Colts Flip From AFC South Favorites To Underdogs On Wentz Injury News

What’s the difference between five weeks and 12 weeks? Yeah, yeah, we know: seven weeks. But when it comes to Colts quarterback Carson Wentz and the highly uncertain timeline on his return from surgery performed Monday on his left foot, it’s the difference between him playing Week 1 of the regular season against the Seattle Seahawks and waiting until Week 8 for a key divisional home game against the Tennessee Titans.

The questions of how long will Wentz be out, how close to 100% he will be when he returns, and how big a dropoff exists from the inconsistent former Eagles signal-caller to his replacement all had to be factored in by oddsmakers at Indiana’s regulated sportsbooks.

The consensus: This is bad for the Colts and their hopes of reaching the postseason, but it’s far from disqualifying.

Wentz and company were the favorites to win the AFC South before he limped off the practice field. The Colts became approximately co-favorites with the Titans off that news, and they then became the bookmakers’ clear No. 2 choice in the division once it was announced that Wentz was going the surgical route.

Without Wentz, what are the options?

Before we dive deeper into the betting numbers, let’s consider the key qualitative questions: How good is Wentz anyway? Who will be the Colts’ Week 1 quarterback if it’s not him? And is there really a significant difference between Wentz and QB X?

Selected No. 2 overall out of North Dakota State by the Eagles in 2016, Wentz was the leading candidate to win NFL MVP through 13 games in 2017 until an ACL injury ended his season. Backup Nick Foles went on his magical postseason run for Philadelphia while Wentz cheered from the sidelines.

Wentz was spotty as he recovered from the knee injury and dealt with assorted new ailments in 2018, though he still threw 21 touchdowns to 7 interceptions in 11 games and posted career highs in completion percentage (69.6%) and quarterback rating (102.2).

In his underrated 2019 campaign, Wentz carried to the playoffs an Eagles team with a porous offensive line and no NFL-caliber wide receivers. (Seriously, undrafted free agent Greg Ward was promoted from the practice squad to the Eagles roster that November and ended the season as far and away Wentz’s best WR option.) He tallied 27 TDs to 7 INTs along the way.

But then it all came crashing down in 2020. The Eagles were 3-8-1 under Wentz, he completed just 57.4% of his passes, his meager 16 TD passes were nearly eclipsed by his league-high 15 picks, he held the ball too long and took an NFL-worst 50 sacks, and he got benched in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts.

So who’s the real Carson Wentz? Colts head coach Frank Reich, who was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator when Wentz was playing lights out in 2017, is believed to have as good a chance as anybody of unlocking the MVP-level talent his QB once flashed.

And who will start for the Colts if Wentz misses games? 2020 fourth-round pick Jacob Eason, who has never thrown an NFL pass, has the inside track, but the Colts might decide to get veteran help. Some of the biggest names surfacing in rumors include Jimmy Garoppolo (if the 49ers decide rookie Trey Lance is their man) and, yes, Super Bowl 52 winner Foles. (Unretirement by Philip Rivers would appear a minor pipe dream, and by Andrew Luck would appear a major pipe dream.)

For what it’s worth, the Colts opened as 2½-point favorites at most books for their Sept. 12 home opener against the Seahawks, but they have swung to 2½-point or 3-point underdogs. So the perception is that the dropoff from Wentz to whomever is worth about 5 or 5½ points.

Injury impact on odds

Draw your own conclusions about how good the Colts were going to be with Wentz and what the impact of him missing time could be. The sportsbooks have drawn theirs and are saying, through futures odds adjustments, that this dings but doesn’t deeply dent their outlook.

At BetRivers, where the pre-Wentz-injury Colts had the ninth-highest percentage of handle nationally to win the Super Bowl (3.1%) and accounted for 47% of handle and 39% of bets to win the AFC South, they went from -106 to win the division to +180. Their Super Bowl odds expanded from +2500 to +4000.

“Getting ahead of the market is key when it comes to betting futures,” said Mattias Stetz, COO of Rush Street Interactive, which operates the BetRivers-brand sportsbooks. “But it can be a double-edged sword, especially in the NFL where injuries are unfortunately part of the game.”

BetRivers is just one book, and the NFL betting odds for Colts futures currently vary widely between Indiana mobile sportsbooks including FanDuel, DraftKings, PointsBet, and Caesars (formerly William Hill):

[table id=169 /]

There’s a huge difference between the Super Bowl return at PointsBet — which hasn’t made a significant adjustment since Wentz’s surgery news — and DraftKings, which now gives the Colts the same longshot pricing as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, and Arizona Cardinals. The pricing on the division is more consistent across the board.

The Colts’ win total in this 17-game season sits at 9 at all books, though most operators are putting increasingly heavy juice on the under. FanDuel has the over and under at +110 and -130, respectively, while DraftKings is listing +105 and -125. PointsBet, again, hasn’t made the same adjustments, with the over at -115 and the under at -106.

There’s a can’t-miss betting opportunity available with regard to the question of whether the Colts will or won’t make the playoffs. FanDuel’s lines suggest they will, with the “yes” at -130 and the “no” at +108. PointsBet has similar pricing: “yes” -130, “no” +100. But DraftKings is tilted in the other direction, with the “yes” at +115 and the “no” a solid favorite at -140.

That opens up an obvious arbitrage, as $100 on the “no” at FanDuel and $100 on the “yes” at DraftKings will return either $208 or $215 in January.

In semi-related easy-betting-bankroll-boosting news, the Colts recently introduced a ticket package that comes with $100 in FanDuel bets as an added incentive. All this quarterback uncertainty, mixed with rising odds, is presumably not proving propulsive for Colts ticket sales.

Photo by Marc Lebryk / USA Today Sports