Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: 2018 AFC Wild Card Pick

Indianapolis Colts (10-6) at Houston Texans (11-5)

The Texans finished with the better record of these two teams, winning the division and securing the 3rd seed, while the Colts are seeded 6th, but the Colts were statistically the better team this season. The Colts finished the season 5th in first down rate differential at +4.56% and 8th in point differential at +89, while the Texans finished 7th in first down rate differential at +2.99% and 8th in point differential at +86. Perhaps most remarkably, the Colts finished with a league leading +19 offensive touchdown margin, while the Texans were just +2.

Making that even more impressive is the fact that the Colts had a ton of injury problems in the first half of the season. Since returning from their week 9 bye, the Colts have a league best +8.51% first down rate differential and they’ve won 9 of 10 games overall. With Ryan Kelly expected to return from a neck injury this week, the Colts are arguably the healthiest they’ve been all season. The Texans have won 11 of 13 games overall, but they haven’t been nearly as dominant, ranking 10th in first down rate differential over the past 8 weeks at +2.85%, and they aren’t at full strength, missing #2 wide receiver Demaryius Thomas with a torn achilles that he suffered two weeks ago.

The Colts also have the edge in quarterback experience, with Andrew Luck going into his 7th post-season game (3-3), while Deshaun Watson is making his first career post-season start. Quarterbacks tend not to cover in their first career post-season start, especially at home, where they are 6-18 ATS since 2002 unless they’re playing another first time starter. Unfortunately, we’re not getting much line value with the Colts at +1.5, as the public seems to realize the Colts are the better of these two teams. It wouldn’t shock me if the Texans won this game, as they’re a solid team and playing at home, so I’m keeping this a smaller play, but the Colts are worth a bet and should win this game straight up.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Houston Texans 20 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +1.5

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) at Houston Texans (10-5)

A year after finishing a surprising 10-6 and making the AFC Championship, the Jaguars have had a very disappointing year and sit at 5-10 in the cellar of a suddenly competitive AFC South. Their defense has still played at a high level, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed at 33.04%, but they’ve done poorly in close games (2-6 in games decided by a touchdown or less) and, most importantly, their offense has been horrendous, ranking 29th in first down rate at 30.58%, after a decent season in 2017.

Injuries have been the primary culprit, as the Jaguars are down their #1 wide receiver, 4 of 5 week 1 starting offensive linemen, and their top-3 tight ends, while feature back Leonard Fournette has been in and out of the lineup with injuries all season. They also made matters worse when they benched Blake Bortles, an erratic quarterback with a capable arm, for Cody Kessler, a borderline backup caliber talent that lacks the requisite arm strength to make many NFL throws.

With Bortles as the starter for the first 11 games, the Jaguars had a 31.28% first down rate, but in Kessler’s 4 starts, they’ve had a 25.86% first down rate and have scored just two offensive touchdowns in 4 games. That’s partially due to the fact that their injury situation has gotten worse, but Kessler was an obvious downgrade from Bortles and that’s saying something. They’ve still gone 2-2 in those 4 games, but one was a shutout by their defense and in the other their defense allowed just 1 touchdown and brought back a score of their one.

When I saw the Jaguars were going back to Bortles this week, I assumed I’d be on them, but we’re getting no line value with them as 6.5 point road underdogs in Houston. In fact, I’m actually going with the Texans, since the Jaguars are ruling out anyone with any sort of injury and don’t seem to be treating this as a real game. Fournette and cornerback AJ Bouye have already been ruled out, both big losses, and they could also be without running back Carlos Hyde and cornerback DJ Hayden. This is a much more meaningful game for the Texans, who not only have a shot at a first round bye still, but also need to win to ensure they clinch the division. The Jaguars’ defense is strong enough to keep this close when healthy, but they’re shorthanded on both sides of the ball, so this line is too low.

Houston Texans 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 12

Pick against the spread: Houston -6.5

Confidence: Low

Houston Texans at Philadelphia Eagles: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (10-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)

After winning the Super Bowl last year, the Eagles’ 2018 season was derailed by injuries and close losses (6 losses by 7 points or fewer), but they are still very much in the playoff race in the NFC after backup quarterback Nick Foles led them to a big upset victory over the Rams in Los Angeles last week. Foles isn’t an upgrade on Carson Wentz, but Wentz was not at 100% all season and the team really does seem to play harder with a backup quarterback in the lineup, embracing the underdog role.

