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

Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts: 2018 Week 7 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (2-4) at Indianapolis Colts (1-5)

After being blown out in the first two weeks of the season by a combined 55 points against the Ravens and Chargers, the Bills have played better football in recent weeks, going 3-1 ATS, pulling off two upset victories (@ Minnesota and vs. Tennessee) and nearly pulling off a third last week in Houston. The defense has been the reason for their improvement and they are now up to 12th in first down rate allowed at 35.45%.

That’s about where the good news ends for the Bills though. Even with an improved defense, the Bills have yet to win the first down rate battle in any of their 6 games, even their two wins, and they rank dead last in first down rate differential at -10.31%. The defense has been solid, but the offense has been horrendous, ranking dead last in first down rate, picking up a first down or touchdown on just 25.14% of offensive snaps.

Making matters worse offensively, the Bills lost starting quarterback Josh Allen for an extended period of time with an elbow injury. Allen was not playing well before the injury, but this offense’s problems go far beyond the quarterback position and, thanks to their bizarre pre-season trade of AJ McCarron to the Raiders for a 5th round pick, the Bills are completely without an even remotely capable backup. Second year quarterback Nathan Peterman has not resembled an NFL quarterback in limited action thus far in his career, so the Bills will have to turn to veteran Derek Anderson, who is 35 years old, hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2010, and just arrived in Buffalo last week. He’ll likely get better as he spends more time with his new teammates, but if Anderson is an upgrade over Peterman this week, it’ll only be by default.

Despite the Allen injury, this line barely moved from last week to this week, as the Colts were 5.5 point favorites on the early line and are now favored by a touchdown. The Colts have injury problems too, but they’ve had them for most of the season and they are actually getting healthier, with left tackle Anthony Castonzo returning two weeks ago against New England, running back Marlon Mack returning last week, and wide receiver TY Hilton and defensive tackle Margus Hunt returning this week.

The Colts are still missing key players like tight end Jack Doyle and defensive tackle Denico Autry, but even without those two I still have this line calculated at Indianapolis -10, so we’re getting good line value with the Colts at -7. The Colts are just 1-5 on the season, but 3 of the 5 losses came by 8 points or fewer, with their other losses coming against the Bengals, who got a late return touchdown to push the margin of victory to multiple scores, and the Patriots, who are one of the better teams in the league.

The Colts are also in a much better spot. While they have another easy game on deck against the Raiders, the Bills have to turn around and play the Patriots on Monday Night Football next week, a game in which they are 10.5 point home underdogs on the early line. Big underdogs tend to struggle before being big underdogs again, going 46-65 ATS as underdogs of 6+ before being underdogs of 6+ the following week, and teams in general tend to struggle before big home games, going 30-54 ATS before being home underdogs of 6+.

All three of the Bills’ covers have come against opponents in bad spots. The Vikings were coming off of a tie with the Packers and had another game against the Rams in 4 days on Thursday Night Football. The Titans were coming off of an overtime upset win over the Eagles and had another tough game against the Ravens on deck. The Texans were coming off of an overtime win over the Cowboys and had a trip to Jacksonville on deck.

This week, it’s the Bills in a bad spot. With a quarterback that just arrived last week with a much bigger game on deck, the Bills could easily not give their best effort and if they don’t they won’t have much chance of keeping this one close. In a week without a good top choice (I may not have any other high confidence picks), the Colts are my Pick of the Week, as they should be able to hand the Bills their 4th double digit loss of the year and their 9th since the start of the 2017 season.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Buffalo Bills 10

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -7

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets: 2018 Week 6 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (1-4) at New York Jets (2-3)

The Jets have a pair of wins by double digits, beating the Lions 48-17 week 1 and the Broncos 34-16 last week. However, they were not as good as the final score suggested in either game. Against the Lions, they won the first down rate battle by just +5.94% and didn’t have a touchdown drive of more than 6 plays all game, benefitting from short fields off turnovers (5 takeaways), big plays on offense (2 touchdowns of 40+ yards), and return touchdowns (2 return touchdowns). Last week, they lost the first down rate battle by -2.82%, but had another 3 touchdowns of 35+ yards that led to the victory.

