NFL Thursday: Colts at Jaguars

Published on Nov. 7, 2012, at 11:23 a.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

Back in August when many were calling for the Colts to be one of the NFL’s worst teams, I had a different take. I liked the new offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, who had an excellent run directing Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.

When Indianapolis re-signed Reggie Wayne and defensive stalwarts like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were retained, I knew this transition year wasn’t going to be a total youth movement. Arians would use Wayne like Hines Ward, constantly putting him in motion and getting him the ball with quick, high-percentage throws.

Obviously, I liked the chances of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck producing like a solid veteran. Furthermore, I liked the under-the-radar pieces around him. Luck ran lots of two-TE sets at Stanford, so the Colts used their next two draft picks on tight ends, Stanford teammate Coby Fleener and Clemson TE Dwayne Allen.

Next, Indy took speedy wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who enjoyed a banner career in the Sun Belt Conference at Fla. International. Even in the fifth and sixth rounds, the Colts found offensive talent with Mississippi St. RB Vick Ballard and Ohio WR Lavon Brazill, who is the Bobcats’ all-time leading receiver.

Now, to be clear, all I was saying back in August was that I thought this team could go 7-9. With its season win total at 5 ½ and shaded to the ‘under,’ I thought the ‘over’ was the way to go.

But did I see a 5-3 record both straight up and against the spread coming in the first eight games? No, but that’s exactly where the Colts are after capturing a 23-20 win over Miami as 2 ½-point home underdogs.

Luck completed 30-of-48 passes for a career-high 433 yards with two touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Hilton made six receptions for 106 yards, including a 36-yard TD grab from Luck that put Indy up 20-17 late in the third quarter. Wayne had seven catches for 78 yards, while Allen had six receptions for 75 yards.

Ballard had 98 yards on 19 touches (16 carries, three catches).

For the season, Luck has completed 56.6 percent of his throws for 2,404 yards with a 10/8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Luck also has three rushing touchdowns.

Indy is fourth in the NFL in total offense, producing 390.9 yards per game. However, yards haven’t always resulted in points, as evidenced by the Colts’ 23rd ranking in scoring offense (19.9 points per game).

Jacksonville (1-7 SU, 4-4 ATS) has lost 21 of its last 27 games dating back to a three-game losing streak to end the 2010 campaign. The Jaguars have a new owner, but they are in the NFL’s smallest market with a fan base that’s lost interest.

Mike Mularkey’s team is winless both SU and ATS in four home games, losing by margins of 20, 17, 38 and 20 points. The Jags got smashed 31-14 by Detroit last week as six-point home underdogs.

The Lions led 21-0 at intermission and 24-0 following a Jason Hanson field goal early in the fourth quarter. Jacksonville cut the deficit to 24-8 on a TD pass from Blaine Gabbert to Michael Spurlock and the subsequent two-point conversion.

But Detroit answered with a score to put the game on ice with a 31-8 advantage with 2:42 remaining. The only thing left in doubt was the total, which closed at 44 points.

Facing a fourth-and-goal situation in the final minute, Gabbert found rookie Justin Blackmon on a six-yard scoring strike to give ‘over’ backers a winner in Detroit’s 31-14 victory.

Gabbert has showed some life at times and his numbers are decent. The Missouri product has completed 58.0 percent of his passes for 1,429 yards with a 9/5 TD-INT ratio. Blackmon, the rookie first-round pick out of Oklahoma St., has been disappointing. He has 23 catches for 225 yards and last week’s TD grab was the first of his career and it came at garbage time.

Jacksonville ranks last in the NFL in total offense, passing yards and scoring offense, averaging merely 14.6 PPG.

The Jags will be without perennial Pro-Bowl RB Maurice Jones-Drew for a third straight game since he sustained a foot injury in a 26-23 loss at Oakland. Also, Jacksonville could be without a pair of key players in the secondary on Thursday, as Dwight Lowery is ‘doubtful’ and Rashean Mathis is ‘questionable.’

The Colts are also dealing with injuries. Fleener will miss a second straight game due to a shoulder injury and starting CB Vontae Davis is ‘out’ again with a knee problem.

These AFC South rivals met in Indianapolis earlier this year with the Jags collecting their lone victory, a 22-17 win as three-point road underdogs. Jones-Drew was the catalyst with 177 rushing yards and one TD on 28 carries. Gabbert threw an 80-yard TD pass to Cecil Shorts with 45 seconds left to provide the winning score.

The 39 combined points stayed ‘under’ the 41 ½-point total.

This time around, most books are listing the Colts as 3 1/2-point favorites with a total of 42 1/2. Bettors can take the Jags to win outright for a plus-155 payout (risk $100 to win $155).

Totals have been a wash overall (4-4) and at home (2-2) for the Jags, but we should note back-to-back ‘overs’ in their last two home games. The ‘under’ is 5-3 overall for the Colts, but the ‘over’ is 2-1 in their road assignments.

Indy has only played three road games and this is its first road ‘chalk’ situation of the season. The Colts are 1-2 both SU and ATS on the road, picking up their only win two weeks ago in a 19-13 overtime win at Tennessee.

The NFL Network will provide television coverage at 8:25 p.m. Eastern.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–The Jags have covered the number and the ‘under’ has cashed in three consecutive head-to-head meetings against the Colts.

–Wayne leads the NFL in receiving yards with 835.

–Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews is tied for second in the NFL in sacks with nine. However, he left last week’s win over Arizona with a hamstring injury and is expected to miss the next several weeks.

–Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid has had a strong run with the Eagles, no question about it. You don’t hang around for tenures of 10-plus years in the NFL, especially in cities like Philly, without doing a lot of things right. However, his reign in the City of Brotherly Love will most likely end in the coming weeks because of the same criticism he has taken for many years: Reid refuses to run the football with any sort of consistency. In years past, this was ok because the Eagles didn’t have one of the league’s elite running backs. That’s no longer the case with LeSean ‘Shady’ McCoy at his disposal. Yet he insists on dropping Michael Vick back into the pocket behind a porous offensive line time after time after time, and the results – sacks, turnovers and third and longs galore – are predictable.

–My former cohort at VI, Jim Lamar of the Tallahassee Democrat, always recommended going against teams that have players-only meetings before a game. This was in play last week when Vick called a players-only rendezvous for the Eagles. The result was a 28-13 loss at New Orleans featuring most of the aforementioned problems this club has struggled with all year.

–The Eagles remain the NFL’s worst for our purposes with an atrocious 1-6-1 spread record.

–With each covering the spread again last week, the NFL’s best ATS teams at 6-2 are still the Texans, Falcons and Buccaneers.

–The ‘over’ is an NFL-best 6-2 for both the Patriots and the Bucs.

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