My first article for Pickwatch covered the three general rules that I use to select winners in pick’em games.
Those rules have tremendous value when used at any point of a season, but in the first quarter of an NFL campaign (Weeks 1-4) there are two other factors to take into account when choosing which team will be victorious. These elements have even more relevance this year, since the 2020 offseason had truncated training time and zero preseason contests. The lack/limit of preseason travel also added more potential impact to a third factor.
When picking early season games, it’s never a good idea to rely too much on a team with a lot of personnel turnover. That goes double this year, as teams were unable to use any true live game situations as training time this offseason. This strongly suggests that clubs returning a large volume of starters are more likely to get their timing and platoon coordination down sooner than teams with a sizable number of new starters.
The defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs could be the gold standard of personnel continuity as they return 20 out of 22 starters. The only place where Kansas City had significant roster turnover is in the backfield, as Damien Williams was a COVID-19 opt-out and LeSean McCoy is now in Tampa Bay. Even with those losses, this chart from pro-football-reference.com's snap count data shows that Kansas City might not be in as bad of shape as generally thought in this area.
There are reports that Darrel Williams may end up platooning with hyper-talented rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Week 1, so Kansas City could end up giving a significant number of carries early on to a running back who was on the field nearly as often as McCoy or Damien Williams last season.
Now contrast that situation to the Philadelphia Eagles offense.
The Eagles wide receiver corps was so beset with injuries last year that not one player at that position played on 60 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. The closest to that mark was Nelson Agholor (59.3 percent), who is now on the Raiders roster. Between Agholor, Jordan Matthews, Robert Davis, Mack Hollins, and Deontay Burnett, Philadelphia has to replace 1,337 wide receiver snaps from last season. In addition, the Eagles have two rookie wideouts on their current roster and one of those first-year players, Jalen Reagor, is slated to be out for four weeks with a torn labrum.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Philadelphia also lost Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks and projected starting tackle Andre Dillard to season ending injuries. The Eagles announced this week that long time left tackle Jason Peters, who had shifted inside to play guard as a way to help extend his career, is moving back to left tackle to replace Dillard. This switch does give Philadelphia the potential makings of a solid offensive line from a talent perspective, but the constant changes in the blocking wall and receiving corps could make it difficult for the Eagles offense to get out of the gate quickly.
Keeping in mind that this is only a tiebreaking element, if most other factors are equal the Chiefs continuity will give them a significant tiebreaking pick edge, whereas the Eagles rotating door on offense serves as a negative element in the event their pick goes to tiebreaker mode.
This article by Josh Edwards of CBS Sports provides a continuity score for every team headed into this season and thus can also be quite useful as a toss up decision making tool.
One place where tiebreakers won’t be necessary is in DraftKings’ Week 1 introductory offer where they are giving a ridiculous spread of +101 points to the Chiefs in their matchup against the Texans. That isn’t a typo – it is truly Kansas City +101 points. Just click here to go to the DraftKings promotional page and get these points after you sign up and make a minimum $5 deposit.
Experience over youth
George Allen is one of only 25 coaches to earn Hall of Fame induction, but his approach to team building was unique among that group. Allen was such a true believer in the value of veterans that his teams eventually became known as The Over The Hill Gang. Fourteen of the 22 starters on his 1972 NFC Champion Washington squad were 29 years or older, a number that would be even higher if his 29-year old kicker and 30-year old punt and kick returner were included in the starters roster.
Allen placed a heavy reliance on veterans in large part because he knew they could play at a high level from the very beginning of the schedule. This meant Allen’s teams wouldn’t have to suffer through the early season growing pains that clubs relying on younger players would encounter.
Allen’s reasoning worked like a champ, as evidenced by his teams’ won-loss record in the first month of each season:
1966: 3-1 1967: 3-1 1968: 4-0 1969: 4-0 1970: 3-1 1971: 4-0 1972: 3-1 1973: 3-1 1974: 2-2 1975: 3-1 1976: 3-1 1977: 3-1
That’s a 38-10 record, or a 79.2 percent win rate that was eight percentage points higher than Allen’s superb 71.2 percent career win rate. Not all veteran teams will perform this well, of course, but this does illustrate why it is generally a good idea to go with older teams early on if a pick comes down to tiebreakers.
This article from Jimmy Kempski of The Philly Voice details the average roster age of every NFL team following the 53-man cutdown day and as such can be a good reference point for utilizing this tiebreaker. Kempski notes that the 49ers, Saints, Bears, and Falcons have the oldest rosters in the NFL right now.
Home field, especially when facing teams taking long road trips
Home field advantage might lose some of its importance this year in one sense because of the limitations on fans being in the stands, but early in the 2020 campaign it might actually be of more value considering the myriad COVID-19 protocol issues that road teams will have to go through to travel, lodge, and then get to the stadium, something they haven’t been able to practice given the cancellation of all preseason contests.
Add this factor to the benefit home teams have when facing clubs traveling long distances for road contests (http://grantland.com/features/packing-miles-hurt-team-overpaying-kicker/) and it shows that extended air travel can be a very impactful tiebreaker.
A good barometer is here is looking for matchups where the road team has to voyage 2,000+ miles to a game. Per airmilescalculator.com’s airport-to-airport distance measurement, here are the games that include a team making a trip of 2K+ air miles in the first quarter of the 2020 campaign:
Week 1: Seattle at Atlanta (2,182 miles)
Week 2: Los Angeles Rams at Philadelphia (2,401), New England at Seattle (2,496), San Francisco at New York Jets (2,586)
Week 3: Carolina at Los Angeles Chargers (2,125), Las Vegas at New England (2,381), Los Angeles Rams at Buffalo (2,217), San Francisco at New York Giants (2,586 – if the 49ers don’t stay over for the back-to-back road games in New York)
Week 4: Los Angeles Chargers at Tampa Bay (2,158), New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams (2,475), Philadelphia at San Francisco (2,521), Seattle at Miami (2,724)
You won’t have to travel a long distance to get what amounts to a sure thing this week with the aforementioned DraftKings +101 points spread for Kansas City in its Week 1 matchup against Houston. Simply visit the DraftKings promotional offers page, sign up, and make a $5 deposit to get this insane introductory offer.
See you in Week 1!