The Indianapolis Colts reaped the benefits of playing in one of the NFL’s worst divisions last season as they were the only team to finish over .500 in the AFC South. With an 11-5 record, the Colts drew the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs and erased a 38-10 third quarter deficit to advance. At one point, the Colts had a 0.10% chance of winning the game.
Andrew Luck’s ability to take care of the football was the deciding factor for the Colts. They committed just 14 turnovers, four fewer than any other team. The ball also bounced their way as they only lost four of their 16 fumbles. The Colts were +13 in turnover margin. Entering the 2014 season with a division that still looks subpar, will their lucky streak with turnovers turn around?
Looking back at last season, it’s tough to tell how good the Colts actually were. They won at San Francisco and beat the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks at home, but also lost to St. Louis by 30 at home and Miami at home. They, not surprisingly, went 6-0 in the division. But, they had to overcome a 28-point deficit to the Chiefs and weren’t really that competitive in the game against New England.
Oddsmakers seem to be expecting a little bit of regression with an opening total of 9 and a -125 on the over at South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The betting market pushed the juice to -130. Sportsbook.ag opened the Colts win total at 9.5 with -140 on the under.
Lines courtesy of CG Technologies:
|6||@ Houston (Thu)||+1|
|9||@ New York Giants (Mon)||+1|
The Colts would appear to have a fairly friendly schedule with games against the AFC North and NFC East to go along with their standard AFC South slate. The other two games are at Denver and against New England, so those are two tough contests. But the AFC North and NFC East were very mediocre divisions last season. Cole Ryan rated the Colts schedule dead last out of the 32 teams in difficulty.
The first thing you notice about the lines for the Colts is that there are four games lined on either side of one, with two road underdog spots and two home favorite spots. It looks like the oddsmakers are trying to mitigate risk on the Colts with so many numbers under the key number of three. Eight numbers are below three and there is one three on the board. It’s also probably a sign that differing opinions are present about the Colts and that’s not particularly surprising.
It’s a rather interesting position that the oddsmakers are taking on the Colts given their schedule. The schedule sets up pretty nicely all things considered, but a win total of nine and some of the Games of the Year lines likely suggest that the oddsmakers are down on the Colts. Regression does seem like a possibility given the turnover luck and the AFC South can’t really get any worse.
Why bet the over?
While it’s fair to look at the Colts with a certain level of skepticism because of their 6-0 record against the awful AFC South, the Colts also beat two of the top teams in the NFC. Andrew Luck takes care of the football. In the current state of the NFL, where defense almost seems secondary, not turning the ball over is going to lead to points. The Colts committed just 14 turnovers, nine of them Luck interceptions, and also ranked near the bottom of the league in sacks allowed. Luck’s mobility does so many things for the Colts and it’s easy to forget that he’s only in his third season. There is probably untapped potential left, so he could keep getting better.
With the addition of Hakeem Nicks and the drafting of Donte Moncrief, Luck has no shortage of weapons in the passing game. Reggie Wayne will return from his torn ACL after playing just seven games last season and it’ll be interesting to see what the 35-year-old has left in the tank. With top returning receiver TY Hilton and quality tight end Coby Fleener, the Colts will be tough to cover.
The Colts running game should be improved with the return of both Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw. The primary purpose of the Colts running game is to make manageable third downs for Luck, so any progress should help the Colts third down conversion rate, which ranked 15th last season. A better running game from the Colts could also help lessen the number of hits that Luck takes, since he ran 63 times last season.
Defensively, the Colts will be in the third year of Greg Manusky’s scheme and they improved across the board last season. The squad remains mostly in tact, except for the loss of Antoine Bethea, but they got stronger at linebacker with the addition of D’Qwell Jackson. They also added Arthur Jones to help on the interior for a defensive line that allowed 4.5 yards per carry.
Even if the AFC South does improve, the Colts should do no worse than 4-2 in divisional play. That would require five additional wins just to push and that includes games against the mediocre AFC North and NFC East. The schedule is rather nice for the Colts.
Why bet the under?
Regression is certainly a possibility. The Colts committed only 14 turnovers for a +13 in turnover margin. The defense struggled to get off the field on third down and struggled to keep the opposition out of the end zone with the fifth-worst red zone defense at preventing touchdowns. Because of the lack of turnovers, the Colts were able to make opposing offenses drive the length of the field to score. Any sort of regression in the turnover battle will negate that advantage. The Colts recovered 12 of their 16 fumbles. Lucky bounces don’t tend to have a year-to-year correlation.
Bettors have to wonder who the Colts really are. Are they the team that lost 38-8 at home to St. Louis and fell behind by 24 to the Chiefs in the playoffs or are they the team that won convincingly at San Francisco and beat Seattle? The Colts schedule last season was definitely weak despite playing the NFC West, so the oddsmakers’ position is easily explained.
The Colts were eighth in yards allowed per play last season, despite being in the top 10 in sack percentage on dropbacks. Robert Mathis was responsible for 19.5 of the team’s 42 sacks. To be that reliable on one player on defense is a major concern. Depth is an issue and the Colts already have regression coming in the turnover department. Added pressure on the defense is probably not going to be beneficial to the season.
The oddsmakers expect Houston to be better, Jacksonville has some intriguing pieces, and the Titans are likely a .500 team once again. One look at the Games of the Year lines says a lot about what the oddsmakers think about the Colts. It’s nearly inconceivable to think of them as a pick ‘em at Houston given how the Texans looked last season, but that’s exactly what happened. If the Colts aren’t going to win their “gimme” games with relative ease, how will this team perform when they step up in class?
Pick: Over 9.5 (+110)
Regression is real, but so is the AFC South. The article about Houston shouldn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence and the Jaguars will still be a doormat despite what most people believe to be a solid draft. The Colts get Philadelphia, New England, Baltimore, and Cincinnati at home, leaving Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Dallas, and the Giants on the road. Given the inconsistencies of most of those teams on the road schedule, the Colts should be just fine in those games.
Andrew Luck has a plethora of above average pass catching options and the defense should continue their improvement in year three of the Manusky era. It’s not a real attractive bet laying -130, but the market-moving money tipped their hand a little bit and the Colts should get more than halfway to this total in their six division games.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.