Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (8-5) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

The Cowboys are obviously better offensively since acquiring wide receiver Amari Cooper, who has revitalized his career in Dallas, helping the Cowboys win 5 straight games and take control of the NFC East. I expect that streak to end this week though. Coming off of a huge upset win over the Saints and an overtime win over the Eagles that essentially clinched the division, the Cowboys probably won’t bring the same effort this week, especially since they’re basically locked into the #4 seed in the NFC, needing the Bears to lose twice in three games to have a chance to jump them.

Their seeding might be part of the reason why the Cowboys are resting right guard Zach Martin this week, as the All-Pro has dealt with injuries to both knees this season. That’s a huge loss, especially for an offensive line that could also sit left tackle Tyron Smith, who is also dealing with multiple injuries and did not practice in full this week. On defense, the Cowboys could hold out linebacker Sean Lee again, after he was limited all week in practice as well, and even if he does he play he’d likely have a limited role. They’ll also be without edge rush specialist Randy Gregory for personal reasons, also a big loss the way he’s been playing.

The Colts have injury issues as well, with left tackle Mark Glowinski and possibly safety Clayton Geathers and wide receiver TY Hilton out this week with injuries. They’ve had injury issues all season though and, if Hilton can play as a gametime decision, they’ll actually be much healthier this week than they have been for much of the season. Center Ryan Kelly is the most recent player to return to the lineup and he’ll be a big re-addition after a 3-game absence.

Despite injuries, the Colts have been better than their 7-6 record this season, as they rank 11th in point differential at +49 and 7th in first down rate differential at 3.39%. Injuries were part of the reason why they started 1-5, but they’ve since won 6 of 7 games. They are +12 in offensive touchdowns, as opposed to +2 for Dallas, and have 4 wins by more than a touchdown, as opposed to just 1 for Dallas.

The Colts haven’t faced the toughest schedule, but they’re still the 2nd toughest team the Cowboys have faced on their winning streak, outside of the Saints, who it took an incredible effort to beat in Dallas. In a much less meaningful game, out of conference, at much less than 100%, I don’t expect that same effort this week from the Cowboys. This is a medium confidence pick for now, but if Hilton plays and the line stays at -3, I’ll bump this up to high confidence.

Sunday Update: As promised, I’m bumping this up to high confidence with TY Hilton active and the line remaining at 3. The Cowboys got good news Sunday morning as well, with Tyron Smith, Sean Lee, and Randy Gregory active, but the Colts also have Clayton Geathers active and are as healthy as they’ve been all season with Hilton, Geathers, and Ryan Kelly active. The Cowboys, meanwhile, will be without stud right guard Zack Martin in a game that doesn’t mean as much for them as it does for the Colts.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Dallas Cowboys 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -3

Confidence: High

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Houston Texans (9-3)

Injuries have been the story this season for the Colts. They started out the season as arguably the most injury plagued team in the league and went 1-5 as a result, but then they ripped off 5 straight wins, before injuries started to pile up again. That winning streak ended in Jacksonville last week in a 6-0 loss and, though the Colts did win the first down rate battle by 6.39% in that one, the Colts injury situation gets even worse this week, just in time for a key matchup against the division leading Texans. Center Ryan Kelly and tight end Jack Doyle remain out and defensive tackles Margus Hunt and Denico Autry and top receiver TY Hilton are all highly questionable, after barely practicing this week.

It’s a shame because if they were healthy I’d be all over the Colts as 4.5-point road underdogs here in Houston. The Texans beat the Colts in Indianapolis earlier this season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to cover or even win this week. In fact, divisional home favorites are just 41-68 ATS since 2002 against teams they’ve previously beaten that season as divisional road underdogs and they only have a 55% winning percentage, despite being favored by 5.1 points on average.

The Texans are 9-3, but they haven’t really been blowing teams out, with an average margin of victory of 9.11 points per game and 4 wins by 3 points or fewer. The Colts are only 6-6, but their average margin of victory is 15.33 points per game and they’re only slightly behind the Texans in point differential (+67 vs. +46), despite being 3 games behind them in the standings. In terms of first down rate differential, the Colts are actually ahead of the Texans, ranking 7th at +3.73%, while the Texans are 12th at +2.23%. The Texans have a slight edge in strength of schedule, as the Colts have played one of the easiest schedules in the league, but if the Colts were healthy I’d have this line calculated at Houston -3 at the most. At less than 100%, we’re not getting the same line value, but they still seem like the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Final Update: TY Hilton, Margus Hunt, and Denico Autry are all active, but the line is still Indianapolis +4. Ryan Kelly is still a big loss upfront for the Colts, but they have a +13 offensive touchdown margin on the season (as opposed to +1 for the Texans), despite being banged up for much of the year. Even without Kelly, they are still healthier than they’ve been for most of the season. I like getting more than a field goal with them in a divisional revenge game.

