Consensus line: Colts -3 (-120+) or Colts -3.5, total 42
Current betting percentage: 82% on the Colts, 58% on the OVER
Individual Team Trends:
- Colts are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games overall.
- Colts are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games after allowing less than 90 yards rushing in their previous game.
- Colts are 3-13 ATS vs. a team with a losing record.
- Jaguars are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games after scoring less than 15 points in their previous game.
- Jaguars are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 home games.
- Over is 16-6 in Colts last 22 road games.
- Under is 8-1 in Colts last 9 vs. AFC.
- Under is 12-3-1 in Jaguars last 16 vs. AFC.
- Over is 8-3 in the last 11 meetings in Jacksonville.
- Colts are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 meetings.
Just when you thought that Thursday Night Football couldn’t possibly get any worse, the schedule makers go out and slot in something like this…and totally redeem themselves! There’s nothing more thrilling than watching Blaine Gabbert toss deep balls with 18 seconds of hang time, or watching the Colts defense miss a handful of tackles on one play. I’m dying to see all of the pre-game B-roll of Dwight Freeney from a time when he wasn’t a liability on the field. I can’t wait.
Before I get into my full preview of the game, let’s look at back at what happened in the NFL on the weekend. Vegas got absolutely destroyed in Week 9. Las Vegas Hotels Super Book vice president Jay Kornegay was quoted as saying “I’ve been in this business for 26 years, and I have never seen what I saw yesterday…We call for more money a couple times a year, but never like this.” If you think that this will be a consistent trend going forward, you’ve probably been sniffing glue. With over 80% of tonight’s action on the Colts, this would be a prime opportunity for Vegas to recover a small portion of their losses from last week’s action. I’m not a conspiracy theorist and I’m not saying that this game will be fixed (I don’t believe any NFL games are fixed), but it’s hard to ignore a staggering number like that.
Indianapolis rolls into Jacksonville riding a three-game winning streak. It’s hard to knock the Colts for winning three straight games, but be aware that those three wins came by a combined 13 points against the Browns, Titans, and Dolphins. There’s a perception the Colts have vaulted themselves into the upper echelon of the league with a 5-3 record, but the reality is that they’re probably still one of the worst ten teams in football. Football Outsiders’ Team Efficiency ratings actually have the Colts sitting at number 27 in the league, behind the likes of Buffalo, Arizona, and Washington. That’s not good.
Andrew Luck has been the main reason for the Indy’s success thus far. Luck threw for a whopping 433 yards against a pretty good Dolphins defense last week and hasn’t looked like the rookie that he is. The Colts rank fifth in the league in third-down completion percentage which is very unusual for a rookie signal caller. Luck will have a favorable matchup against a Jaguars secondary that gives up over 250 yards through the air per game.
Jacksonville’s best two defensive backs are Dwight Lowery and Rashean Mathis. Lowery is out again this week with an ankle injury while Mathis is questionable with a groin injury, which means that the Jaguars will likely have to rely on cornerbacks Derek Cox and Aaron Ross to slow down the Colts passing attack. Cox and Ross aren’t terrible in coverage but they tend to miss a lot of tackles and that could bite the Jaguars in the ass against a group of wideouts that are fully capable of picking up yards after the catch.
The Jags however, will find comfort in the fact that Luck has been horrible on the road this season. In three starts away from Lucas Oil Stadium, Luck has compiled a quarterback rating of 63.3 and a 2:6 touchdown to interception ratio. He’s also lost two fumbles in his three road starts. In comparison, Luck has only turned the ball over three times in five home games this season. That’s a huge difference.
To think that Jacksonville has no chance of slowing down the rookie signal caller is ludicrous. The Jaguars have already seen Luck earlier this season and limited him to a 47.8% completion percentage despite not generating any pressure whatsoever throughout the game. Jacksonville’s pass rush is brutal, having produced only eight sacks in eight games this season, but that didn’t seem to hurt them in their Week 3 contest with the Colts… and that game was in Indianapolis, where Luck has been lights out this season.
The Colts will try to take a lot of the load off of Luck by trying to establish the run. Donald Brown is questionable to play but Vick Ballard has proven to be a capable replacement. The Jacksonville defense gives up a staggering 137.4 rushing yards per game but that total doesn’t tell the whole story. The Jaguars have been behind in games for most of the season, meaning that opponents have been running the ball much more often against them and putting up bigger yardage totals.
The Jags give up 4.2 yards per carry which is actually in the better half of the league—the same yards per carry that good defenses like Arizona and St. Louis give up on average. Jacksonville surrendered 4.2 yards per carry to Indianapolis in their first meeting this season, so you can expect average gains from the Colts on the ground here.
