COVID protocols, while stud Colts’ interior defender DeForest Buckner is highly questionable after not practicing all week, but even in the best case scenario for the Colts, my calculated line is just Indianapolis -10.5, while my calculated line in the best case for the Jaguars is Indianapolis -9, so we’re getting significant line value with the Jaguars either way. Because of that, I want to lock this in now and it’s possible I increase this bet later this weekend depending on who plays and where the line settles.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 13

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +15.5

Confidence: Medium

Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) at Indianapolis Colts (9-6)

The Colts have two key questionable players for this game, with starting quarterback Carson Wentz and stud right tackle Braden Smith still yet to clear COVID protocols. This line favors the Colts by 7.5, suggesting the oddsmakers expect at least Wentz to play in this game, as this line would likely drop significantly if he were ruled out and backup Sam Ehlinger had to start. I think we are getting line value with the Raiders at that number even if Wentz and Smith play though, as my calculated line with Wentz and Smith favors the Colts by just 4.5 points (3 points with only Wentz). 

At first glance, a 7.5-point spread seems fair, given that the Raiders have a +71 point differential and the Colts have a +104 point differential, but these two teams are much more even than that suggests. While the Colts have faced a relatively easy schedule and have benefited significantly from a +14 turnover margin, which is not a predictive metric, the Raiders have faced a tougher schedule and have a -9 turnover margin. The Raiders also have largely underperformed on third and fourth downs relative to their early down performance, which tends to even out in the long run. 

The Raiders rank 14th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 7th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, but are just 26th and 14th respectively in third and fourth down conversion percentage and just 24th and 31st respectively in both third and fourth down conversion percentage allowed. In terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the Raiders rank 11th overall, actually slightly ahead of the 12th ranked Colts.

The Raiders haven’t been as good on offense since losing top wide receiver Henry Ruggs and stud tight end Darren Waller, but they haven’t been bad on offense either and still have an above average defense, while the Colts will at least be without left tackle Eric Fisher this week. I want to lock this in right now because it sounds like the Raiders will get their key COVID questionables (Casey Hayward, KJ Wright, Darius Philon, Denzel Perryman, and Cory Littleton) back today, while Wentz and Smith are truly questionable, so I don’t expect this line to get any higher. Unless the Raiders don’t get those players back, the highest my calculated line would go is 4.5 and, if Wentz and Smith are both out, I would have the Raiders favored by 1.5 points. This is a high confidence pick and a Pick of the Week candidate.

Update: Wentz and Smith are playing for the Colts, but I don’t have any regrets about making this a high confidence pick, as the Raiders will have all of their COVID questionables available for this game.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Las Vegas Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: Las Vegas +7.5

Confidence: High

Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (8-6) at Arizona Cardinals (10-4)

The Cardinals started the season 7-0 and survived a 3-game stretch without quarterback Kyler Murray in which they went 2-1, but since Murray has returned from injury, I have thought the Cardinals are an overrated team. The Cardinals may have gone 2-1 without Murray, but they managed just an even point differential against a relatively easy schedule and seemed to be missing top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and top interior defender JJ Watt arguably even more than they were missing Murray, whose replacement Colt McCoy was largely a steady hand for the 3-game stretch. 

Murray returned from his injury three games ago, but Watt and Hopkins have remained out indefinitely, which makes them significantly less talented than they were during their hot start to the season. The Cardinals have also benefited significantly from winning the turnover margin, ranking 4th in the NFL with a +10 turnover margin, which is not a predictive metric week-to-week. Yards per play and first down rate differential are much more predictive and in terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, the Cardinals have never been as impressive as their record, currently ranking 9th in the NFL overall, while ranking 10th, 19th, and 12th respectively on offense, defense, and special teams.

The Cardinals being overrated after Murray’s return has proven to be the case, as they have covered in just one of three games since his return and that was an 11-point win as 7.5-point favorites over the Bears, in a game in which they won the turnover battle by 4 and likely would not have covered if one or two of those turnovers did not happen. The Cardinals’ recent rough patch culminated in an embarrassing double digit loss to the previously 1-win Lions last week, losing 30-12 as 12.5-point favorites.