Houston Texans 24 Indianapolis Colts 23

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +4

Confidence: Medium

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (6-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8)

This is a tough one. On one hand, we’ve lost a lot of line value with the Colts. The Jaguars were just 2.5-point home underdogs against the Colts on the early line last week and -2.5 road underdogs in Indianapolis a few weeks ago (in a game they ended up only losing by 3), but now they are -4.5 point home underdogs. The Jaguars have had a disappointing season, but they’re better than their 3-8 record suggests, as their defense is still one of the best in the league, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed at 33.58%.

It’s not quite as dominant as it was last year and it certainly hasn’t played well enough to compensate for their offense, but they still rank a respectable 19th in first down rate differential at -1.49%. Their record looks worse than they’ve played because they are just 1-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less and because they have one of the worst turnover margins in the league at -11. Both of those metrics tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and year-to-year basis though, especially turnover margin.

Case in point, these Jaguars had a -16 turnover margin in 2016 and then a +10 turnover margin in 2017 before this season’s struggles in that department. The Jaguars have also played a much tougher schedule than the Colts. Their opponents are a combined 52% on the season, as opposed to 45% for the Colts. The Jaguars obviously lost in Buffalo last week, but they were in a tough spot, sandwiched between a home game against the Steelers and this home game against the Colts. Now against a hated divisional foe, they’ll probably bring more effort and they kept it close against the Steelers the last time they did that.

On the other hand, the Jaguars have lost so much on offense this year and are starting mediocre backup quarterback Cody Kessler under center, having seen enough of Blake Bortles’ turnover proneness. Kessler is less turnover prone, but he really struggles to make plays downfield because of his lack of arm strength and he’s shown himself to be very injury prone thus far in his career.

Kessler’s supporting cast is also as bad as it gets, as the Jaguars are without running back Leonard Fournette with a suspension and added talented left guard Andrew Norwell to injured reserve this week, joining their top-3 offensive tackles, their top-3 tight ends, talented center Brandon Linder, and #1 receiver Marqise Lee on the sidelines. I can’t take the Colts with any confidence because we’re not getting a good line, but it’s the Colts or nothing this week, as the Jaguars are currently one of the worst teams in the NFL.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -4.5

Confidence: None

Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (5-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-5)

The Dolphins are 5-5, but they’ve been much worse than their record. While all 5 of their wins have come by 8 points or fewer, their 5 losses have all come by double digits, giving them a -57 point differential in the season, 5th worst in the NFL. In terms of first down rate differential, they are even worse, ranking 30th at -5.47%, only ahead of the Cardinals and Bills. They get quarterback Ryan Tannehill back healthy this week, but backup Brock Osweiler was not much a downgrade from him and there’s no guarantee he’s 100% after missing over a month with a shoulder injury.

The Colts are also 5-5, but they’ve been much better. They rank 8th in point differential at +49 and 8th in first down rate differential at +3.09%. They’ve also been much better over the past few weeks, after an injury plagued start to the season, winning 4 straight games by a combined 77 points and playing at a legitimately high level. Four of their five wins have come by more than a touchdown and they should be able to hand the Dolphins their 6th multiscore loss. I think we lost some line value when the Colts blew out the Titans last week (I can’t tell for sure because this line was off last week because of Tannehill’s uncertainty) and I wish we were getting a better line like -7, but I have this line calculated at Indianapolis -12, so we’re still getting line value with the Colts, who remain underrated despite their recent strong play.

Indianapolis Colts 31 Miami Dolphins 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -7.5

Confidence: Medium

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

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

A week ago, both of these teams were high on my underrated list. The Colts are much healthier after being one of the most injury plagued teams in the league for the first half of the season and have a positive point differential and first down rate differential, despite a losing record, while the Titans now have a capable offense to complement their strong defense, with quarterback Marcus Mariota returning to form after suffering an elbow injury week 1 that limited him for most of the first half of the season.

The Colts were only 2.5-point favorites against the Jaguars last week, so I made a big play on them. The final margin was only 3 points, but they jumped out to a big first half lead, overall won the first down rate battle by 3.40%, and could easily have better days ahead with their roster close to full strength. Because the final score was not that impressive, the Colts remain an underrated team and could easily be one of the better teams in the AFC from here on out. Andrew Luck looks as good as he ever has, while their offensive line, running game, and defense have all been pleasant surprises this year, after years of struggling in those aspects of the game. On the season, they rank 14th in first down rate differential at +1.13% and they are now as healthy as they’ve been all year.

