A Look at The Packers and Colts

GREEN BAY IS A GOOD BET TO GO OVER

It's been the offseason of Aaron Rodgers' discontent. The two-time MVP quarterback of the Green Bay  Packers had his worst season in 2015. He's spent the summer listening to pundits talk about how he has "only" one playoff run in his career and his brother gain fame on The Bachelorette by talking about he and Aaron's problematic relationship. Yes, it's been a soap opera summer for the Packer quarterback. But the betting market is immune to all the chatter - Green Bay still comes into the season as one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Green Bay is a 10-1 shot to win it all this season, tied with Seattle and trailing only New England. The Packers are 11-2 to capture the NFC crown, narrowly behind the Seahawks. Even for Green Bay true believers, these numbers should give them pause - there's no value there, and most NFL teams will have one lull in a regular season where the price will slip and put real value on the table.

But we're not down on the Packers - not by any stretch - and there is one betting number that does have some value and it's the Over/Under on wins. Green Bay is posted at 10.5. Even with the number heavily shaded - you have to lay (-185) to go Over, this is still an attractive prop.

Let's begin by recapping all the problems the Packers had his last year. It's important to emphasize that Rodgers was not just bad by "his standards." He was bad by almost anyone's standards. Rodgers finished 25th in the league in completion percentage and 30th in yards-per-attempt. He was either misfiring or completing dink-and-dunk throws.

Rodgers' favorite target, Jordy Nelson, was lost for the year in preseason. The top running back, Eddie Lacy, was overweight. Injury problems decimated an already questionable situation at offensive tackle.

And in spite of all this...Green Bay went 10-6. Is it really that out of the question that they jump to 11-5 this year. Since 2009, in years where Rodgers has been healthy the whole way, Green Bay has always won at least 10 games and usually more. In 2013, when they finished 8-7-1, it was because Rodgers missed half the season - and they still went 6-2 in games he started, a pace good enough for double-digits.

Moreover, one of the underreported stories of last season was that the Green Bay defense was quietly getting good again. They were in the top five of the league in scoring defense for much of the season before one awful game in Arizona at the end dropped them to 12th. That's still pretty good.

The secondary is developing into an elite unit, with Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett each becoming among the NFL's best. Green Bay ranked 10th in the league in yards-per-pass allowed.

There's still work to do. The rush defense needs to get better and the perimeter of the offensive line simply must be upgraded. While Green Bay's guards - T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton are excellent - they've needed to shore up the tackle spot for several seasons now. Those are reasons we're hesitant to wager Green Bay at favorite's prices on the futures market.

But there's every reason to think Rodgers will bounce back and that the defense will continue to be pretty good. And that makes Over 10.5 a high-value bet for Packer backers.

 

BE CAUTIOUS WITH THE COLTS

The Indianapolis Colts entered last season with great expectations, one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl and with Andrew Luck expected to make the final step toward greatness. But the season went awry from the beginning. Luck played poorly and then lacerated his kidney. Friction between head coach Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson overshadowed the team. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was fired midstream. And in spite of playing in the awful AFC South, the Colts could only manage an 8-8 record that kept them home at playoff time.

Luck was particularly awful last season. Even when healthy, he had a 55% completion percentage, one of the league's worst. With a 6.4 yards-per-attempt, he didn't make up for it with big plays. And no one will ever accuse Andrew Luck of playing mistake-free football - a 15/12 TD-INT ratio simply won't cut it in this day and age of ultra-efficient passing games.

But Andrew Austen Luck has an army of true believers in both the media and the betting market that either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would love to have. Luck's poor year is being dismissed as the product of his lacerated kidney - ignoring that the poor play came before the injury. The consequence is that when you look at the Over/Under for wins on Indianapolis this season, they're sitting on 9.5. A two-game jump to 10-6 is considered the minimum prerequisite for this team in 2016.

Is that realistic? It's certainly doable - and the fact you can get a (+140) price on the Over makes it more interesting than it otherwise would be. But "doable" is different than saying it offers value and this Indianapolis team still has significant problems up and down the roster.

The Colts did almost nothing well last year. The defense ranked 25th in the NFL in points allowed, and they were equally inept against both the run and the pass. There was no running game, as Indy ranked 31st in yards-per-attempt on the ground. And while the AFC South isn't exactly a murderer's row, all three divisional rivals - Houston, Tennessee and Jacksonville - can make a credible case for being improved.

Against all this, the logic of Colts' backers is simple - a quarterback who's been turnover-prone his entire career, was terrible last season and is coming off an extremely serious injury, will magically lift the team to double-digit wins and the playoffs.

It's not that we're completely down on Indianapolis. One of the things to like most about Andrew Luck is that he doesn't believe much of the propaganda that comes out on his behalf - in interviews, he's acknowledged his poor play from last season. He's a tough, gritty competitor and if he can finally clean up the mistakes, that a big year might really be at hand.

There's also reason to like Indianapolis' draft. After years of focusing on skill-position players (both around Luck and Peyton Manning before him), the Colts finally went meat-and-potatoes this year. They picked four offensive lineman, starting with Alabama center Ryan Kelly. They used their other four picks on defense. If a few rookies have instant impact, the Colts will be a contender.

But saying they could be a dark-horse contender is different from using 10 wins as the baseline for the season, which is what the Over/Under prop forces us into. Why don't we just exercise some caution with Indy, handicap them on a week-to-week basis through the preseason and the September schedule and see how things develop? 

 

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