That result will likely prove to be more of a fluke than anything though and, in the wake of that loss, the Cardinals may actually be a little underrated now. A week ago on the early line, the Cardinals were favored by 5 points in this matchup with the Colts, but the line has since shifted all the way down to 1.5 points. Teams tend to cover after a big upset loss like that, covering at a 57.4% rate after a loss as favorites of 10 points or more, as teams tend to be much more focused as a result of the embarrassment and also tend to be undervalued. The latter is definitely true for the Cardinals this week, while the former is likely to be true as well.

The Colts did have an impressive victory over the Patriots last week, but that was a game in which they lost the first down rate and yards per play battle despite being slightly favored, so that should not have triggered that big of a line shift, especially since the Colts have since lost both of their talented starting guards to COVID protocols, meaning they will be down three of five starters on an offensive line that normally would be the strength of this roster. Even though I don’t think the Cardinals are quite as good as their record, my calculated line still has them favored by a field goal over the short-handed Colts, so we are getting line value with the Cardinals at -1.5. It’s not enough to bet on them, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Update: Unfortunately for the Colts, stud linebacker Darius Leonard tested positive before the game and won’t be able to play. This is obviously a huge loss and pushes my calculated line up to Arizona -5.5, but the line has also shifted to Arizona -3 and I don’t think there’s enough line value for this to be worth betting. I may reconsider before gametime, especially if the line drops back down under 3, but for now I’m keeping this as low confidence.

Arizona Cardinals 26 Indianapolis Colts 20

Pick against the spread: Arizona -3

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (9-4) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

The Patriots are not only on a seven game winning streak right now, but they also have covered in all seven games by at least a touchdown, a significant feat that has not happened in at least three decades, which shows they have been consistently underrated. I think that remains the case as the Patriots, who lead the league in point differential at +150 and could easily be 11-2 or 12-1 right now if their offensive line was healthy at the beginning of the season, are 2.5-point underdogs in Indianapolis against the Colts, suggesting these two teams are seen as about even.

The Colts are also better than their record at 7-6, also in large part due to their offensive line getting healthy. They started 0-3 with two multi-score losses, but since then they are 7-3 with all three losses coming by one score to likely playoff qualifiers and six of their seven wins coming by double digits, leading to them having a point differential of +88 that ranks 7th in the NFL. However, they have played an easier schedule overall than the Patriots and are just 2-4 against teams with a winning record, while the Patriots are 4-2 and possess a significant edge in point differential even with a tougher schedule. In terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the Patriots rank 3rd, while the Colts rank 12th, with about five points separating the two. 

My calculated line has the Patriots favored by a field goal, so we’re getting significant line value with the Patriots as 2.5-point underdogs. In most weeks, this wouldn’t be my Pick of the Week, but, in looking at the rest of the games this week, I don’t expect to like a side more than New England, given all of the COVID uncertainty. The Eagles and Raiders were sides I liked earlier in the week, but it’s tough to know what to make of those games now, with their opponents missing half their roster, the games being rescheduled, and the lines getting taken off the board. 

I will do my picks as normal tomorrow, but I don’t anticipate locking in many, if any other bets before Sunday morning, due to the likelihood of gametime COVID absences, and even then I don’t see myself liking many sides enough to bet on them. The only reason I am locking this one in now is because it’s my Pick of the Week and because, thus far, both teams have been minimally affected by COVID absences this week and are unlikely to have a significant gameday outbreak tomorrow for this Saturday Night Football game. 

New England Patriots 26 Indianapolis Colts 23 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: New England +2.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Houston Texans (2-9)

The Texans shockingly pulled the upset over the Titans in Tennessee two weeks ago, but that was a fluke win driven by a +5 turnover margin, which is not predictive. In more predictive metrics, the Titans won the first down rate and yards per play battle by significant amounts and likely would have won by multiple scores if not for all of the turnovers, despite the fact that the Titans are a middling team at best without Derrick Henry. The Texans’ only other win came against the lowly Jaguars, all the way back in week 1, when the Texans had a healthier offensive line. 

In all of their other games, the Texans have lost, in many cases by a wide margin. Six of their nine losses have come by double digits and they have an average margin of defeat of 17 points per game. That martin of defeat would be even higher if the Patriots weren’t missing most of their offensive line in their 3-point win, a game in which the Patriots still won the first down rate battle by 8.67%, and if the Texans hadn’t scored 22 meaningless garbage points against the Rams in a game in which they were down 38-0 going into the 4th quarter. In schedule adjusted efficiency, the Texans rank 32nd, 26th, and 22nd on offense, defense, and special teams respectively, with a mixed efficiency that not only ranks dead last in the lineup, but by six points behind the next worst team.

