Indianapolis Colts at Oakland Raiders (-3.5, 53 o/u)
In what could be the last regular season football game played at the Oakland Coliseum, the Raiders (11-3 SU, 9-5 ATS) hope to at least maintain their one-game lead in the AFC West when they host the playoff-hopeful Indianapolis Colts (7-7 SU, 7-6-1 ATS) on Christmas Eve (4:05 PM ET).
Thanks to inconsistencies on the offensive line, an injury to Andrew Luck, and a terrible excuse for a defense, the Colts have not been able to get any sort of rhythm going this year. Since starting the season with two straight losses, Indy has not won or lost in consecutive weeks; their only two-game winning streak was separated by their bye.
But their 34-6 thrashing of the Vikings last week could be a sign of a team ready to turn a corner. Luck played one of his best games of the season, and it came against one of the toughest pass defenses in the league. The Colts QB completed 21 of 28 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns, good for a 125.6 passer rating. Entering the game, the Vikings were only allowing a 77.0 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks (third-lowest).
Luck’s performance was very encouraging for Colts fans, but even more so was the play of his offensive line. Minnesota had made their way to opposing quarterbacks 35 times coming in (third-most), but never found their way to Luck. As they prepare to lineup across from Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack this week, Indy’s offensive line will need a similar performance.
Although he is only averaging 3.8 yards per carry, Frank Gore is getting a lot of the tough yards in this Colts offense. In a matchup with the league’s 25th-ranked rush defense, which is allowing 4.6 yards per carry (29th), Gore will have to take more than just the tough yards.
Offense has not been the issue for Indianapolis though; the Colts rank eighth in scoring and 11th in total offense. It is instead the defense that often determines their fate. When they allow less than 24 points, the Colts are 5-1; when they allow 30 or more, they are 0-4. The unit ranks 22nd in scoring defense and 27th in total defense.
Indianapolis’ defense basically had a bye last week against Sam Bradford and the 31st-ranked offense, but would need some sort of Christmas miracle to hold the Raiders’ third-ranked scoring offense to just six points.
Derek Carr has had an MVP like season in leading Oakland’s sixth-ranked pass attack. The third-year pivot is completing 63.5-percent of his passes while totaling 3,705 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, and just six interceptions (95.2 passer rating). But since injuring his pinky finger in Week 12, Carr has not looked the same. In the three games following, he has posted a passer rating of just 74.0.
Fortunately for the Raiders, Carr and the offense have been able to lean on their sixth-ranked rushing attack to keep them on a winning pace. In the last three weeks they are averaging 139.7 yards per game on the ground. The man responsible for the majority of that damage is Latavius Murray, who has racked up 266 yards on just 55 carries in that time (4.8 yards per carry).
In spite of winning seven of their last eight, the Raiders sure would like to get Amari Cooper back to speed before the playoffs roll around. Cooper has been held to under 60 yards receiving in every game since Week 8. I fully expect him to be a big part of their gameplan as they get set to take on the league’s 27th-ranked pass defense.
Just like their Week 16 opponent, the Raiders are driven by their offense. Oakland ranks 30th in total defense and 21st in scoring defense. The one positive note they have going for them is the 26 turnovers they’ve generated (third); Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin have combined to force ten fumbles.
Looking to this matchup, the turnover battle will be crucial. Indianapolis has seven takeaways in its last three games, but is no stranger to turning over the ball themselves (12th-most). Oakland’s offense has protected their defense by only committing 11 giveaways, and will need to continue their mistake-free ways to cover the spread.
Luck and the Colts have won four-straight on the road, and are averaging 35 points per game during that streak. I expect Luck to take advantage of a weak Raiders defense and turn this game into a shootout. With the state of Carr’s finger, Oakland’s offense will not be as efficient as they’re used to, and won’t be able to run away with this game.
Oakland is 3-4 ATS at home this year, and has lost four of its last five meetings with Indianapolis. The Colts will at least keep this within a field goal, if they don’t win it straight-up.
Pick: Colts (+3.5)
(Photo Credit: BrokenSphere (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons)