Colts favorites at Titans with playoff spot on line Sunday night

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A play-in game could be boiled down to something as elemental as the respective health of the two quarterbacks – plus the Indianapolis Colts also have a strong track record as a road underdog.

With an AFC playoff berth at stake, the Andrew Luck-led Colts are 3-point road favorites on the Week 17 NFL odds against the Tennessee Titans with a 43.5-point total for Sunday night at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Led by a reinvigorated Luck, the Colts will try to tap into a long-term trend of being 12-2 straight-up and 11-3 against the spread in their last 14 games against the Titans, according to the OddsShark NFL Database. The Titans are hopeful that quarterback Marcus Mariota, who suffered a “stinger” on the right side of his body in their Week 16 game on December 22, will try to play in a do-or-done game.

The Colts, who are 9-6 SU and 7-7-1 ATS this season, are laying points since they put up 38 points against Tennessee in the AFC South rivals’ first matchup of the season. It may not feel as easy this time around, but the Colts do an excellent job of keeping Luck upright and should give him a chance to make some plays downfield against Tennessee’s pass defense, which is the fifth-stingiest in yards-per-pass

Luck will have to rely on other weapons, as No. 1 wide receiver T.Y. Hilton will likely have a tough matchup against Adoree’ Jackson, while tight end Eric Ebron is facing a secondary that clamps down well on tight ends. The Colts have had a steady, if slowing down of late, ground game built around Marlon Mack.

Despite Luck’s injury issues prior to this season, the Colts are 6-0 SU and 5-1 ATS in their last six games in Week 17.

For the Titans, who are 9-6 SU and 8-7 ATS, the main question involves the extent to which Mariota playing hurt affects an offense that has run hot and cold all season. Indianapolis allows the sixth-lowest yards-per-rush in the NFL, and if Mariota’s physical limitations take away a read-option threat, then the Colts could thrive at blowing up rush attempts by Tennessee running back Derrick Henry.

The Titans are not an explosive team – only the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills, losing teams with rookie quarterbacks, have connected on fewer touchdown passes this season – and need their ground game to keep them out of obvious passing downs. If Mariota is unable to play, veteran Blaine Gabbert is the next man up behind center for Tennessee, which is 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games at home.

The total has gone UNDER in five of the Colts’ last six games at online betting sites, with an average combined score of 38.0 points. The total has gone UNDER in three of the Colts’ last four games against the Titans, with an average combined score of 45.75 points.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

NFL fans apparently don’t want an 18-game regular season

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In the news this week, as the league gets back to business for the 100th season of American professional football:

• The owners and players meet Wednesday in another formal bargaining session for a new CBA. A three-day meeting is scheduled between the NFL’s Management Council and the NFLPA’s Executive Committee (a 10-player unit including president Eric Winston and VPs Richard ShermanBenjamin Watsonand Adam Vinatieri). This will be the fourth bargaining session between owners and players this spring/summer, with the hope being the two sides can reach an agreement on a new bargaining agreement in 2019. (The CBA has two more seasons to run, and expires in the spring of 2021.)

Commissioner Roger Goodell recently told CNBC that it is “certainly our intent” to try to get a new CBA before the start of the season. In a round of calls Saturday, I got some optimism from a team source who felt the chance of making a deal on a new CBA was 50-50 this year if the union would stick with the current economic formula of the game; currently players get about 47 percent of the game’s gross revenue.

But I talked to a source on the player side who wasn’t nearly as hopeful, in part because he felt the players need a bigger cut of the pie to agree to a new deal two seasons out from the end of the current CBA. This person called the first three meetings positive, but baby steps toward a deal. I do know that there have not been any significant discussions on a change in the revenue split yet. Those talks will have to progress for anything to get done.

• The 18-game schedule is nowhere near a reality. I heard that one or two teams are interested in what the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday the NFL has proposed discussing with the players as part of the CBA talks: an 18-game regular-season schedule, with each player eligible to play a maximum of 16 games. This is not a new idea—it’s been thrown around at league meetings as one idea to expand the inventory and enrich the league’s TV deals for years.