The Texans have been better since getting quarterback Tyrod Taylor back from injury, replacing raw rookie Davis Mills under center, and they have not lost by double digits with him in the lineup, but he’s only played four full games and the Colts are the toughest team he has faced thus far. The Colts are just 6-6, but their +57 point differential is much better than their record (7th best in the NFL) and they haven’t lost by more than one score since the first three weeks of the season, when they were dealing with significant injury issues, with their two best offensive linemen (Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith) and quarterback Carson Wentz playing at much less than 100%. All three are healthy now.

On top of that, all of the Colts losses since their injury plagued 0-3 start have been to teams likely to make the post-season and all three were winnable, while their easiest four games have all resulted in wins, by an average of 14.8 points per game. In schedule adjusted efficiency, the Colts rank 7th, 27th, and 4th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and, now healthier, they are an even better team than their 12th ranked mixed efficiency suggests. They should be able to win by multiple scores against the Texans, even in Houston, even with the Texans having Tyrod Taylor back.

Unfortunately, we have lost a lot of line value in the past week, with the Colts going from 7-point favorites on the early line to 10-point favorites this week. It’s not even really clear why, as the Texans lost to the Jets by one score as small favorites and the Colts lost to the Buccaneers by one score as small underdogs. It’s possible the odds makers and the public just realized that seven was a bad line and that the Texans’ win over the Titans was a complete fluke, but either way, we have lost significant line value. My calculated line has the Colts favored by 12.5, so we are still getting some line value, but I would need this line to drop back down below 10 to consider betting on the Colts. This should be a blowout, but I need a little bit better of a line to be confident betting on it.

Indianapolis Colts 30 Houston Texans 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -10

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) at Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

The Colts are getting some hype after last week’s upset win in Buffalo, a blowout victory on the road against a team that was previously seen by many as the best team in the AFC, and it’s not hard to understand why. In addition to last week’s big win, the Colts have also won six of their past eight games, since an injury plagued 0-3 start, with their two losses both coming in overtime against likely playoff teams in the Titans and Ravens. They also have another one-score loss against a likely playoff team from earlier in the season, when they lost to the Rams by a field goal, and overall, they haven’t lost by double digits since week one.

However, that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. For one, even with those aforementioned games against the Titans, Ravens, Rams, and Bills, the Colts have still faced one of the easiest schedules in the league, with four of their six wins coming against the Jets, Texans, Jaguars, and Dolphins, who are all among the worst teams in the league. They have also had unsustainable success in the turnover margin, leading the league by a wide margin at +15, in large part due to their easy schedule. 

Turnover margin is one of the least predictive metrics in the league and, in terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which are based on more predictive metrics like first down rate and turnover margin, the Colts rank 11th, 26th, 5th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and 15th in overall mixed efficiency. The Colts are better than that on offense with quarterback Carson Wentz over the early season injuries that limited him, their two best offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith back from injury, and starting wide receiver TY Hilton back as well, but they still aren’t quite the contender that the public seems to think they are.

The Colts schedule continues to be tougher this week with the Buccaneers coming to town and, even if turnover margins were somewhat predictive, it would be hard to see the Colts having the same sort of success in the turnover battle in this matchup against the Buccaneers as they did in matchups against the worst teams in the league. The Buccaneers have a +5 turnover margin on the year, but, more importantly, they also rank 2nd, 8th, 23rd, and 1st in offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively. The Buccaneers are also in a good spot, coming off of a Monday Night Football win by 20+ points, a spot in which teams cover at a 59.9% rate all-time, while the Colts could be a little flat after playing their best game of the season last week and winning in Buffalo in upset fashion.