Big plays and turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Jets are not going to always be able to rely on those. In their 3 losses, they are -1 in turnovers and don’t have a single play longer than 44 yards. On the season, their offense has really struggled to move the ball, moving the chains at a 31.31% rate, 28th in the NFL. They are also dead last in red zone touchdown percentage, scoring primarily from outside of the 20 on big plays. Their defense is solid, ranking 9th at 34.20%, but their offensive struggles have them 24th overall in first down rate differential at -2.89%.

The Colts aren’t much better, especially with all of the players they are missing due to injury (top receiver TY Hilton, starting tight end Jack Doyle, starting defensive lineman Denico Autry, starting safety Clayton Geathers and his backup Matthias Farley), but the Jets aren’t healthy either with their top-2 cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Buster Skrine out and top running back Isaiah Crowell expected to be a gametime call, so the Colts have a good chance to come in and pull off the upset.

The Colts are also in a better spot, with another easy game against the Bills on deck. The Jets, on the other hand, have to turn around and face a tough Minnesota team, a game they will almost definitely be underdogs in. Underdogs are 81-48 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. There’s not quite enough here to bet the Colts as just 2-point underdogs when they are this banged up, but the money line is worth a small bet because the Colts are no worse than 50/50 to win this game.

Indianapolis Colts 23 New York Jets 20 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +2

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots: 2018 Week 5 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (1-3) at New England Patriots (2-2)

A week after floundering in Detroit, the Patriots returned home and dominated a previously unbeaten Miami team in a 38-7 win, extending their incredible 287 game streak of not losing 3 straight games. The return of defensive end Trey Flowers and safety Patrick Chung after they had missed the previous game and a half with injury made all the difference on defense. Both went down around the same time week 2 against Jacksonville and that’s coincidentally right when the Patriots’ defense fell apart, after a solid opener against the Texans.

This week, they get a key piece back on offense, with wide receiver Julian Edelman returning from a 4-game suspension, giving Brady a familiar target and giving this offense a much needed threat at wide receiver. Edelman missed all of last season with a torn ACL and hasn’t played since Super Bowl LI, so it’s fair to expect some rust from him, but his return, combined with Josh Gordon’s continued integration into this offense, makes this suddenly a respectable receiving corps. The Patriots could be without Rob Gronkowski this week on a short week, which would obviously hurt them, but there’s optimism he can play after he got a limited practice in on Wednesday.

The Colts, on the other hand, are really banged up. While left tackle Anthony Castonzo could make his season debut after missing 4 games with a hamstring injury, the Colts are missing 3 other tackles with injury and will have to kick 2nd round rookie guard Braden Smith outside to right tackle. They will also be without top receiver TY Hilton, starting tight end Jack Doyle, and starting cornerback Kenny Moore, while linebacker Darius Leonard and center Ryan Kelly are both considered gametime decisions. Andrew Luck has played well for them this season, despite not having his full arm strength back, but the rest of this roster is pretty mediocre and they’re in rough injury shape on a short week.

The Colts are also in a terrible spot on a short week in New England. Excluding games between familiar divisional opponents and games where the road team is favored, home teams are 32-15 ATS on Thursday Night Football. Playing on a short week is tough enough, but when you have to travel as well and play a superior and relatively unfamiliar opponent, it puts you at a disadvantage. The Colts are also coming off of an overtime loss to the Texans and teams are just 6-25 ATS all-time on Thursday Night Football after an overtime game, including 2-18 ATS on the road. The Colts will likely be exhausted and unable to keep it close this week. We aren’t getting a ton of line value with the Patriots as 10 point favorites, but they’re a much superior team and they’re in a great spot, so they are worth a bet this week.

New England Patriots 34 Indianapolis Colts 20

Pick against the spread: New England -10

Confidence: Medium