The Eagles are not underdogs this week, favored by 2 points at home against the Texans, but I would expect them to continue playing hard against a tough opponent with their season on the line. They’re also finally getting some players back from injury, most notably stud every down linebacker Jordan Hicks, who is not listed on the injury report this week, after missing 4 games with a calf injury. We’re not getting enough line value with the Eagles to take them with any confidence, but I think the most likely outcome in this game is a Philadelphia win by a field goal, which would cover this spread.

Philadelphia Eagles 23 Houston Texans 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -2

Confidence: None

Houston Texans at New York Jets: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (9-4) at New York Jets (4-9)

This is a tough one. On one hand, the Texans have played a lot of close games this year. They are 9-4, but have just 4 wins by more than a touchdown, including just one road win by more than a touchdown, relevant considering this line is Houston -7. On the other hand, the Jets are one of the worst teams in the league, especially without suspended every down linebacker Darron Lee, so this line seems about right, even if the Texans are not quite as good as their record suggests.

The Jets won in Buffalo last week, but they lost the first down rate battle in that game by 2.66%, winning primarily because they won the turnover margin and converted a 4th down, which is not something that they can count on every week. The previous week, the Jets almost won in Tennessee, but they lost the first down rate battle in that game by 18.59%, losing the game despite blocking a punt and scoring a defensive touchdown. On the season, they rank just 31st in first down rate differential at -6.49%, significantly behind the #11 ranked Texans, who are at +2.08%. We’re not getting any line value with the Texans, so this is a no confidence pick, but they make more sense for pick ‘em purposes.

Houston Texans 24 New York Jets 16

Pick against the spread: Houston -7

Confidence: None

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

Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (4-6-1) at Houston Texans (8-3)

The Browns have been playing pretty well lately. Their offense has moved the chains at a 44.75% rate in 3 games since firing Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, while their defense has allowed a first down rate of just 33.78% in 7 games started and finished by stud middle linebacker Joe Schobert, who is back healthy for the Browns. Their offensive improvement can also be credited to the Browns’ trade of Carlos Hyde to the Jaguars, which allowed rookie running back Nick Chubb to flourish as the lead back.

The Texans are obviously also playing well, winning 8 straight games, but most of the games have been close, including 4 wins by 3 points or fewer, and they haven’t had the toughest schedule, with their best win record wise coming against the early season Cowboys, now at 7-5, in overtime by a field goal. The Browns, on the other hand, have had the 8th toughest schedule thus far this year in terms of opponents’ record. I like the Browns chances of making the Texans play another close game. They’re an underrated team right now and are better than their record. They’ve also only lost 3 games by more than 3 points. They’re worth a small bet this week.

Houston Texans 20 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +6

Confidence: Medium

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (5-5) at Houston Texans (7-3)

The Titans are high on my underrated list right now, following a tough performance in Indianapolis last week. They lost that game 38-10, but the Colts have been playing legitimately great football for weeks (they’re also high on my underrated list) and the Titans also lost Marcus Mariota in the first half of that game with a stinger in his neck, which certainly didn’t help. As a result, this line shifted from Houston -4 on the early line to Houston -6.5 this week, which I think is a major overreaction. Mariota’s injury is not considered serious and he should be good to go this week after getting in full practices on both Friday and Saturday. Whenever Mariota is healthy this is a legitimately dangerous team.

The Titans have a strong defense that ranks 9th in first down rate allowed at 34.42%. They’re a middle of the pack team in first down rate differential on the season, ranking 20th at -1.86%, but that’s because Mariota was limited with an elbow injury for most of the first half of the season, which really limited their offense. When he’s at full strength, the Titans have a capable offense to complement their strong defense and they are a tough team to handle as a result.

Prior to last week’s game in Indianapolis, the Titans covered their previous 3 games, losing by 1 on a failed 2-point conversion against a now 7-3 Chargers team, pulling an upset win in Dallas against the Cowboys, who haven’t lost since, and of course blowing out the Patriots, who were playing as well as anyone going into that game. Given that, it really makes no sense that this line is this high. In fact, I have these two teams close to even in my book, so we’re getting significant line value with the visitors.

The Texans are 7-3, but they haven’t exactly been blowing teams out. Just 2 of their 7 wins came by more than a touchdown and 4 of them came by 3 points or fewer, including a pair of overtime wins. I wish we were getting a full touchdown with Tennessee, but I expect this to be a close game, one that Tennessee could win straight up, so they’re still a great bet at +6 or +6.5. The only thing that stopped me from making this my Pick of the Week is the off chance that Mariota gets knocked out of the game again, as he has not been durable throughout his career.

Houston Texans 19 Tennessee Titans 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +6.5

Confidence: High