Sunday Night Football Preview: Can the Hobbled Colts Keep Pace With the Chiefs?
The streak of Sunday night home underdogs is broken in Week 5, as the Kansas City Chiefs and their juggernaut offense are favored at home by 11.0 points over the Indianapolis Colts. According to oddsFire, 56% of moneyline bets are backing the Chiefs, though 76% of the money has come in on the Chiefs to win outright, implying some big bets are being thrown down on the home favorite in this matchup. The spread is seeing a pretty even split on both sides, while 61% of the bets and 74% of the money is hammering the over on 56 points scored.
The betting public says that the Chiefs will win this game in a high-scoring affair, though they are split on just how close it will be. Can the scrappy Colts surprise and pull off the upset? Let's check out our projections.
Passing Game Preview
The Colts enter Week 5 as the 29th-ranked passing offense, according to Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, at 0.06 Passing NEP per drop back. This may not be the week they turn things around, either, as the receiving corps enters Sunday night banged up.
Star receiver T.Y. Hilton will be a game-time decision with a quad injury that kept him out last week, though he did get in limited practice on Thursday and Friday. Rookie pass-catcher Parris Campbell has already been ruled out for Week 5, further limiting the options at wide receiver. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been primarily a game manager thus far, taking good care of the ball and running the offense, but he hasn't produced many explosive plays. Wide receiver Zach Pascal has been Brissett's most efficient option, ranking second among all receivers with 10 or more targets with a 1.41 Reception NEP per target. Despite some issues with drops, tight end Eric Ebron has been Brissett's second best option with a respectable 1.06 Reception NEP per target. Look for Brissett to lean on Pascal and Ebron if Hilton sits out or or is limited.
Surprisingly, the Chiefs come into the game allowing -0.03 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, good for sixth-best in the NFL. Kansas City's defense enters the game healthy, and they have yet to allow a 300-yard passer in 2019 -- impressive considering that their high-powered offense encourages passing from their opponents. With at least three sacks in each of the last three games, this Chiefs' D is an underrated unit that could cause problems for Brissett if forced to play from behind.
When the Chiefs have the ball, they are producing a league best 0.39 Passing NEP per drop back, a substantially better number than the second-place Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0.26 Adjusted Passing NEP). Sammy Watkins is a late addition to the injury report and looks to be a game-time decision, which could be a substantial loss to a team already without their best wide receiver in Tyreek Hill. Patrick Mahomes seemingly can make a star out of any receiver, however, as evidenced by Demarcus Robinson's 0.94 Reception NEP per target. Mecole Hardman has been just as efficient as Robinson in limited usage, and with Travis Kelce and his team-leading 1.01 Reception NEP per target, the Chiefs still have the firepower to attack Indianapolis through the air.
The Colts' defense is allowing 0.24 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, 23rd overall in the league. The Colts are missing starting safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers as well as star linebacker Darius Leonard, which doesn't bode well for their chances of stopping this high-powered Chiefs passing attack. The Colts allowed Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan to each top 300 yards and 3 touchdowns against them so far this season, and Mahomes should have no problem approaching those numbers this week.
Rushing Game Preview
Indianapolis has excelled on the ground with 0.17 Adjusted Rushing NEP per rush, good for the second most efficient rushing attack in the league, trailing only the Minnesota Vikings. Running back Marlon Mack is listed as questionable, but he is likely to play, per reports, and his presence will be needed for the Colts to pull off the upset. Brissett has helped boost the Colts' rushing attack with a 0.51 Rushing NEP per carry on 14 attempts, and Jordan Wilkins has provided a nice change of pace on 12 carries this year with a 0.24 Rushing NEP per carry. The Colts may struggle to commit to the run if they fall behind on the road, however, and Nyheim Hines has been an inefficient option both on the ground and through the air as the main pass-catching weapon out of the backfield.
Defensively, the Chiefs rank as the 24th best run defense through four weeks, with a 0.07 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per rush. The trick for the Colts, however, will be to keep the game close so they can fully commit to the run. In Kansas City against this high powered Chiefs offense, that strategy may be tough to follow through on. The start of the game will be important for the Colts. If they can build a lead early, they may be able to exploit the Chiefs' defensive weakness with their offensive strength in the rushing game.
The KC rushing attack ranks 14th in the league and has taken a back seat to their dynamic passing game. LeSean McCoy has produced a surprising 0.13 Rushing NEP per rush on 40 carries to lead the Chiefs' backfield, with the rest of their running backs producing negative Rushing NEP per rush on the season. Darrel Williams has contributed a 0.72 Reception NEP per target filling in for the injured Damien Williams, who is questionable to return this week. Each of the running backs have contributed in the passing game, giving this unit some nice versatility to attack opposing defenses.
The Colts' D ranks 25th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per rush, right next to the Chiefs. Without their best linebacker in Leonard, the Colts may struggle to stop the Chiefs' running backs on the ground as well as through the air. If the Colts fall behind early, Kansas City should have success killing the clock on the ground if they so choose.
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