NFL Picks: Colts to Get Their First Win & Cover ATS Against Titans

Sterling Xie

Saturday, September 26, 2015 7:35 PM UTC

Saturday, Sep. 26, 2015 7:35 PM UTC

Recent history might have stacked the NFL odds against the Colts, but the betting public appears to have swayed too far in the other direction by installing Indy as just three-point favorites over the Titans.

It’s a stat you’ve almost certainly heard bandied about this week: since the NFL instituted its current playoff format in 1990, only 24 teams have started 0-2 and gone on to reach the postseason.

While the memory of Marcus Mariota’s perfect Week 1 quarterback rating might linger for some, the Titans are walking into a deck stacked against them. Indianapolis is a perfect 6-0 against Tennessee in the Andrew Luck era, and in the five games where the Colts have been favored, they’ve covered the spread three times and pushed twice. Last season, Indy demolished the hapless Titans by a combined total score of 68-27 in two regular-season meetings.

The game’s location certainly depresses the line, but Andrew Luck has actually had more success against the Titans in three games at Nissan Stadium than when he’s hosted Tennessee at Lucas Oil Stadium. Though Luck exhibits fairly typical home-road splits for his career overall, those splits have been reversed in the case of the Titans:


Andrew Luck Career Splits vs. Titans



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There’s not necessarily a convincing reason for these splits, of course, but it does illustrate how bettors shouldn’t lean on Tennessee’s homefield advantage as a distinctive edge that should lead them to cover this line. One might argue that Mariota’s first home game should stir a Titans crowd that has been otherwise silent over the past few seasons, but that same logic could have held for the very team Tennessee dismantled against the NFL odds in Week 1, Jameis Winston’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.    

In truth, the Indianapolis Colts are essentially the same outfit they have been the past three seasons, one heavily reliant on Luck’s playmaking. The big drawback of Luck has always been his tendency to turn the ball over, and in Indy’s two losses this season, Luck has tossed five interceptions and fumbled the ball away once. The good news for Colts fans (and for bettors looking to exploit this line) is that this is a relatively familiar experience for Indianapolis. During the Luck era, there have been seven different two-game stretches where Luck has thrown at least four interceptions (postseason excluded). In those stretches, the Colts are 6-8, illustrating how much of Indy’s tenuous success the past three seasons has been built on Luck’s ability to avoid turnovers while still making the huge downfield plays that have made him a superstar.

Fortunately for Indianapolis, the Tennessee Titans' defense has generally hemorrhaged huge chunks of yardage the past two years. Even including Tampa Bay’s struggles in their Week 1 contest against the Titans, Tennessee is currently conceding 14.1 yards per completion, 31st in the league ahead of only the Saints. Last year’s Indy offense averaged 11.8 yards per completion, fourth in the league, and while this year’s passing game has had significantly more issues picking up big downfield chunks, the Titans defense might represent the perfect panacea in that regard.

If we infer that the Colts offense should finally get jumpstarted in Week 3, that would put the onus on Mariota and the Tennessee offense to keep up. It’s not unreasonable for bettors to bank on the second overall pick keeping the Titans in the game and covering the spread or even winning outright, but we simply don’t have as much information on Tennessee as we do on Indianapolis. After averaging a robust 6.2 yards per offensive play in Week 1, the Titans fell down to 5.2 yards per play against the Cleveland Browns last week. Tennessee’s best hope to stay in the game might actually be to rely on Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster, who have combined to help the Titans average 4.7 yards per rush this season. The read-option and packaged play concepts that Ken Whisenhunt has installed this season are partially imported from Mariota’s collegiate playbook at Oregon, but the running backs are the ones benefiting from the hesitation these concepts instill in defenders.   

But even as efficient as the Tennessee running game has been, it’s hard to commit to a ground-bound attack when trailing. In the second half of last week’s game against the Browns, the Titans ran the ball on just 39 percent of their plays while trying to play catch-up, and averaged a more modest 4.2 yards per rush attempt. If the Colts jump out ahead, can Tennessee stay in the contest on the strength of Mariota’s right arm?

For now, it’s hard to recommend Tennessee putting the heavy AFC South favorites in an 0-3 hole. Laying the points with Indy as a road favorite with our NFL picks would rely on some assumptions we had headed into the 2015 season that look much shakier after two weeks. But when factoring in past statistical patterns and current personnel matchups, one would expect Indy to reassume control of its season after a pair of rough losses.

NFL Pick: Colts -3 at 5Dimes

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