TNF - Broncos at Colts
December 14, 2017
By Tony Mejia
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Denver (-2.5, 40.5) at Indianapolis, 8:25 pm ET, NBC/NFLN
It’s hard to get anyone to universally agree on anything these days, but all we’ve heard from NFL players the past few seasons is how difficult these Thursday night games are to play and how they put them at a higher risk of injury. Although we’ve had a few stinkers in terms of matchups already, Week 15’s offering will be the first between teams that have no shot at the postseason, making it all the more difficult to handicap which is more likely to show up.
The Colts are at home, but the Broncos have been installed as a slight favorite on the heels of a 23-0 shutout of the Jets on Sunday. The win snapped an eight-game losing streak for a team that entered the season expecting to return to the playoffs after having a string of five straight postseason appearances following five consecutive AFC West titles snapped by last season’s 9-7 finish.
Indianapolis has lost seven of eight, including the last four. Andrew Luck’s absence lingering the way it did clipped all hope before there was any legitimate reason for any. Despite Chuck Pagano pleading ignorance to how the franchise quarterback was progressing after shoulder surgery, his inability to get back on schedule clued everyone into the fact something had gone wrong.
The Colts attempted to stay afloat by trading for New England backup Jacoby Brissett, but between poor offensive line play and getting acclimated to a whole new system, neither he nor the team had much chance. The organization finally announced Luck wouldn’t be back and saw more dirty laundry leak out in the form of a rumor that owner Jim Irsay is of the belief his franchise QB’s woes are more mental than they are physical. Indy has had a losing record throughout, so the highlight of its season was moving to 2-3 after wins over the Browns and 49ers.
In a parallel universe, those football fans will enjoy a healthy luck challenging Denver’s championship-caliber defense. In this one, we’ll likely get a clunker.
On the off chance both teams do come to play and put on a good show, it would likely be due to the running game producing results. Indianapolis’ Frank Gore carried 36 times for 130 yards amid a Sunday snowstorm in Buffalo. We’ll see how the 34-year-old responds to playing on a short week after such a heavy workload. If Gore averages 83 rushing yards over the three remaining games, he’ll pass Curtis Martin as the No. 4 rusher in NFL history with over 14,075 career yards. Expect rookie Marlon Mack to help take some of the carries as we’ll likely see Pagano go for more of a split against a run defense that leads the NFL by allowing just 3.3 yards per carry.
Despite the Colts’ standing as the second-worst team in the AFC, questions about tanking the rest of the way to ensure the best possible pick in April’s NFL draft were scoffed at by Chuck Pagano. He’ll be utilizing everyone available to him to try and secure a third home win. Only Washington has given up more points than Indianapolis (344-343), which also ranks in the bottom 10 in run defense and bottom three in pass defense.
Trevor Siemian threw for 200 yards and a touchdown against the Jets last week, while C.J. Anderson got the ball 22 times and should be featured again ahead of Jamaal Charles and Deontae Booker.
Siemian has thrown for exactly 200 in each of the last two weeks and comes off only his third interception-free game of the season. The Paxton Lynch ankle injury that helped Siemian get the job back will keep the former first-round pick out of this one, so Brock Osweiler will be the backup.
Brissett threw for just 69 yards in a 13-7 OT loss to the Bills, but did throw a touchdown for the fifth time in his last six outings. Indianapolis has scored 20 or more points in only two of its last seven and has averaged just 12.5 points over its last four. The Colts have been sacked 52 times, eight more than Arizona, which has surrendered the second-most. Denver has given up 41, which is tied for fourth-most.
As if you needed another reason to watch, holes burned into your retinas thanks to Denver’s all-orange color rush uniforms come free of charge. Siemian said it makes them look like “human traffic cones.” If you’re of the belief you play as well as you look, taking the points with the Colts at home would be an easy decision. They’re be sporting an all-royal blue ensemble.
