- After Andrew Luck's retirement, there's now a strong buy-low opportunity on the Colts after how drastically their win total shifted.
With the NFL preseason in full swing, opening kickoff is nigh, and that means it's time to dive into NFL win totals. SI Gambling will be rolling out our favorite over and under bets for both the AFC and NFC using current win totals available at New Jersey sportsbooks (FanDuel, DraftKings, William Hill, PointsBet). After revealing our favorite AFC and NFC unders, let's get into more of an optimistic mood with the AFC.
Indianapolis Colts: 6.5 (Over -106, Under -105 at PointsBet)
Wait, Andrew Luck is retiring, and I’m suggesting the Colts over is a strong play? In this case, yes.
If a star suffers a major injury or a team is without a key player, the betting market sometimes overreacts. PointsBet had Indy’s win total at 10, and now has dropped it by 3.5 wins. Was Luck one of the best QBs in the league when healthy? Yep. Are the Colts three wins worse with Jacoby Brissett under center? I don’t think so.
Let’s look at the Colts’ 2017 season with Brissett. First, he was acquired from the Patriots just seven days before the season kicked off. So Scott Tolzien was named the Week 1 starter, and the Colts got humiliated by the Rams 46-9. With Brissett, the Colts went 4-11 on the season, but that record is a bit misleading. They were leading at the start of the fourth quarter in nine of those 15 games, yet lost five of them.
There were three other instances where Indy led by at least 13 points in the fourth, and barely came away with the win—a 31-14 Week 3 lead over the Browns (the 0-16 team) finished in a 31-28 win; a 23-9 Week 5 lead over the 49ers (the team that started 0-8 before Jimmy Garoppolo saved the day) went to overtime before the Colts won, 26-23 overtime win; and a 20-7 Week 9 lead over the Texans (the Deshaun Watson-less, Tom Savage-quarterbacked Texans) ended at 20-14 after the Texans failed on fourth-and-goal to end the game.
Add in the fact that the Colts were outscored 233-115 in the second half, and it paints a picture of a coaching staff that was clearly in over its head. Frank Reich is a massive upgrade at head coach over Chuck Pagano. Brissett also had to learn then-offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s offense on the fly in 2017 since he was acquired just before the start of the season. Brissett has had much more time to get acclimated to Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni’s system, given this is their second season working together.
Speaking of Reich, he’s done wonders coaching a backup quarterback before. As the Eagles offensive coordinator in 2017, he was a major factor in getting strong play and a Super Bowl out of Nick Foles. And it’s not like Brissett is hopeless under center. He was widely regarded as one of the top backup QBs in the league, and he has plenty of experience under this belt. Per The MMQB’s Andy Benoit, Brissett also has the traits to keep the Colts afloat: “The fourth-year pro is a big, strong pocket passer, which is still what mostly predicates NFL offensive success. Starting 15 games for an injured Luck in 2017, Brissett showed the mental toughness and mechanical dexterity to make throws from muddy pockets.”
Indy also has a much better team than it had in 2017. An offensive line that finished 32nd in adjusted sack rate in Brissett’s first season (and 28th in 2016 with Luck) in Indy jumped all the way up to second in 2018. The defense has legitimate cornerstones now with linebacker Darius Leonard and safety Malik Hooker. Offseason additions like Justin Houston in free agency and second-round wideout Parris Campbell in the draft look poised to make an immediate impact. Luck was definitely a big part of why the Colts had the third-best Super Bowl odds in the AFC (only behind the Patriots and Chiefs) before his retirement, but there’s still plenty to like about this roster.
Having to face the AFC West and NFC South isn’t the most advantageous, but I’m still not really convinced that there’s any true contenders in the AFC South (though if I had to pick one, it’d be the Jaguars). But I still think there’s a nice buy-low opportunity on the Colts here, especially with the low juice on over 6.5.
PICK: Over 6.5 Wins
Pittsburgh Steelers: 9 (Over -134, Under +110 at DraftKings)
While the Browns offseason hype train continues to churn, I have my eye on a different AFC North team to do big things this season. After missing the playoffs last season and shedding Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown in the offseason, people are not as high on the Steelers as they have been in recent seasons. But before last season’s 9-6-1 record, this was a team that had four straight double-digit win campaigns and there’s still a lot to like in the Steel City.
The Steelers were actually quite solid in several metrics last season, including net yards per play. The Steelers gained an average of 6.1 yards per play, while allowing just 5.3 yards per play on defense. Only the Chiefs (0.9) finished with a higher net YPP than Pittsburgh. The one area that killed the Steelers was turnovers. Pittsburgh had a -11 turnover differential, which ranked 28th. The other teams with a -10 turnover differential or worse were the Jets, Cardinals, Jaguars, Buccaneers and 49ers. Those five teams combined for a 21-59 record last season. Turnovers are typically a tougher department to be consistently good in from year to year since it’s more luck-based, while yards per play is a stronger indicator for how good a team is.
Even without Bell last season, the offense ranked sixth in efficiency. Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner can certainly keep this unit among the league’s best. Pittsburgh’s offensive line returns all five starters and is one of the biggest strengths of the team, though losing offensive line coach Mike Munchak to Denver is a big blow.
The defense looks to bounce back after adding linebacker Devin Bush in the draft. This group hasn’t been the same since Ryan Shazier’s neck injury, but Bush is a true three-down inside linebacker who can become the leader of this defense. Mark Barron comes over from the Rams as another reinforcement to help a linebacking group that really struggled in 2018. Free-agent addition Steven Nelson gives the Steelers a legitimate outside counterpart to fellow corner Joe Haden after another disappointing year from Artie Burns.
If those acquisitions can improve the play at inside linebacker and in the secondary, this defense will return to being elite. Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt each made the Pro Bowl last season, and headline a pass rush that was tied for the league lead in sacks last season at 52.
While the AFC North projects to be one of the league’s toughest divisions this season, there are other breaks that the Steelers get on their schedule. If there is any good time to play the Patriots on the road, it’s in the first month of the season, when New England has had recent slow starts under Bill Belichick—the Patriots have lost two of their first four games in each of the past two seasons and in four of the past seven. In Week 2, the Steelers host the Seahawks, a team that has started slow away from home under Pete Carroll. Since 2010 when Carroll took over, Seattle has lost its first road game of the season in eight of nine years.
The Steelers will face a first-year head coach in seven games and a first- or second-year quarterback in potentially as many as eight games (if Josh Rosen is starting for the Dolphins by Week 8). That’s a big advantage in experience considering this will be the 13th season Mike Tomlin and Roethlisberger are together.
With all the buzz surrounding the Browns, I think this makes the Steelers slightly underrated heading into the season, even though they have the most complete roster in the division.
PICK: Over 9 Wins