I am going to be picking the Buccaneers for pick ‘em purposes regardless, but depending on the status of some of Tampa Bay’s questionable players, I may end up betting on them. The Buccaneers will be without guard Ali Marpet, one of the best players in the league at his position, which will be a big absence, but their defense could get defensive tackle Vita Vea back from a one-game absence and cornerback Carlton Davis back from a 6-game absence, which would more than offset the loss of Marpet on offense. For now, I am leaving this as a low confidence pick, but if there is good injury news and the line stays put, I will update this pick.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 Indianapolis Colts 24

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -3

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (5-5) at Buffalo Bills (6-3)

The Bills don’t have the best record in the league at 6-3, but they lead the league in point differential by a wide margin at +145, as all three of their losses have come by just one score, while their six wins have come by an average of 26.2 points per game, with none coming by fewer than 15 points. Normally, this would be a sign that the Bills will win at a higher rate going forward, as their record in close games starts to even out, but the Bills have also faced by far the easiest schedule in the league. Six of their nine games have come against teams with three wins or fewer and the Bills are just 1-2 in their other three games.

There are still a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Bills, who rank 1st and 3rd respectively in defensive and special teams efficiency, even when schedule is taken into account, and are more talented on offense than their 12th place rank in efficiency suggests, but they face a much tougher test than they are used to this week, with the Colts coming to town. The Colts are just 5-5, but that still gives them the 4th best record of any of the Bills’ opponents this season and they are even better than their record suggests.

The Colts have also faced a relatively easy schedule, but they have still faced a tougher schedule than the Bills and they have a +38 point differential, 9th in the NFL, despite suffering through some early season injuries, including the extended absence of their two best offensive linemen Braden Smith and Quenton Nelson and an ankle injury that limited quarterback Carson Wentz for several weeks. The Colts average margin of victory has been 14.2 points per game, while their five losses have all come against 2020 playoff qualifiers, including a pair of overtime losses, a loss by a field goal, a 9-point loss in a game in which Wentz was far from 100%, and a 12-point loss in week one.

We’re not getting a ton of line value with the Colts at +7.5 and I’m hesitant to bet big against a team who has so many blowout victories on the season, but we’re still getting some line value with the Colts, who should be able to at least keep this game close like most of their games, while giving the Bills a much tougher test than most of the teams that have the Bills blown out. The Colts are also in a better spot, with the Bills having to play again in four days on Thursday Night Football, a situation in which favorites cover at just a 40.7% rate all-time. This isn’t a big play and I wouldn’t take the Colts at +7, but if you can find a good +7.5, they are worth a bet.

Buffalo Bills 23 Indianapolis Colts 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +7.5

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 10 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) at Indianapolis Colts (4-5)

The Jaguars shockingly pulled the 9-6 upset as 15-point home underdogs against the Bills last week. Normally, that would put them in a bad spot this week, as teams cover at just a 40.9% rate all-time after a win as home underdogs of 5 or more. However, that is because teams tend to be overvalued and/or flat in that spot and I don’t know if either of those will be the case this week. 

I was expecting the Jaguars’ win last week to shift this line significantly, but the Jaguars are still 10-point underdogs, a week after being underdogs of 10.5 points on the early line last week, so they’re not overvalued. On top of that, it’s possible they could still bring a high level of intensity and focus even after last week’s win because they are once again big underdogs and, this time around, facing a divisional opponent.

The Colts are also in a bad spot, as big home favorites before a much tougher game next week in Buffalo. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 43.7% rate before facing an opponent whose winning percentage is at least 40% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage and that applies to the Colts this week. With that in mind, I am actually taking the Jaguars this week, albeit for a low confidence pick. Even if both teams are in bad spots, I think we are getting a little bit of line value with the Jaguars, as I have them calculated as 8.5-point underdogs.

The Colts four wins have all come by double digits, their point differential (+32) suggests they’ve been better than their record, and they are healthier than they were early in the season, but they also have benefited from the 2nd best turnover margin in the league at +10, which is unlikely to continue, and they rank just 12th, 22nd, and 18th respectively in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency. The Jaguars rank 18th, 28th, and 25th, but have been a little better in recent weeks and are the better side for pick ’em purposes as underdogs of this many points.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +10

Confidence: Low

New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

New York Jets (2-4) at Indianapolis Colts (3-5)

Neither of these two teams are in a good spot this week. The Jets are coming off of a surprising upset victory over the Bengals as 11-point home underdogs, winning their first game with backup quarterback Mike White under center, but the Jets were in a great spot last week, embarrassed after a blowout in New England the week before, facing a Bengals team that was in a trap game spot between a big upset of the Ravens the previous week and another big divisional game against the Browns on deck, meaning they were likely to overlook a 1-win team starting a backup quarterback.