Season win total: 8 (Over +100, Under -120)
Odds to win AFC West:Off the board
Odds to win AFC: Off the board
Odds to win Super Bowl: Off the board
Season win total: 8 (Over +130, Under -150)
Odds to win AFC South: Off the board
Odds to win AFC: Off the board
Odds to win Super Bowl: Off the board
Both of these teams have seen any future action taken off the board since they're already eliminated. The Colts were 6/1 to win the AFC South, which means Westgate had them pegged as the last-place team. Denver had 9/2 odds in the AFC West, tied for the longest shot with the Chargers.
The UNDER has already been clinched on the win totals for both. Denver was 20/1 to win the AFC and 40/1 as a Super Bowl pick prior to the start of the season. Indianapolis' odds were 50/1 to win the AFC and 100/1 to emerge as champs.
As far as this matchup is concerned, the Colts were installed as a 1-point favorite when the Westgate's early numbers were announced, but Denver opened the week favored by 2-to-2.5 everywhere and has remained there. The total opened at 41-to-41.5, but has come down to 40.5 nearly everywhere but the Wynn, which has it at 40.
Carolina is -170/-180 on the money line, while Philadelphia will get you +160.
Scott Cooley of Bookmaker.eu provides info on what his shop is seeing as far as betting trends.
"There’s hardly any public interest for Thursday Night Football, but the pros have taken a minor stance. At this point, they’re on Denver and the under. The square money we do have thus far is also on the Broncos. We’re currently looking at 65 percent of the tickets on the visitor and 70 percent of the money there as well."
The Broncos are the healthier group, though a number of key players appeared on the injury report before being cleared to play. QB Siemian (back), WR Emmanuel Sanders (ankle), center Matt Paradis (wrist) and starting linebackers Shane Ray (wrist) and Todd Davis (ankle) were all full participants in practice this week and will be good to go.
Nose tackle Domata Peko has been limited by a knee injury that ended his streak of 123 consecutive starts, keeping him out consecutive games. He’s healed up enough to be a “game-time” decision according to coaches. Strong safety Justin Simmons was placed on IR due to an ankle injury and will be replaced by second-year safety Will Parks. The offense lost guard Ron Leary, who went on IR with a back injury. Second-year player Connor McGovern will fill in.
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Indianapolis will be without both of its starting corners, Nate Hairston (concussion) and Rashaan Melvin. They dumped Vontae Davis and lost safety Malik Hooker to IR after a freak play in late October. LB John Simon is also out after sustaining a shoulder injury. He was one of the team’s best defenders when healthy. DE Henry Anderson went on IR due to a throat injury last month. Center Ryan Kelly is again out with a concussion. The Colts have started four players at that key offensive line position this season. WR Donte Moncrief won’t play due to a bum ankle. Brissett (quad), Gore (hand) and DT Hassan Ridgeway (shoulder) practiced Wednesday and will play.
RECENT MEETINGS (Indianapolis 8-2 SU, 9-1 ATS last 10; OVER 7-2-1)
9/18/16 Denver 34-20 vs. Indianapolis (DEN -6, 47)
11/8/15 Indianapolis 27-24 vs. Denver (IND +5.5, 45.5)
1/11/15 Indianapolis 24-13 at Denver (IND +7, 53.5)
9/7/14 Denver 31-24 vs. Indianapolis (IND +7.5, 55)
10/20/13 Indianapolis 39-33 vs. Denver (IND +6, 54.5)
9/26/10 Indianapolis 27-13 at Denver (IND -6, 47)
12/13/09 Indianapolis 28-16 vs. Denver (IND -6.5, 43.5)
9/30/07 Indianapolis 38-20 vs. Denver (IND -10, 46.5)
10/29/06 Indianapolis 34-31 at Denver (IND +3, 39.5)
1/9/05 Indianapolis 49-24 vs. Denver (IND -10, 56)
NEXT WEEK'S NUMBERS POSTED
The Westgate opens its advance lines for the following week on Tuesdays and Week 16 currently has the Colts as a 10-point road underdog looking to play spoiler in Baltimore on Saturday, Dec. 23. The Broncos will be back on the road in a meaningless game, visiting Washington. Denver is listed as a 5-point underdog.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA
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