NFL Betting: When Will the Colts Suffer Their First Defeat in 2020?
Over at FanDuel Sportsbook, there are seven prop bets for the "local favorites" about when those teams will win and lose their first games of the season. That list includes the Indianapolis Colts, who are coming off a disappointing 7-9 season a year ago as they lost five of their last six games to fall out of the playoff race.
The Colts made a big splash this offseason by signing Philip Rivers to a one-year contract, instantly upgrading the most important position on the field. Rivers gained a full yard more per completion than Indy's starter last year, Jacoby Brissett. In addition, Rivers bested Brissett in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back and Passing Success Rate (i.e., the percentage of drop backs that lead to positive NEP for a team’s offense).
A veteran quarterback with a stronger arm should help emerging receivers like Parris Campbell and Zach Pascal blossom even more, as well as potentially jumpstart T.Y. Hilton, who is coming off his worst season since his rookie year in 2012. The Colts also used both of their second-round selections this year on offensive playmakers -- Michael Pittman Jr. and Jonathan Taylor -- who will help improve an offense that ranked 24th in Adjusted Passing NEP per play.
The bet we're looking at today is when the Colts will lose their first game of the season. There isn't much of a point in betting on the Colts' first win unless you believe the Jacksonville Jaguars will beat the Colts in Week 1. The odds are -310 that the Colts' first win will be in the opener at Jacksonville, and with the Jaguars coming in at No. 29 in numberFire's power rankings, it's hard to imagine the Colts losing that contest.
Considering just one of the Colts' first seven is against a team that made the playoffs a year ago, the first loss prop is definitely intriguing.
That lone contest against a 2019 playoff team is a Week 2 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings, in Indy's home opener.
Indianapolis then hosts the New York Jets in the third game before road trips to the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns in Weeks 4 and 5. After that, the Colts host the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6 before a bye and a Week 8 visit to the Motorcity to take on the Detroit Lions.
That is all a very manageable load for the Colts, one that can help launch Indianapolis to a strong start. Let's look at the three most likely games in which Indianapolis will take that first loss.
Week 2 vs. Minnesota (+200)
This is the toughest game on Indianapolis' schedule in the first half of the season. The Vikings are the only team the Colts play in this opening stretch that is ranked higher than them in the numberFire power rankings.
Minnesota traded Stefon Diggs to the Bills this offseason but used one of their first-round picks to add Justin Jefferson to complement Dalvin Cook, Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen as weapons for Kirk Cousins.
Minnesota relied heavily on Cook and the running game to power the offense in 2019, attempting the third-fewest passes in the league. Their pass-to-run ratio was also third-lowest.
Cook was clearly a dynamic player with the ball in his hands, ranking eighth among running backs in yards before contact and ninth in yards after contact. He also ranked seventh in Rushing NEP per carry and third in Total NEP at the position.
If the Colts can jump ahead early and force the Vikings into being a pass-first offense, it might be able to take advantage of an offensive line that had their struggles in 2019. Minnesota ranked 23rd last season in pass block win rate at 57 percent -- which means the Vikings were only able to hold a block for at least 2.5 seconds in pass protection 57 percent of the time. That's great news for the newly-signed DeForest Buckner, who will bolster Indianapolis' defensive line and aid Justin Houston in rushing the passer.
Meanwhile, the Colts will need to find ways to break through against a defense that ranked third last season with 17 interceptions. Rivers tossed 20 interceptions last season -- including three to the Vikings in a Week 15 loss while with the Chargers -- and threw nine in the fourth quarter alone (though five of them did come in the form of last-minute prayers). He will need to protect the ball better in order to be victorious in this one.
One way Rivers will be able to do that is by utilizing the trio of running backs at his disposal.
The Colts ran the ball the fifth-most times in the league last year, helping Marlon Mack eclipse 1,000 yards on the ground. They complemented Mack last season with the versatile Nyheim Hines, who was far more productive as a pass-catcher out of the backfield last year, as he ranked second on the with 44 receptions. Indianapolis then added Taylor to the mix, a back who averaged 2,000 yards per season in his three years at Wisconsin and also provided a spark in the passing game last season with 26 catches for 252 yards and 5 scores.
Week 4 at Chicago (+420)
Any conversation about the Bears starts and ends at the quarterback position. It's a toss-up right now as to who will start for Chicago in the opener, let alone who will be in charge of the offense when Indianapolis comes to town in early October. Under Mitchell Trubisky's lead last season, the Bears' offense ranked 30th in Adjusted NEP per play, but still managed to finish the season 8-8 due to a spectacular defense.
Whether it's Trubisky or Nick Foles under center for Chicago, the offense has the pieces to take the next step as a unit.
