Indianapolis @ Buffalo
Recommended Wager: IND +6.5
Sizing: 1 unit
Injury news: The Colts will be without LT Will Holden (ankle), who backs up Anthony Castonzo (MCL/ankle). The bigger deal was losing Castonzo week 15. Holden has only played 83 snaps this season (combined between Baltimore and Indianapolis) and has never been an efficient tackle. Journeyman Jared Veldheer will start, and I don’t view him as a downgrade over Holden. They’ll also be without CB Rock Ya-Sin (concussion), who may have the best name in football, but has been awful in coverage this season. S Khari Willis (concussion) will return after missing last week, which is nice boost to the Colts secondary. Finally, DT DeForest Buckner (ankle) is a fake questionable. He’s been on the injury report with the same issue for the last 3 weeks and had no issue taking on a full workload at his normal dominant level of play.
The Bills major injury news are for WRs Stefon Diggs (oblique) and Cole Beasley (foot). Diggs is in no danger of missing, and you shouldn’t take his “questionable” tag seriously. Beasley missed last week and missed two practices to start the week, but did get in a limited session Friday. The feeling is he’ll play but be less than 100%. On a lesser note, TE Tyler Kroft has come off the reserve/COVID-19 list and will play.
Spread watching: The line is sticking at 6.5. Since it’s so close to the 7 point hook, this isn’t too surprising.
Game breakdown: The Colts on offense (12th in DVOA and EPA/play) match up evenly against the Bills on defense (12th in DVOA and 14th in EPA/play). Phil Rivers had a season just like you’d expect — 77.2 PFF grade (17th in the league), 68% completion percentage (1.6% over expectation), 7.7 yards per attempt, 24 TDs, 11 picks. He’s a veteran presence and above average starter in the league with a lot of kids, which is a fact that is totally irrelevant to the game, but one that I like to bring up. As mentioned above, losing LT Anthony Castonzo was a tough loss, but the Colts still a solid offensive line. Lead by DE Jerry Hughes, the Bills have the 8th best pass rush per PFF grades, so it should be a fun matchup in the trenches. The skill positions for the Colts is lacking a bit — TY Hilton is the only receiver with a PFF grade over 70. The same can be said for the Bills corners and Tre’Davious White. I don’t expect White to shadow Hilton — White hasn’t shadowed anyone since week 9. The Bills do have a solid safety tandem in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, which helps their weak cornerback room. On the ground, rookie Jonathan Taylor will get the bulk of the carries — he’s come on late as the Colts workhorse back and will be running against a Bills run defense that ranks 17th in DVOA.
The Bills on offense (5th in DVOA, 4th in EPA/play) should have a slight advantage against the Colts on defense (7th in DVOA, 9th in EPA/play). Josh Allen had a breakout 3rd season — proving numerous haters (including myself) wrong in the process. He finished with a PFF glade of 90.9, 5th best in the league, and completed 69.2% of his passes (a ridiculous 4.6% above expectation), gained 7.9 yards per attempt with 37 TDs and 10 picks. The transcendent part of Allen’s game was limiting his mistakes, and only 3.4% of his passes this year were deemed “turnover worthy” by PFF. In the trenches, the Bills don’t have any standout names along the line, but all 5 are solid. It’s often said that offensive line play is as good as your weakest link, so it isn’t a surprise to see them playing well despite not having any stars. The Colts don’t have much of a pass rush outside of DT DeForest Buckner, but Buckner is an absolute animal and should win his fair share of matches. For the skill players, the Bills should have their three wideouts on the field for the first time since week 10. There’s some concern about Beasley’s foot, but even still it’s a very talented trio of receivers. For the Colts, the cornerback position is where their defense shines — Xavier Rhodes, Kenny Moore (slot), and TJ Carrie are all having great seasons. On the ground, Devin Singletary and Zach Moss will split carries against the Colts 9th ranked rushing defense by DVOA, with Moss as the preferred back near the goal line.
Tampa Bay @ Washington
Recommended Wager: WAS +8.5
Sizing: 3 units
Injury News: The biggest news for the Bucs is standout WR Mike Evans, who is very questionable after injuring his knee week 17. There’s disagreement about his status — profootballdoc does not expect him to play or be a decoy if he does. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo expects him to play. I tend to lean with the doc in these disputes. They’ll also be without DT Jeremiah Ledbetter (calf), but Ledbetter has only played 54 snaps this season. CB Carlton Davis (groin) should return after missing 2 games. Davis is a solid corner and his return is a welcome site for Bucs fans. If you care about fantasy stuff, RB Shady McCoy will miss with an illness.
Alex Smith played through his calf injury last week, and the expectation when we recommended the bet was that he would play. As the weeks gone on the calf hasn’t felt great for Smith, creating a real question if he’ll play or not. Taylor Heinicke will start if Smith can’t go. Heinicke looked great in his 25 snaps week 16, but has hardly played in his 6 year NFL career and should be considered a downgrade on Smith. Don’t pay attention to the “questionable” tags that Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin have — both will play at full strength. Thomas Davis Sr (knee) won’t play, but he’s a replacement level linebacker who has hardly played this season. LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (ankle) is questionable, but should be healthy enough to return for the first time since week 14, and makes the Davis injury moot.
Spread watching: Despite the Smith news, the spread moved toward the model and is now 8.
Matchup breakdown: The Bucs offense (3rd in DVOA, 5th in EPA/play) vs the Football Team’s defense (3rd in DVOA and EPA/play) should be an awesome matchup. TB12 may be old as sin, but the guy is still awesome at playing quarterback. He finished second on the season in PFF grades with 92.6 (only Rodgers’s 94.3 was better), completed 65.7% of his passes (1.3% above expectation), gained 7.6 yards per attempt with 40 TDs and 12 picks. A mere 1.77% of his passes were deemed “turnover worthy” by PFF despite attempting (and completing) the most deep-passes in the league. In the trenches, the offensive line is solid, but they’re up against an equally impressive pass rush from the Football Team. Even without Evans, the Bucs receivers are insanely talented, and should have an advantage over the Football Team’s corners. That isn’t to speak ill of guys like Ronald Darby and Kendall Fuller, who both had solid seasons. On the ground, Ronald Jones will get the bulk of the work against the Football Team’s 11th ranked run defense by DVOA.
The other side of the matchup isn’t as compelling — Washington is dead last in DVOA and 28th in EPA/play against the Bucs defense that is 5th in DVOA and EPA/play. Washington’s offensive rankings are a bit misleading since only a handful of games were started by Alex Smith, but since there’s a real chance he won’t play, we may see that piss poor offense on the field Saturday night. In the trenches, Washington has a solid offensive line, but the Bucs pass rush is also legit. Terry McLaurin is the only receiver worth writing about — and he’s really, really good — but the Bucs do have a solid secondary. TE/ex QB Logan Thomas is typically second on the team in targets, and the Bucs are 25th in DVOA vs tight ends this season. Antonio Gibson will get the bulk of the work on the ground against the Bucs defense that ranks 1st in rush defense DVOA.