Week 15 Thursday Night Football Preview – Broncos at Colts

My daughter is a snitch.

Let me clarify.

For starters, she’s four; she’s not on witness protection or anything. But, more importantly, honesty is a trait that I value. And, I’m sure her daycare echoes that sentiment daily. However, she’s the prototypical “tattletale”, and we all remember the tattletale kid.

Nobody likes that kid.

So, I – being the father of the year candidate I am – try to explain to her that there are certain situations when it’s acceptable to… Let’s say keep some details to herself.

Example: Her friend is at the house the other day, and all I hear is “Daddy, she did this!”, “Daddy, she did that!”. Now my daughter – while adorable – is no angel, and she undoubtedly instigated around 87% of the things to which she was complaining about. So again, father of the year kicks in, and I tell her it’s ok and try to explain to her the difference between telling me about something serious, and something trivial.

She appeared to get the message.

Except she didn’t, and the snitching continued. All day. Thing is, she’s now catching herself when it happens, and each “Daddy!” is followed by an “oops” face. It was at that point that I realized, while she did get the message, her tattletale-ness was so ingrained that she couldn’t change it immediately.

I can live with that.

You see, we all have these deeply rooted vices. Some are easy to drop, and others take time. But, even in dropping them, they always occupy a part of us; whether that part is small or large.

And, you now have my thoughts on Thursday Night Football.

For years, the schedule makers gave us Jaguars v. Titans, Browns v. Bengals. Sure, they gave a few gems each year, but it was largely trash matchup after trash matchup. This season, though? Something feels a bit different. Jaguars v. Titans has become Eagles v. Panthers, Browns v. Bengals has become Falcons v. Saints. It seems that the gem to trash ratio has drastically shifted, and just when I think, “Yo, I could get used to this!”

… Broncos at Colts.

I guess the joke is on me for believing that the trash had been eliminated from the TNF schedule, but like my tattletale daughter, I must give time for the full transformation to take place. So, begrudgingly, I’ve analyzed this game, and provided an overview of each team’s outlook from the fantasy football perspective, some statistical “analysis”, and my betting picks.

For the fantasy portion, I’ve broken each team’s fantasy relevant players into four categories:

  1. Ballers –  Either the guys you just aren’t benching, or the ones with favorable match-ups. Either way, they should be in your lineups.
  2. Under the Radar – Guys who you may not start regularly, or have what appear to be tough matchups, but have a good opportunity to produce. Good for dfs (DraftKings, Fanduel, etc.) as they should have low(er) ownership.
  3. Temper Expectations – Proceed with caution. May be players you’d normally start, or guys who’ve been playing well in recent weeks/have a plus matchup, but might not put up the numbers needed to justify a start this week.
  4. Bums – It’s a good idea to just avoid these guys in your lineups.

For the betting side, I used the opening spread and over/under totals from sportsinsights.com. The lines have moved in reaction to the money, injury updates, etc., but picking and choosing which current odds to use felt a bit too arbitrary.

Denver Broncos (4-9, 3-9-1 ATS) at Indianapolis Colts (3-10, 6-7 ATS)

Spread: DEN -1.5

O/U: 41.5

DEN 16.42 (12th) 18.71 (11th) 17.59 (2nd) 10.84 (30th) 12.83 (31st) 8.42 (15th)
IND 18.67 (24th) 22.13 (28th) 24.27 (25th) 8.63 (22nd) 11.92 (30th) 9.58 (25th)

They say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right” and neither does two lefts. But sometimes, just sometimes, two bads can make a good.

Here’s to hoping this game is an example.

Unsurprisingly, the Colts come into this one losers of seven of their last eight games – four straight Ls – and with a 3-10 record on the season, they’re not playing for much more than pride and draft position at this point.

Meanwhile, Denver also sucks, but at least they ended their eight-game losing streak on Sunday – providing no meaningful value other than pushing them further from a top draft pick, giving their fans something to cheer about, and maybe adding a few ticks to the Vance Joseph job security tally.

Now, when both teams have reached the point where losing offers more benefit than winning, well, this one should be fun.

So, how much fun are we talking about?

Only six QBs have a lower completion percentage than Jacoby Brissett this season – one of which is Denver’s Trevor Siemian. There are just six teams who have scored fewer points than the Colts this season – one of them is the Broncos. Only eight teams have allowed more points than Denver – yep, Indy is one of them.

No matter how you choose to breakdown these two teams, it’s pretty terrible; damn near universally.

The Colts are so bad that despite allowing a total of 92 passing yards last week (in the Bills defense, it was like 56 inches of snow), they’ve still managed to allow more passing yards than all but two teams this season. On the flip, the Broncos have been so bad that despite allowing fewer passing yards than every team but the Jaguars, they’ve somehow managed to find themselves in a tie for the most passing TDs allowed.

Crazy, huh?

Thing is, Brissett has just 11 passing TDs this season – less than guys like Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson who haven’t played in weeks. And, while Siemian is averaging more passing yards per game than the likes of Dak Prescott and Cam Newton, he’s managed 200 yards or less in four of his eight starts – going over 250 just twice.

It’s the classic weakness vs. weakness, and while the streaming potential for both QBs could be easily justified (something has to give, right?) why even bother? Both QBs limit their own ceiling, and there are far more creative ways I can think of to lose your fantasy matchups this week.

As a matter of fact, I really don’t trust anyone in this game from the fantasy standpoint.

