NFL expert Jay Tremblay (@SportsM0ney) takes us through the Wildcard weekend clash between the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.
Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans | Saturday 5th January 2019, 21:25 | Sky Sports
It’s no secret, the Indianapolis Colts are on fire as of late. Winners in 9 of their last 10 games, they are looking like one of the scariest teams to face in the play-offs this post-season.
Gone are the days of quarter back Andrew Luck needing to scramble for his life or chance taking a sack, a feeling that was all too familiar for him a few seasons ago when he took more hits than any other quarterback in the NFL. Instead, this season the Colts boast the leagues lowest QB sack rate.
For anybody who used to watch the Colts play, this may have been something you never thought you’d see. This however does not bode well for the home team Texans, who pride themselves on disruption with Jadaveon Clowney and JJ Watt looking to put pressure on the outside edges when QB’s try to drop back and pass.
The Texans do excel at stopping the run, as they have the 5th ranked run defence in the NFL. Their struggles lie in the passing game, which is where the Colts reign supreme. Houston’s passdefence is below average, ranking 28th in opponents passing yards per game and 18th in opponents passing completion percentage.
The Colts offense ranks 2nd in the NFL in pass attempts per game with 40.2 and 6th in passing yards per game with an average of 278.8. The timing and familiarity between Luck and his receiving core is a big reason why his offensive line has given up the least amount of sacks in the league this year.
When we think back to pre-injury Luck, his most recent shoulder injury that kept him out almost 2 seasons that is, it should be no surprise to see the success they’re having now. Even back then, it was as if Luck and his preferred wide receiver target TY Hilton were almost sharing the same brain.
The timing on their passes was eerily similar to what we’re seeing this season, the only difference being the Colts have more talented receiving options now and a run game that has established itself as a real threat with Marlon Mack enjoying touchdown success (9) and Nyheim Hines relishing in the change of pace role as the receiving back (63 catches).
In short, Luck has more weapons now than he did before and a much better offensive line to give him the extra time he needs to make his reads down field or check the ball off to his running backs for a short gain and keep drives alive.
This match-up is also between two teams in the same division, which means they’ve already played each other twice this season and are very familiar with what each team brings to the table. Each team won on the road in their two match ups this season, with Houston enjoying a 37-34 win in a shootout and the Colts with a 24-21 win late in the season.
The total on this game is currently 48.0 and historically, divisional games between weeks 11 and the wildcard round, with a closing total between 44.5 and 60.0 have seen the Under payout 62.2% of the time. The Under has also won in 4 of the last 5 head to head meetings between the two sides.
However, that is not the angle we are going to attack this week. Yes, this game for me is going to come down to defence, an area that typically would be in Houston’s favour, however a deeper dive into the numbers shows us that the Colts hold a serious advantage in a key area, the red zone.
This is due to a combination of a few factors, first being the Colts 3rd down conversion percentage, which is #1 in the NFL at 48.6%. Converting on 3rd down is crucial to keeping both time of possession in your favor and extending drives. Next is their red zone touchdown conversion percentage, which at 68.7% is good enough for 5th in the NFL.
Once they get in the red zone, the Colts have been fantastic on their play calling by giving Andrew Luck time to make his reads and find the open receiver or to hand the ball off to Mack and let him punch it in. The major point here is that when they get in the red zone, the Colts are coming away with 6 points off a touchdown instead of settling for 3 points from a field goal. The pressure will be on Houston to either turn those Indianapolis 3rd downs into punts or limit their red zone trips to just 3 points.
Unfortunately, Houston rank 29th in the NFL in stopping opponents from scoring a touchdown once they’ve reached the red zone, allowing a touchdown score on a whopping 70% of possessions this season.
I’m hard pressed to find a reason not to take the points with the Indianapolis Colts +2.5 available at 5/6 with Unibet. In what could be a low-ish scoring, divisional playoff game between a team that has been lights out when they get deep in the other team’s half and a team that has struggled to keep opponents out of their end zone.
The market seems to agree, as Houston opened as -2.5 home favourites but the Colts have seen around 52% of bets and 55% of total dollars $ wagered, moving the line to Houston -1.5/-1.0. I feel the Colts +2.5 at odds anywhere above 4/5 still holds great value.
Another massive reason for the Colts red zone success has been rejuvenated Tight End, Eric Ebron. Since coming over from Detroit last season, Ebron is enjoying the fruits of an offensive line giving Andrew Luck time to throw just as much as Luck himself.
After finishing the regular season with 13 total touchdowns, not only does he lead the team in that category but they’re also the most by any tight end in the league. He’s been Luck’s 2nd favourite option with 110 targets, only 10 fewer than # 1 receiving option TY Hilton.
Ebron made good on those looks with 66 catches on the season, good for 750 yards which placed him 5th in receiving amongst tight ends. When he’s on the field, 96% of his routes are passing ones, which means he’s rarely used for blocking schemes. He’s caught at least 1 receiving touchdown in 10 of the 16 games he played this season, good for 62.5%.
He was able to find the end zone in both match ups between these two sides earlier in the year and at odds of 2.62 with Bet365 for him to find the end zone anytime, I like our chances for pay dirt once the Colts get deep in Houston territory.