This week, the Colts will have more tape on Mike White than the Bengals did a week ago and the Jets win last week also puts them in a bad spot this week, as teams tend to be flat after a big home upset victory, covering at just a 41.1% rate all-time after a win as home underdogs of 5 points or more. The Jets had a similar situation earlier this year, pulling a home upset victory over the Titans as 6-point underdogs, only to be mostly uncompetitive against a mediocre at best Falcons team the following week.

Making matters worse, Mike White and the Jets will have to go on the road to face a solid Colts team on a short week. It tends to be very tough for a team to go on the road and face a superior team out of the division on a short week and, as a result, non-divisional road underdogs cover at just a 35.0% rate on a short week, with that percentage dropping to 27.5% as underdogs of 7 points or more. The Colts are just 3-5, but they are much better than their record, as all three of their wins have come by double digits, while three of their five losses have come by one score against teams that currently have two losses or fewer (Rams, Ravens, Titans). 

Of the Colts’ two losses by more than one score, one was a competitive 9-point loss, also against the Titans, in a game that could have been even more competitive had Colts quarterback Carson Wentz not been playing with two sprained ankles, which he has since healed from, while their other double digit defeat was back in week one. The Colts also were without their top two offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith for 4 games and 6 games respectively and have seen them return from those injuries in the past couple weeks, though Nelson remains at less than 100%. Despite the Colts’ underwhelming record, it will be tough for the Jets to come on the road and be competitive with them on a short week.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting any line value with the Colts, who are favored by 10.5 points, despite still missing some regular contributors on both sides of the ball. The Colts are also in a terrible spot because their loss to the Titans last week came in overtime, putting them in a near impossible spot on a short week, with teams historically covering just 6 times out of 34 on Thursday Night Football after an overtime contest the week before. 

As bad of a spot as the Jets are in, the Colts are in an even worse spot and, if anything, we’re actually getting some line value with the Jets, who I have calculated as 10-point underdogs. White is likely to struggle much more than he did a week ago, but he could still be the Jets’ best quarterback, so the Jets don’t like as bad of a bet as they did a few weeks ago. There are too many conflicting things going on in this game to bet on the Jets confidently, but they are the better side for pick ’em purposes as they are in the slightly better spot and are getting a little bit of line value.

Indianapolis Colts 24 New York Jets 16

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +10.5

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (5-3) at Indianapolis Colts (3-4)

I was hoping we would get some value with the Colts this week, facing the Titans, who are coming off of upset home victories over the Bills and Chiefs, previously considered the two best teams in the AFC. The Titans played well in those two games, but this could be a let down spot against a team they have already beaten, with another tough game on deck against the Rams. Teams cover at just a 43.5% rate all-time after a home upset victory as underdogs of 4 points or more and the Titans are coming off two such games. 

This is also still the same Titans team that was blown out by the Cardinals and that lost in overtime to the Jets for the Jets’ only victory of the season, so it’s not hard to see how the Titans could struggle in a rematch with the Colts, who they only beat by nine at home in Tennessee in a game in which the Colts had Carson Wentz playing through two bad ankles, without his two best offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith and top wide receiver TY Hilton. 

Wentz has gotten healthy and is playing at a high level and he will have Nelson, Smith, and Hilton together for the first time all season this week, after they missed an average of five of the Colts first seven games. Despite those injuries, the Colts have been better than their 3-4 record through seven games, winning all three games by multiple scores, but losing two of their four losses by one score, against among the best teams in the league in Ravens and Rams. Unfortunately, the public and the oddsmakers seem to recognize that the Colts are better than their record, leading to them being favored by a field goal at home, suggesting they are actually seen as the slightly better of these two teams. 

My calculated line has the Colts favored by just a point, so we’re actually getting some line value with the Titans. The Colts being favored also puts them in a bad spot, as favorites tend to disappoint before a short week, covering at a 41.9% rate before a Thursday game, and the Colts face the Jets on Thursday Night Football next week. That might not affect the Colts since they have a worse record and have lost to the Titans already this season, but it’s another reason not to take the Colts. There isn’t enough here for either side to be bettable, but I am taking the Titans at +3, as they still have a good chance to win outright and, if not, they have a good chance to at least push this number.

Indianapolis Colts 27 Tennessee Titans 26

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3

Confidence: Low