Sure, the ageless wonder, Frank Gore, has averaged 73.3 rushing yards over the Colts last six. He also rushed for less than 50 yards in six of their 1st seven games this season. Not to mention, Denver has held RBs to just 88.8 yards per game (6th) while allowing them to pick up just 3.38 yards per carry (3rd fewest). Oh, and then there’s the part about Gore having just three TDs on the season, and the Broncos being one of the stingiest defenses in that regard.

Not exactly comforting.

Moving on to T.Y. Hilton, who finds himself among the Top-25 fantasy receivers (standard scoring) not because he’s been balling out, but because he’s had three monster games that account for 66% of his fantasy production this season. Well, no receiver has gone over 100 yards on the Broncos this season, so it’s not likely he’ll make it a 4th monster performance, and while the Broncos give up passing TDs seemingly at will, Hilton has just four on the year…

So too does Cole Beasley.

No, thanks.

It doesn’t get much better for the Broncos, either (there’s a reason these two offenses rank among the league’s worst). Since C.J. Anderson‘s 95 rushing yards in Week 4, the highest yardage total put up – by any of this quartet of backs – are the 78 Anderson managed against Kansas City back in Week 8. In fact, Denver’s backs have combined to average just 69 rushing yards over their last four games, and while the Colts gave up 156 to LeSean McCoy last Sunday (again, the snow) they actually haven’t been terrible against the run.

On the season, Indy is allowing backs to pick up less than 4 yards per carry, and they’d limited opposing backs to just 75.4 rushing yards per game in the four games prior to last week’s anomaly. Thing is, they’re giving up 51.8 receiving yards per game to backs (8th most), and that’s a part of the reason they’ve allowed the 5th most fantasy points to the RB position. Devontae Booker has been the best receiving back for the Broncos – so he could garner some interest in PPR leagues – but he’s put up double-digit fantasy points (PPR) in just 2 of 10 games this season.

Another reason the Colts seemingly present a good fantasy matchup for RBs? The 11 rushing TDs they’ve allowed – only the Bills, Bucs, and Lions have given up more. Guess what, though? C.J. Anderson has just two rushing TDs on the year with Jamaal Charles, Andy Janovich, and Devontae Booker each adding one. 11 backs have found the endzone more times individually than the Broncos have combined, and an additional 8 have matched the 5 that Denver’s backs have totaled.

Good luck with that.

And, when it comes to their receivers… Well, good luck with them too.

On one hand, the Colts have been one of the worst against the pass. On the other, they’ve allowed receivers just 132.8 yards per game over their last six – which would rank 3rd in the league if extrapolated over the season. Now no, that might not seem all that impressive at 1st glance, but they faced A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins, and Antonio Brown over that stretch – they rank 8th, 2nd, and 1st in receiving yards on the season. Mix in Denver’s questionable QB play, and you’re playing with fire.

Then, there’s the fact that they just haven’t been very good. Emmanuel Sanders has just eight catches over the Broncos last four while averaging just 13.5 yards per game and accounting for zero TDs. And, while his 26 targets over that four-game stretch are encouraging, the 31% catch rate is not. Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler are lottery tickets, and Demaryius Thomas hasn’t exactly been the model of consistency. Thing is, all four of Thomas’ TDs have come over the Broncos last six games, and he’s the one guy with the raw, physical ability to consistently overcome the questionable QB play.

We’ve found a solid play! But, I still don’t trust it.

Wait, what about Jack Doyle?! I mean, he does rank 8th among TEs in receiving yards this season, and Denver struggles to defend receiving TEs. Right?


Yes, Denver has been terrible in defending TEs. In fact, only two teams have allowed more receiving yards/TDs to the position. Thing is, despite facing some respectable TEs over their past four games (Jared Cook, Tyler Kroft, Julius Thomas, Austin Seferian-Jenkins), the Broncos limited them (plus Fasano and Smith) to an average of 18.8 yards with two total TDs. Now Doyle is tied with Rob Gronkowski and Zach Ertz for the 3rd most targets among TEs, and he’s going to see a gaggle of looks…

Whatever, he too is worth the risk. But, the point is, the matchup is more of a contested mid-range jumper than a dunk.

Alright, so you might have noticed that I’m not expecting many fantasy points – or reality points – to come out of this matchup, and it’s probably in your best interest to leave your Colts/Broncos to (potentially) ball out on the bench. That said, neither defense makes a terrible “Why not?” streamer. But, in terms of the game itself, well, it may just come down to which team wants to lose the most – making things a wee bit tougher to gauge. However, the Colts have a franchise QB in Andrew Luck, and the Broncos are a QB away from relevancy.

One point for the Broncos in the wanting to lose the most category, but we’ll save the tanking talks for another discussion.

Denver comes into this matchup boasting an 0-6 record on the road this season, and they’ll also likely be receiving the overwhelming majority of public betting support following their shutout of the Jets. Now, I’ve always been quite the contrarian, but I actually have the game handicapped at Colts -1. They’re at home where three of their four losses have come by four points or less, they have fewer reasons to not play, and it’s not like Denver is good; they actually match up pretty well here.

Take the points with Indianapolis, and the under.

Broncos 16 – Colts 17

Ballers: Demaryius Thomas

Under the Radar: Jack Doyle

Temper Expectations: Trevor Siemian, C.J. Anderson, Emmanuel Sanders, Jacoby Brissett, Frank Gore, T.Y. Hilton

Bums: Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles, Cody Latimer, Marlon Mack, Chester Rogers

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