NFL playoffs betting: Damn, this Colts-Texans wild card game is one tough call…

Saturday, 05 January 2019 10:10 EST

NFLbets has been dithering about this one since last weekend, but wagers must be placed today (gotta love Saturday NFL football) so let’s talk a classic case of unstoppable force versus immovable object, namely

Indianapolis Colts +2 at Houston Texans, over/under 48 points

For all the whining so many are doing about NFL football circa 2018, repeating clichés about making tackling illegal or scheme offenses in college killing quality offensive line play in the pros et cetera, a number of teams feature balanced offensive game plans and/or quality defenses that would have been right at home in virtually any era since the 1980s.

Seriously: The Chicago Bears look like a remix of the Super Bowl Shufflers of 1986, Pete Carroll may have time-traveled to bring back an early 90s side to play alongside 21st-century QB Russell Wilson, and the Los Angeles Rams might be fielding their best all-around team in any era in any city if Jared Goff could remember how to throw more than 15 yards downfield to someone other than Cooper Kupp.

Then there are these two in the first-ever playoff meeting between AFC South teams. The Colts current OL isn’t quite at the levels of Jeff Saturday and his buddies giving Peyton Manning enough time in the pocket to order Papa John’s delivery, but for stretches is simply freakin’ awesome. Andrew Luck, who likewise evokes celebrated names when at his best, was sacked 18 times in ’18, but 10 of these came in the season’s first five games. From the strictly empirical standpoint, in December unless a play was blown, Luck had time enough to order a three-course meal, set the table for four and tip the delivery driver.

Seeking to break this front is a Houston Texans defense that has been criminally ignored by mainstream sports media. After all, this is the “what if” defense – as in “What if J.J. Watt and Jadaveon Clowney were both on the field all year?: -- the pundits and blogosphere have awaited for years. It’s finally here, it’s awesome … and no one’s noticing.

Well, NFLbets has noticed. We’ve noticed that between Watt, Clowney, Whitney Mercilus (definitely the best name in the NFL), Christian Covington (quite possibly the baddest-ass Canadian to play in the NFL) and Bernardrick McKinney, these dudes can control the line and the middle of the field with All-Pro talent everywhere at DE and LB. This is a top-5 defense in turnovers, points allowed and basically every significant running stat.

The talking heads who dig on repeating old saws about “the battle in the trenches” will adore this game, at least when Indy has the ball. (The middling Indianapolis pass rush versus the worst OL in the playoffs? Not so compelling beyond watching Deshaun Watson having to dial his way out of trouble repeatedly.)

So what happens when these two forces meet? In two games, the Texans rang up six sacks on Luck. Other than the Jaguars’ in the Colts’ fluky week 13 shutout loss, Houston’s D has proven to be the sole master of the Colts OL. Back in week 4, the Texans started to turn their season around with a 37-34 overtime win against Indianapolis in which the defense tallied four baggings of Luck. In the wild card game, we can’t really expect the Indianapolis OL to be this porous again.

In week 14, Frank Reich had his charges essentially not even try running against the Texans defense – Marion Mack’s 14 carries in that game appeared to be purely for variance – in favor of softening the Texans’ vulnerable deep coverage in the secondary. The result was T.Y. Hilton destroying Tyrann “The Honey Badger” Mathieu & Co. repeatedly on long routes to the tune of 199 yards on nine catches.

Luck was taken down twice, the only time he took more than one sack in a Colts win in 2018, but nevertheless Indy won this squeaker, 24-21. This broke the Texans’ 9-game win streak which had begun with the week 4 win against the Colts. In the wild card game, we can’t expect a second career day out of Hilton (not to mention another 4-catch, 36-yard performance out of DeAndre Hopkins).

Oh, by the way, these teams are also arguably the hottest in the league right now, with the Texans on an 11-2 run and the Colts riding a 9-1 hot streak. So, yeah.

Questions abound. Are the Colts really good enough to beat the Texans twice in Houston in one season? Can a team which allows 4½ sacks a game really advance in the playoffs? Will 32 minutes of possession time be enough for the Texans this time? Can either team produce a game-changing turnover? You see what we meant by dithering over this one.

Happily, NFLbets already has an out. Back in the preseason, NFLbets covered the Texans at 8/1 to win the AFC Championship and 20/1 to win Super Bowl LIII; we’re therefore going to hedge the hell out of this game. After sinking to Colts +1 mid-week, the point spread for this one is back up to a more palatable Colts +2. Fantastic! We’re advising that NFL bettors take the Indianapolis Colts +2 at Houston and also take the Texans money line (ML) at -125.

Whoever thought an all-AFC South playoff game could be this much fun to bet on?

NFLbets Best Bets record in 2018-19: 41-31-2.