Don't Overestimate The Colts
by Trevor Whenham - 10/12/2006
The Indianapolis Colts have caused more than a few headaches for bettors so far this year. They are 5-0, but anyone who thinks that they are as good as their record indicates is either a blindly loyal fan or they haven't watched the team play much so far this year. The team is 3-2 ATS, but they have lost the last two against the spread, and two of their three covers have been by just two points or less. The bookies have been shading this squad - which is a classic public team - and will continue to do so as long as John Q. Public continues to play them.
The Colts have gone under in three of their five games. This is a continuation of a trend the team has been developing the last two seasons. In 2004 the team went under just five times, but that number doubled to 10 last year. They are on pace to match last year's number of unders again this season.
The public loves the Colts. They get so much blind action that the line has to be higher than it would otherwise be just to try and balance the action a little bit. Given the way that the Jets were playing, for example, 8.5 points might have seemed a bit high, but bookmakers still saw a vast majority of the money laid on Indy. Inflated lines aren't so much of a concern when a team is running well, but this inflation factor has likely cost the Colts one or two ATS wins so far this season.
The biggest concern when looking at this team is obviously the last three games. In the first game of that series they beat Jacksonville in a contest that was much closer than the 21-14 score would indicate, and they managed to cover the 6.5 point spread by the narrowest of margins. Against the Jets the next week they not only failed to cover the 8.5 point spread, but they needed a touchdown with less than a minute left to take the lead for good. Neither of those games cause the same kind of fear, however, that the last effort against Tennessee did. The Titans have shown all season that they just aren't that good, leading Indy to be a huge 17-point favorite at kickoff. Again the Colts needed a late fourth quarter touchdown to scrape out a narrow win.
Something clearly isn't quite right with the team that has been one of the best teams in the league for years, but has never been able to do anything with that potential. They have a bye week this week to try to address their problems, but that might not be a good thing for this team - the Colts are 1-4 ATS coming off a bye in the last five seasons.
If, like me, you aren't very high on the Colts these days, here are four factors that may serve to confirm your feelings and steer you away from betting on them:
Run defense - The Colts are completely incapable of stopping the run. Take the Titans, for example - Travis Henry racked up 123 yards rushing. In two previous games this season he had combined for 82 yards. In the previous game against Miami he averaged a then-season high of 2.9 yards per carry. Against the Colts he averaged 6.5 yards. LenDale White added 48 yards, and Vince Young scampered for 43 more - both career highs. Of bigger concern, White and Young both broke runs of 19 yards and Henry topped out at 17 yards. Allowing opponents to run all over them has hurt the Colts already, and it will only get worse. Starting with a match-up against Clinton Portis and the Redskins after the bye, the Colts face a bunch of teams with studs in their backfields.
Peyton Manning - Whether it is because he misses James more than he thought or because his receivers aren't getting any younger, Manning hasn't looked quite as sharp this year as he has in the past. His yards per attempt are down almost a full yard from last season and 1.7 yards from 2004. His completion rate is down five percent from where it has been the last three seasons. He's also rushed for two touchdowns, something he hadn't done since 2002. To me that says that he is keeping the ball because he doesn't have the faith that someone else can get it in. With the defense struggling, Manning needs to be at his best for the team to cover. So far he hasn't been.
Kicking game - Adam Vinatieri was brought in to solve the perceived problems created by Mike Vanderjagt. So far he hasn't had much of a chance to show what he can do. He's been out with a groin injury. That's the kind of problem that can haunt a kicker. Martin Gramatica, who was brought in to fill in for the ailing Vinatieri, was released this week, but the team admitted that he could be brought back after the bye if Vinatieri isn't right yet. The new kicker needs to be in the roster and healthy, as much for psychological reasons as anything.
Schedule - The schedule is not friendly for the Colts the rest of the way. The next three games against Washington, Denver and New England will challenge the rush defense. Buffalo is tougher than expected, and Dallas, Philadelphia, Jacksonville and Cincinnati are all strong. Only Tennessee, Houston and Miami look like easier spots in the schedule and they don't come until later in the season. If the Colts continue to struggle like they have then this schedule could mean some ugly things for the team.