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Monday, September 23, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 4: Colts vs Jaguars

Indianapolis Colts vs Jacksonville Jaguars: IND -7 (Bet365)

Market Watch

In a surprising plot twist, there is some unexpected line movement for this game. But to start with, this line was Colts -7 in the LVH look-ahead line last week. It re-opened at -8, and many books had it at -9 or higher (some still do). Yet, as I type this -7's are being put up on the board at places like Bet365, CRIS, Bookmaker, etc.

I'm not sure if people like that Blaine Gabbert is starting this week, or that they think this is a "letdown" spot for the Colts. Perhaps it's a little of both.  Either way, I have no problem taking the Colts at a touchdown, especially after you consider that the Jags don't have much of a home field advantage.

86% of the early bets are on Indy.

When the Colts have the ball

As usual, the offensive line is often overlooked unless it's doing something wrong. In this case, the Colts OL deserves some attention. Going up against a vaunted SF front seven they only gave up a single sack, despite missing two opening-day starters. Most importantly, Luck's blindside has been consistently protected by Anthony Castanzo. Adding to Luck's protection is the savvy play of Ahmad Bradshaw, who is one of the more underrated offseason signings. Finally, Pep Hamilton's scheme that puts more of a premium on a balanced, spread-out attack also insulates Luck.

So how will Jacksonville pressure the QB? We've been asking this question for quite some time, and without a solid secondary it's going to be hard for them to generate push up front. In Seattle, Bradley was able to compress the field with press-man corners on the outside. He simply can't do this with this personnel in Jacksonville.

Against Seattle, they tried to stack the box and stop the run but LBs Geno Hayes and Russell Allen were horrible in that regard. What's worse, is it opened up huge opportunities in the passing game.

The Jags aren't good enough to stop Indy's offense when they are healthy, but youngster Dwayne Gratz,and Alan Ball are banged up. Dwight Lowery has a concussion. 2nd round pick John Cyprien has graded worse with each passing game. Essentially, things are a mess on this side of the ball.

Look for Hamilton to continue with a balanced approach, with Bradshaw and Richardson splitting the load in the run game. Wayne, Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton, and Fleener should have ample opportunity to make big plays.

When the Jaguars have the ball

Blaine Gabbert is set to start. During his time off, did he improve his lack of awareness and toughness in the pocket?  Did he realize that he stares down receivers? What about his happy feet in the absence of pressure? Has he finally figured out how to make pre-snap adjustments?

I think what Gabbert is more worried about is who he's going to pass to. Justin Blackmon is still out due to suspension, and Cecil Shorts hasn't been involved in the offense until late in the game.  Instead, they are asking guys like waiver-wire pickup Stephen Burton to get it done. And rookie Ace Sanders. The only good news in the passing game is they should get Marcedes Lewis back this week.

On the ground, there are even more questions. Is MJD healthy? He doesn't look fresh. This week, Gus Bradley said they are going to look at changing the blocking scheme from man to gap. The run blocking has been brutal so far. First round pick Luke Joekel looks very much like a rookie.

The Colts brought in a bunch of players that were better fits to run their atypical 3-4 scheme, and the results have been pretty good so far.  They aren't anywhere near a top flight defense, but they aren't the soft, bottom-of-barrel unit that we've been accustomed to either.

I would get into the specific matchups more, but it's clear that the Jaguars are their own worst enemies at the moment. If they don't stop themselves, I don't think it should be too difficult for the Colts to come up with some stops. That should be enough to let Luck and company build up a lead.

Bottom Line

This is a big number to be laying on the road for a divisional game. That said, who in their right mind wants to touch Jacksonville right now?  Many cappers jumped all over the Jags with that huge spread in Seattle and got burned.

There is a lot to like about this Colts offense, especially after the acquisition of Richardson. He should be more productive with another week under his belt. They should be able to move the ball on the ground or in the air - against what many consider one of the worst secondaries in the league - and that was before the loss of Dwayne Gratz. Now their only good defensive back, Dwight Lowery, is on the shelf with a concussion.

For Jacksonville, the news of Blaine Gabbert returning does nothing for me. Even if he does improve the offense, I don't see how they keep up with the Colts.

NFL Pick: IND -7.
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