On the other side, I did not pick the Titans last week because it’s typically not a good idea to bet against the Patriots once they get on a mid-season roll, but the Titans were able to overcome that and pull off a shocking blowout upset victory. Despite beating the Patriots, I still think the Titans are an underrated team, as much of the conversation around that game is about how the sky is supposedly falling for New England, rather than about how the Titans are legitimate contenders with a healthy Mariota. Their defense ranks 5th in the NFL, allowing opponents to pick up a first down or touchdown on just 32.55% of their snaps, and so they could easily be a very dangerous team in the second half of the season if they get even decent play from their offense.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost line value with the Titans in the past week, as obviously their home upset win over the Patriots got a lot more attention than the Colts’ win over the Jaguars. Favored by a field goal a week ago, the Colts are now just 2-point favorites, a big shift, considering 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. Now as 2-point favorites, the Colts basically just have to win at home to cover this line.

I have these two teams about even (the Titans are one spot higher in my roster rankings), so we’re getting some line value with the Colts. The Colts are also in a better spot, as the Titans could be a little flat after such a big victory last week (teams are 38-50 ATS since 2002 after a home win as underdogs of 6+). That being said, there isn’t enough here for the Colts to be worth betting against a good Tennessee team. The most likely outcome here is an Indianapolis win by a field goal, but Tennessee pulling out the minor “upset” is certainly a strong possibility as well.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Tennessee Titans 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -2

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts: 2018 Week 10 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5) at Indianapolis Colts (3-5)

The Colts are high on my underrated list coming out of their bye. They are just 3-5, but they are positive in both point differential (+18) and first down rate differential (+0.91%), despite being arguably the most injury plagued team in the league in the first half of the season. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo, running back Marlon Mack, tight end Jack Doyle, wide receivers TY Hilton and Ryan Grant, safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers, cornerbacks Nate Hairston and Kenny Moore, defensive linemen Margus Hunt, Denico Autry, and Tyquan Lewis, and linebacker Darius Leonard have all missed time with injury so far this season, but this week the only player of note on the Colts’ injury report is Mike Mitchell, who is no longer needed with Geathers healthy. As long as they stay healthy, this is a playoff caliber team and should play like one for the second half of the season, even if they ultimately end up not being able to make it into the playoff picture after a slow start.

On the other side, the Jaguars have had an incredibly disappointing season, given their pre-season expectations. Some expect their offense to be noticeably improved with running back Leonard Fournette finally returning from injury, but the running game hasn’t been their problem (4.25 yards per carry on the season). Blake Bortles has regressed after a decent season in 2017 and he gets little help from his receiving corps and offensive line, the latter of which has struggled mightily to pass protect with their 3rd string left tackle forced into action due to injury. Their defense has still played well, but not as well as last season and they are missing cornerback AJ Bouye and possibly linebacker Telvin Smith for this one, after being one of the healthiest defenses in the league in 2017.

The Jaguars are a significant step below the Colts right now, but this line is not indicative of that, as the general public hasn’t paid much attention to the Colts’ rapidly improving injury situation. After opening at -3.5, this line has dropped to -3 and even -2.5 in some places. Three is an incredibly key number (about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal), so 2.5 is a much more valuable line, even if you have to pay a little extra juice. Even at -3, the Colts are a smart pick this week, as they should be favored by at least a touchdown here at home.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -2.5

Confidence: High

Indianapolis Colts at Oakland Raiders: 2018 Week 8 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (2-5) at Oakland Raiders (1-5)

This game had the most significant line movement of the week, as the Raiders went from 1.5 point favorites on the early line last week to 3 point home underdogs this week. The Raiders didn’t even have a game last week, but the Colts looked impressive in a 37-5 win over the Bills and are arguably as healthy as they’ve been all season. They got left tackle Anthony Castonzo back three weeks ago, running back Marlon Mack back two weeks ago, and wide receiver TY Hilton and defensive tackle Margus Hunt back last week, and now they get defensive tackle Denico Autry and tight end Jack Doyle back. They remain without safety Clayton Geathers and wide receiver Ryan Grant, while defensive tackle Jihad Ward and safety Malik Hooker will join them on the sidelines this week, but they are still in much better shape injury wise than they were a few weeks ago.

That line movement was also partially because of the Amari Cooper trade, with the Raiders sending Cooper to the Cowboys for a first round pick. It’s not so much about what they lose with Cooper on the field, as Cooper has been very inconsistent for the last year and a half, but the locker room situation in Oakland does not sound good, with multiple players coming forward and anonymously criticizing the coaching staff and management for not being upfront with them about the trades of star players, with one player saying that it feels like anyone could be traded in the next week. That doesn’t sound like an environment that is going to get the best results on the football field, especially when their talent level is mediocre to begin with. We’re not getting good line value with the Colts as field goal favorites on the road, but the Raiders might be unbettable this week.

Indianapolis Colts 31 Oakland Raiders 27

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -3

Confidence: None