The Indianapolis Colts season ending in deflating fashion, pardon the pun, with a blowout loss in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots. Rather than focus on the negative, Colts fans should focus on the slew of positives that came out of last season. The Colts got over the hump in the playoffs and played for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Even though they came up short, the Colts posted their third straight 11-5 season and finished in the top 10 in numerous offensive categories.
The defense regressed a little bit, but Chuck Pagano has plenty to work with on both sides of the ball and the Colts have made some savvy offseason moves to improve the roster. In Pagano’s tenure, the Colts have lost in the Wild Card Round, Divisional Round, and Championship Round. As things currently stand, they will lose Super Bowl 50 and then win Super Bowl 51. In all seriousness, this is a good team that should be right back in a similar position this season thanks to a weak division and a perennial MVP candidate at quarterback.
The Colts had the best offensive performance they have had since Peyton Manning’s final season with the team. Indianapolis’s 458 points ranked sixth in the NFL and they were third in total yardage. The Colts led the league in pass attempts, yards, and passing touchdowns. Andrew Luck did throw 16 interceptions, but that comes with the territory of throwing so many passes and some of them were effectively punts.
Considering the Colts began the season 0-2 with tough losses against the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles, an 11-3 record over their final 14 games was impressive. Four of their five losses came against playoff teams. They had the seventh-best point differential in the league.
Unlike other teams, the Colts were proactive in the offseason. They are on the cusp of being one of the league’s elite teams and took steps necessary to move that much closer. To spice up their lackluster running game, the Colts brought in Frank Gore. Hakeem Nicks was replaced by Andre Johnson. Phillip Dorsett out of Miami is Andrew Luck’s newest shiny toy as another guy to stretch the field with his speed.
One signing that won’t get the respect it deserves is the addition of veteran offensive guard Todd Herremans. Better offensive line play will help the running game and keep Andrew Luck upright. Trent Cole, Nate Irving, and Kendall Langford are all solid defensive signings. The Colts didn’t need much, but what they added is experienced depth.
This is a team that has the look and feel of a Super Bowl contender.
Oddsmakers at Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas opened the Indianapolis Colts win total at 10.5, with the over at -170. They have the third-highest win total at 10.5, but the teams at 11 both had the under juiced.
|2||New York Jets (Mon)||-7.5|
|5||@ Houston (Thurs)||PK|
|8||@ Carolina (Mon)||-1|
Look at the respect that the Colts are getting from the oddsmakers in the look ahead lines. The Colts are an underdog in one of their 15 lined games. Two games are lined at pick’em and the Colts would be road chalk at Houston if that game was not on a Thursday night. This is a good schedule for the Colts, in that they have a lot of winnable games and will get a crack at the likely AFC playoff teams in New England, Denver, and Pittsburgh. Part of the reason that the Colts took a step forward is because they were battle-tested from the regular season.
Home field advantage looks like it could be attainable for the Colts this season. Their Week 16 game at Miami may be the sticking point, but with Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Houston at home, and Tennessee to end the season, it’s certainly a possibility. The Colts are going to start the season no worse than 3-1, so they won’t be behind the eight-ball like they were last season.
Why bet the over?
Andrew Luck took that big step forward last season. After posting completion percentages of 54.1 percent and 60.2 percent in his first two seasons, he improved once again to 61.7 percent and almost doubled his touchdown output. The interceptions were there, but they shouldn’t be a big concern to anybody. The Colts couldn’t run the football effectively for most of the season and opposing defenses knew that. Somebody will have to replace the strong production of Reggie Wayne, and Wayne may still return to Indianapolis, but Luck has no shortage of weapons at his disposal.
Those weapons now include Frank Gore. Gore gets out of what became a toxic situation in San Francisco and will give much-needed legitimacy and balance to the Colts offense. Ahmad Bradshaw showed what the Colts offense was capable of with a good running back and now they have a great running back. The mileage left on Gore after 2,442 career carries and his fourth straight season of 250 or more carries is a question, but he hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down to this point.
Who do you focus on in the passing game? TY Hilton torched opposing defenses for a 16.4 yards per catch average and 1,345 yards overall. Reggie Wayne’s 64 receptions and 116 targets will go to Andre Johnson, who is going to love having a legitimate quarterback throwing in his direction. Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen are high-upside targets and Jack Doyle might be the sleeper tight end of the year. Catching passes out of the backfield becomes Dan “Boom” Herron’s chief job now with Gore in the backfield and Donte Moncrief is an imposing physical specimen with a lot of upside. Oh, and they added Phillip Dorsett for good measure.
The defense took a step back last season, but, that’s a bit misleading. The defense gave up 30 or more points in six games, including the AFC Championship game. The Colts lost all six of those games. The Colts defense allowed 42 points twice and 51 points once. The Steelers racked up 639 total yards and 522 passing yards in that Week 8 game. With a 16-game sample size, it doesn’t take much to skew the overall results.
The Colts needed some help in the second level of their defense and they focused on linebacker by adding Nate Irving and Trent Cole. Cole was one of the top free agent linebackers on the market. It’s interesting to note that most of the free agents that the Colts signed have played at least seven years in the NFL. They focused on experience and proven talent.
Another thing that will help the defense is more balance offensively. The Colts were 24th in average drive time because they had to rely on throwing the football. Incomplete passes stop the clock. Being able to mix up run and pass is going to keep the defense off the field and should lead to fewer points allowed.
Why bet the under?
It’s impossible to predict, but an Andrew Luck injury would undoubtedly kill any Colts over bet. Fortunately, the Colts protected Luck more last season, but he didn’t cut down on his rushing attempts. The fact that Luck likes to use his legs to extend plays and drives would make any over bettor hold his breath. Luck set a career high in carries with 64 last season. He also fumbled 13 times. A better running attack will slow down the pass rush, but it still has to weigh on any bettor’s mind. It shouldn’t weigh too heavily, because almost any QB injury would kill an over bet, but the possibility exists.
The notion of an improved running game is also contingent on 32-year-old Frank Gore staying in the lineup. There’s not a whole lot of depth behind Boom Herron. Zurlon Tipton would be the next option, though the Colts still have time to address this position. But, Gore will cross the 2,500-carry mark for his career in the first third of the season and he has racked up at least 200 carries every season since his rookie year in 2005.
The Colts made some good offseason pickups, but they have some important players to replace on defense. Darius Butler was a versatile player in the secondary over his 14 games, playing at both corners and free safety. LaRon Landry is still a free agent and he had 45 tackles and 2.5 sacks from his free safety position. Cory Redding signed elsewhere after recording 3.5 sacks in his 16 starts last season.
It’s fair to wonder why the Colts took a wide receiver in the first round with other areas of need and other players still available. One of the defensive tackles like Randy Gregory, Jordan Phillips, or Eddie Goldman probably would have made more sense. A lack of weapons around Andrew Luck was hardly this team’s problem was season.
Pick: Over 10.5
Pay this price. Pay the juice. Take the Colts as heavy chalk to win the AFC South. Frankly, the Colts are a decent look for the Super Bowl champion. If the win totals come to fruition, the Colts just might have home field advantage this season and avoid a trip to Denver or New England in January. That would be a huge help for Andrew Luck and company. This is a very good team, with a great coaching staff, and a front office committed to winning.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
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.