The Bears signed Ted Ginn Jr. and Jimmy Graham to give their quarterback more receiving options alongside Allen Robinson, who had another 1,000-yard season amidst the mess last year. Anthony Miller was the Bears' second-leading receiver last year and adds another comfortable target for whoever ends up winning the quarterback battle.
Of course, all of those receivers are only as good as the quarterback throwing them the ball, and that is where the Bears might come up short this season. Last season, the 20th-best quarterback in Passing NEP per drop back averaged 0.07. Foles and Trubisky have hit that mark just 3 times in their 11 combined seasons in the league. Trubisky's best season was 2018 when he averaged 0.16 Passing NEP per drop back, while Foles' best came in 2013 when his was 0.31 -- a number that would have ranked second last season.
If either quarterback can find that form, it would take a load of pressure off the Bears' defense, which carried the team much of last season. Much of that was the one-man wrecking crew named Khalil Mack, who led the team with 8.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles, but also a secondary that kept opposing teams' passing attacks in check.
The Colts will need to attack the Bears with their running game and tire out the Chicago defense in the process. The Bears were 3-6 last season when surrendering 100 or more yards on the ground, and strangely, they were 5-1 when allowing at least 250 passing yards.
Week 5 at Cleveland (+800)
After so much hype entering last season, the Browns fell flat on their faces in limping to a 6-10 record. Statistically, the Browns hit many individual milestones, including a pair of 1,000-yard receivers and the league's second-leading rusher, but it did not translate into wins on the field.
The bright spot of the Cleveland offense last season was the one-man workhorse named Nick Chubb. The running back accounted for 78.6 percent of the Browns' rushing yards and 75.8 percent of the team's carries, and still averaged 5.0 yards per carry. Chubb also added 278 yards on 36 catches out of the backfield, good enough to be the team's fourth-leading receiver.
Many of Cleveland's issues last season, though, centered on Baker Mayfield, who failed to back up his talk from last summer. Mayfield was one of just two quarterbacks to throw more interceptions than Rivers last season, but he did so as a far more inaccurate quarterback as well. Mayfield completed just 59.4 percent of his passes, 3.5 percentage points worse than was to be expected according to the NFL's completion percentage above expectation formula. He also was the second-most inaccurate quarterback with just 70.6 percent of his passes on target and 18.1 percent of his passes deemed poor by Pro Football Reference.
Despite the inaccuracy issues at quarterback, the Browns were still one of six teams with two 1,000-yard receivers last season. Much of Mayfield's success depends upon being able to get the ball to Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry effectively, but Cleveland also added another big-time weapon this offseason in Austin Hooper. The tight end is coming off a career year in 2019 in which he caught 75 passes for 787 yards, and his presence in the middle of the field gives Mayfield another option to attack defenses, if and when opponents decide to take away Beckham and/or Landry.
Another big issue Cleveland had last season was an inability to stop the run. The Browns surrendered the third-most rushing yards last season and were one of three teams that allowed at least five yards per carry all while leading the league with 140 missed tackles. To make matters worse, leading tackler Joe Schobert -- who also led the team with four interceptions -- signed with Jacksonville this offseason, leaving a hole in the Browns defense.
The Browns drafted safety Grant Delpit in the second round this year, who should give them a boost in defending against the run as an extra run stopper. However, Cleveland will need veterans like Sheldon Richardson and Mack Wilson to do a better job at filling gaps in order to slow down Chubb.
Sleeper: Week 9 vs. Baltimore (+3500)
In this scenario, the Colts are riding high -- undefeated at 7-0 -- after dismantling the Lions on the road and return home to welcome the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC showdown with playoff seeding implications.
As happens with so many teams, Lamar Jackson is too much for the Colts to contain, and with a short week upcoming against their AFC South rival Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis lets an opportunity slide at home against Baltimore.
The +3500 odds clearly indicates how unlikely this situation is for Indianapolis, but this is also not as unreasonable as the odds would dictate. If we go strictly by numberFire's power rankings, the Colts are ranked ahead of six of their first seven opponents, with the exception being Minnesota. It is not far-fetched to believe that Indianapolis could beat the Vikings at home, making this a very intriguing bet to lay a few bucks on if you're so inclined.
As much as I'd love to talk myself into picking the sleeper, I'm going to be a little less bold and take Cleveland to hand Indianapolis its first loss of the season. The Colts are already early three-point favorites against the Vikings at FanDuel Sportsbook, and playing their home opener gives them enough juice to win.
I don't believe Chicago will be able to score enough points to beat Indianapolis, even with a defense that is keen on takeaways and scoring points itself.
Meanwhile, the Browns vastly underachieved last year for a team with that much talent. Having to travel to Cleveland after what will surely be a physical game in Chicago takes too much out of the Colts, and opens the door for the Browns to claim the victory.
At +800 odds, it's certainly a risky pick, but one that can pay off handsomely if Cleveland actually figures it out this year.