Thursday Night Football viewers will be treated to another divisional showdown this week as the Indianapolis Colts travel to Houston to take on the Texans. This game should not only be a competitive matchup but one that will have lasting playoff implications for both sides.
While the Texans are receiving the majority of support from bettors, the line has not budged off -3.5 points at the majority of shops. This is somewhat surprising given the fact that the Colts offense runs through Marlon Mack, and he will be out for the foreseeable future after breaking his hand on Sunday. But per DVOA, the Colts rank as the slightly better team than the Texans, so it makes sense that the books aren’t too eager to shade this line more in Houston’s favor.
Colts Offense vs. Texans Defense
Although Marlon Mack is the Colts unquestioned bell cow and has amassed 862 yards on the ground this year, it’s the Indy offensive line that really makes this offense purr. Jacoby Brissett has been afforded the third most amount of time in the pocket before being pressured thanks to his offensive line play. Indy’s O-line also ranks 11th in adjusted sack rate and 11th in adjusted line yards. As for Brissett, he ranks 11th in on-target percentage and 16th overall in QBR.
Brissett is nothing to write home about, but he’s an accurate passer that can move in the pocket, doesn’t take a lot of sacks and knows where to go with the football. However, Brissett will not only be missing the ground production of Mack, but he also may be without his top receiver as T.Y. Hilton is still nursing the calf injury he suffered a month ago.
(UPDATE: T.Y. Hilton is expected to play.)
The team is optimistic that Hilton at least has a chance to play, and T.Y. has said there are a couple of boxes that need to be checked to get him in the lineup. At full health, Hilton would be worth at least 1-point to the spread, but even if he does suit up, he likely will not be at full strength. His addition to the lineup though would likely drop this line by half a point so this is a situation to monitor on Thursday.
The big problem for the Texans on defense is a severe lack of a pass rush without JJ Watt on the field. According to Seth Walder of ESPN Analytics, “When J.J. Watt has not been on the field, the Texans have recorded a pass rush win rate of 29%. That would rank 31st in the NFL.” Brissett should have plenty of time in the pocket already given his offensive line, but if this stat holds true, Jacoby may have all day to find an open receiver.
The Colts will undoubtedly miss Marlon Mack, but the team suffered zero production lost when going to backup Jonathan Williams. Last week Williams ran for 116 yards on 13 carries behind the impressive Colts offensive line. So, while you’d assume the line should be adjusted a bit for the loss of Mack, that may not be the case on the field.
The Texans rank 10th in the league in efficiency at defending the run, so they should be equipped to limit Indy’s ground game. Where Houston is most vulnerable on defense is defending the pass, where they rank near the bottom of the league at #25. The Colts rank 18th in passing efficiency, but to expose the Texans through the air Indy would be much more dangerous if Hilton can suit up. Without Hilton and Mack, the Texans may be well-enough equipped to limit this Colts offense to below their season average of 22.7 points per game.
Texans Offense vs. Colts Defense
The Texans offense was severely stunted on Sunday by the Ravens, despite having the best quarterback/wide receiver combo in the game with Deshaun Watson throwing to DeAndre Hopkins. When Watson has no time in the pocket, the offense turtles into its shell, and that’s exactly what happened on Sunday against the Ravens. So, the biggest question on this side of the ball is, can Indy get after Watson?
The answer is, probably not. The Colts rank 20th in the league in adjusted sack rate on their defensive line and only 12 teams have fewer sacks than Indy’s 25. The Colts don’t necessarily have a bad pass rush, but it’s squarely below average.
Defending the run, the Colts have been much better, ranking 8th in adjusted line yards and 5th in stuff rate. However, the Colts rank 31st in defending the power run game. Houston, meanwhile, used their power running game to perfection in their win over the Chiefs earlier in the season. The Texans rank 6th in the power run game and rank 13th in adjusted line yards. So, if Houston can establish the power run with Carlos Hyde, it may unlock the key to victory for the Texans on offense.
If Houston can establish their run game, this should allow Watson more time in the pocket to pick apart the Colts secondary. And he’ll need that advantage, as the Colts rank 10th in defensive passing efficiency. Houston also ranks 10th in offensive passing efficiency, so the key differentiator when the Texans have the ball will come down to how well they establish the run.
The look-ahead line on this game was Texans -4.5 points, but despite the Colts losing Marlon Mack, the spread opened at Texans -3.5. Houston has taken the majority of the bets, and an even larger majority of the money in this game. 66% of the bets on the Texans currently account for 79% of the dollars wagered on the game. However, despite this large disparity, the line has stayed at 3.5 points at almost every outlet.
The total on this game has seen an equally lopsided amount of attention, as 69% of the bets are on the under, accounting for 80% of the money. This action has caused the total to drop from an opening number of 46.5 to where it currently sits at 45 points.
By Kyle Johansen