“I can’t see it,” one plugged-in club official told me. “Imagine you pay to see Tom Brady and the Patriots, and the Patriots announce that week it’s one of the two games he’ll sitting out this year. Now you’re seeing Brian Hoyer throw to some practice-squad guy. I don’t see any way we could ever do that.”

I’ve always thought in an era when the reduction of head trauma is job one in everything the league does, the only way the NFL could even consider 18 games is with teams playing players a maximum of 16 weeks. But the details make it too hard. How would a team divvy up the starts, say, for the starting offensive line? Would they figure the starting tackles should play every week with the starting quarterback, and thus doom the backup in his two games to a run-for-your-life offensive scheme?

The continued pursuit—or the continuing broaching—of an 18-game schedule is such a short-sighted and greedy thing. The NFL paid each team $275 million out of the league share of total revenue in 2018, and teams paid about $215 million annually in player costs (cap plus benefits). After that, teams can reap major raw profits over what they did in local team revenue.

Someone in the NFL seems determined to kill the most golden of geese by pursuing, even in a passing way, this stupid idea. Greed, in this case, is not good.

• Fans don’t want 18 games either. I put out a Twitter poll Saturday and Sunday, asking if readers preferred a 16 or 18-game schedule. Of 13,533 voters, 79 percent said 16. Great comment from a Vikings fan, Jason Altland: “If I pay out the nose for decent tickets in Baltimore or New York to see my Vikings, I want to see all the healthy stars play. I don’t want to pay and end up with a [Stefon] Diggs or {Adam] Thielen bye game.”

Pro Football Talk also polled its readers over the weekend about the 16/18-game idea, with more options than I offered … and 62 percent said they favored 16 games—with 8 percent saying they favored 18 with a maximum of 16 games per player per season.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Why Melvin Gordon’s holdout with the Chargers could get ugly

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I think this Melvin Gordon-Chargers impasse could get ugly. The Chargers running back, entering his fifth season, could hold out from training camp into the season if he doesn’t get either a new contract or a significant raise from his $5.6-million salary in 2019. There’s a few reasons the holdout could last a while, starting with the fact that Chargers GM Tom Telesco, who grew up in the Bill Polian front office of the Colts, is not afraid to take a hard line. But mostly, it’s about what happens in recent years when teams have either paid runners or drawn a hard line with them. Examples:

• Le’Veon Bell balked at the Steelers’ offer of $14.5 million on the franchise tag last year. James Conner wasn’t quite as productive as vintage Bell—270 touches, 1,470 yards, 13 touchdowns—but he was close. And Conner, who made $754,572 last year, cost 1/19th of what Bell would have commended. No one in Pittsburgh is bemoaning the loss of Bell, though he’s a great player.

• Todd Gurley is a great back too, and the Rams paid a guaranteed $45 million last year. They’ll say they aren’t regretting what they paid Gurley, but an odd and persistent knee problem last year limited him to 88 carries in the Rams’ last nine games—including a 35-yard rushing performance in the Super Bowl. The Rams picked up C.J. Anderson off the street in December, and in five games, he rushed for 488 yards.

• David Johnson of the Cardinals responded to his new $13-million-a-year deal on the eve of the 2018 season by rushing for 940 yards (3.6 yards per carry).

• Devonta Freeman signed with Atlanta for $22 million guaranteed in 2017. He’s missed 16 of the Falcons’ last 32 regular-season games and averaged 58 yards per game in the 16 he’s played.

In 30 games over his two NFL seasons, Charger understudy Austin Ekeler has proven elusive and reliable, averaging 5.3 yards per rush and 10.3 yards per catch, with just two lost fumbles. I don’t think Telesco will be afraid to take the slings and arrows of a holdout. So if you’re drafting your fantasy team very early, I’d give a long look at Ekeler.

Read more from Football Morning in America here