In the end, Indianapolis will put up some good yardage totals, but their 45% third down conversion percentage is staggeringly high and is due for a regression to the mean. To put things into perspective, Luck is converting third downs at a higher rate than Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Stafford, which is probably not sustainable over the course of an entire season. Turnovers also have to be a huge concern for the Colts with their track record on the road this season.
On the other side of things, I think Jacksonville has some favorable matchups against the Colts defense that they may be able to exploit. The Jags’ biggest limitation on offense is that their quarterback Blaine Gabbert is atrocious, but Gabbert won’t need to throw the ball very often in this contest. Indianapolis simply can’t defend the run. Earlier this season, I thought that the Colts were struggling to stop the run due to injuries, but even with the return of inside linebacker Pat Angerer and other key players on the defensive side of the ball, Indianapolis has been trampled by opposing running backs. The Colts have the fourth worst run defense in the NFL, surrendering 4.8 yards per carry and over 130 yards per game.
Rashad Jennings gets the start at running back in place of the injured Maurice Jones-Drew and while there’s a significant drop-off between the two backs, there’s still an opportunity for Jennings to have a huge game here. Jennings is a very strong interior runner and that’s been the biggest weakness for Indy’s rush defense this season. Jones-Drew torched the Colts for 177 yards in Week 3 and while Jennings isn’t likely to duplicate that success, I’d still expect him to top the century mark tonight.
The Jaguars convert third downs at a measly 30% clip so they’ll really need to use their running game to set up manageable third down situations for Gabbert. If Gabbert is facing manageable situations for most of the night, he should be able to have moderate success moving the ball. Indianapolis will be without Vontae Davis and Jerraud Powers tonight which means that the Colts will trot out Cassius Vaughn and Josh Gordy as their starting cornerbacks. Vaughn and Gordy are both undrafted free agents.
I’m not going to sugar coat things—Gabbert is awful—but with the key injuries in the Colts secondary, they may actually be more awful. Gabbert has shown some improvement in the last couple of weeks and has been able to protect the ball, which will be extremely important in this matchup. Wide receivers Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts, and Laurent Robinson will have extreme mismatches on the outside in this game, so if Gabbert can make a few good throws here and there, the Jags will be able to put up points.
At the end of the day, I think that this is a winnable game for Jacksonville. The Colts are extremely overrated right now, having feasted on a very easy schedule that’s included only three road games. Let’s not forget that two weeks ago the Colts needed overtime to scrape by the Titans, and would have lost in regulation had Matt Hasselbeck not missed a wide open Jared Cook for a touchdown with just over a minute remaining. Indianapolis put up only 19 points in that contest against arguably the worst defense in the NFL.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville is 0-4 at home and has been blown out in every game, but they’ve played quality opponents in every single one of those games. The Jaguars were 4-4 at home last season so it’s not like they’re a terrible home team. Prior to last week’s games, the Jaguars were 1-point favorites over the Colts here, but in just one week’s time the line has shift a full four and a half points. It’s rare that you can find line value like that in the NFL nowadays. Two weeks ago, Indianapolis was a 3.5-point underdog in Tennessee and now they’re a 3.5-point favorite in Jacksonville in spite of having a bunch of key injuries. This just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The last point I’d like to touch on is the Chuck Pagano effect. In the Colts’ first game after head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, Indianapolis pulled off a huge second half comeback win over the Packers. In the week following that game, the Colts traveled to New York and were absolutely obliterated by the Jets. Mark Sanchez and company were able to put up 35 points on Indianapolis that afternoon, so who’s to say that Blaine Gabbert can’t do the same? I bring up the Pagano effect because the Colts are coming off of a huge emotional victory over the Dolphins last week. Pagano attended that game and gave the team an inspiring post-game speech. I think there’s a good chance that history repeats and the Colts lay an egg in a huge letdown spot.
Prediction: Jaguars 24, Colts 20
Recommendation: I like the Jaguars quite a bit. I know it’s not easy to bet on a team that’s looked as bad as Jacksonville, but there’s some extraordinary line value with the Jags tonight. I’ve jumped on the Jaguars +4 at SportsInteraction and I suggest that you do the same immediately because that’s the only four-point spread on the board right now. If you don’t have a SportsInteraction account, hold off until game-time to make your wager because there’s going to be a ton of money coming in on Indianapolis. I’m also going to have a small play on the Jags money line +175 at SIA as well. Someone please tweet me some updates during this game while I’m flipping back and forth between Florida State-Virginia Tech and Bulls-Thunder. Good luck.