Free Expert NFL Picks: Indianaplois Colts at Denver Broncos Odds and Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 9/4/2014
Certainly there are no complaints about Thursday night's NFL Kickoff Game between Green Bay and Seattle as that could be an NFC Championship Game preview. However, the rest of the Week 1 schedule isn't exactly the best. In fact, the only other game featuring 2013 playoff teams is Sunday night's Indianapolis at Denver matchup.
Could this be an AFC Championship Game preview? It's possible. Just about everyone expects the Colts to win the AFC South again -- although I'd argue that Houston's acquisition of quarterback Ryan Mallett potentially brings the Texans closer even though Mallett won't begin the season as the starter. The Broncos open the season as the 11/2 Super Bowl favorites at Bovada, 2/1 AFC favorites and -350 AFC West favorites. Only New England is a bigger division favorite in football. The Broncos also have the highest wins total of any team at 11.5. In case you haven't heard, they have Peyton Manning.
Andrew Luck has led the Colts to back-to-back 11-win seasons, and he won his first playoff game a year ago. Indy welcomes back a healthy Reggie Wayne but lost running back Vick Ballard to a season-ending injury in camp. Nothing new there as he was lost in Week 1 last year as well. Starting left guard Donald Thomas also suffered a season-ending injury the first week of camp. That offensive line is a major question mark as it wasn't very good in 2013. The Colts are 22/1 to win the Super Bowl, 8/1 to win the AFC and -160 favorites for the South Division.
Colts at Broncos Betting Story Lines
Let's start with who won't play. Denver will be missing two key guys: receiver Wes Welker and linebacker Danny Trevathan. Welker (73 catches, 778 yards, 10 TDs) was surprisingly suspended four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, reportedly testing positive for "molly." Google that if you don't know what it is. Welker said he was shocked at the positive test and speculated someone might have slipped him something during the Kentucky Derby, where Welker won a ton of cash betting back in May. Yeah, and someone spiked Lance Armstrong's drink, too. Welker was Manning's security blanket as the slot receiver. Now new addition Emmanuel Sanders will slide into that role, and rookie Cody Latimer likely will become more involved. With those two, Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas, the Broncos should be fine. I'm not sure Welker would have played Week 1, regardless, as he's dealing with yet another concussion. Maybe the month off will be a good thing.
Trevathan lead the team with 129 tackles last year, to go with four forced fumbles, three interceptions and two sacks, but hurt his knee in mid-August. It actually was fortunate to be just a fracture and not a season-ending torn ACL. He's likely to miss the first four games. Also, don't forget that Denver kicker Matt Prater is suspended the first four games (sorry I don't consider kickers as "key guys," although Prater is close). He made 25 of 26 field goal attempts last season, including an NFL-record 64-yarder in December against the Titans. Prater's career 82.9 percent success rate is first in franchise history.
For the Colts, by far their best player without the last name Luck will sit the first four games: outside linebacker Robert Mathis. He led the NFL with 19.5 sacks last year (rest of Colts had 22.5) and is the all-time franchise sacks leader. Mathis also led the NFL with eight forced fumbles in 2013, which is as many as the rest of his teammates had.
The Colts upset the Broncos in Week 7 last season in Manning's return to Indianapolis, 39-33. Luck was terrific, going 21 of 38 for three touchdowns and no interceptions while also running for a 10-yard score. Yet he probably wasn't even the Colts' MVP. That was Mathis. He sacked Manning twice and forced a fumble on one of them, which led to a Colts safety in the second quarter, cutting the Denver lead to 14-12. Indy would then score 21 more points in a row to grab control. Manning was under siege all night, sacked four times (most in a game since 2007). He finished 29 of 49 for 386 yards and three TDs but had that fumble and a pick. That was the game that Colts lost No. 1 receiver Wayne to a torn ACL, but he's good to go.
Colts at Broncos Betting Odds and Trends
At BetOnline , the Broncos are 7.5-point favorites with a total of 55 that's easily the highest on the board. Indianapolis was 10-6 against the spread last season (5-3 on road) and 8-8 "over/under." Denver was 10-6 ATS in 2013 (5-3 at home) and 11-5 O/U. The Broncos were also 10-6 ATS as a favorite -- because they were one in every game.
The Colts have failed to cover their past six season openers. They are 8-2 ATS in their past 10 vs. the AFC. The Broncos are 4-0-1 ATS in their past five September games. The over is 5-1 in Indy's past six on the road. The over is 4-0 in Denver's past four in September. The under is 5-0 in the Broncos' past five vs. the AFC.
Free Expert NFL Picks: Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos Betting Predictions
I'd argue the loss of Mathis is probably bigger than the three missing Broncos. The Indy defense has no other playmakers. The Denver defense will be fine without Trevathan after the additions of DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib. I mentioned Welker's replacements. Brandon McManus replaces Prater. The team sent a seventh-round pick to the Giants for him late in the preseason. I don't pretend to have a scouting report on the guy. It's Denver, any kicker is going to have extra range. As long as he hits all the short-to-medium ones the Broncos will be OK.
I like the Broncos here, but you might be able to shop around and find this at 7 (or even better buy it down to 6.5). It did open as low as 6.5, but Denver is taking the heavy lean. I don't see either side doing much defensively, so go over. Just don't expect seven TD passes from Manning as in last season's opener against Baltimore. Let's say three.
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