Welcome to week 10’s Upset Watch.
Every week I write Upset Watch and it informs some pretty cool features that we’ll be rolling out in the next 12 months that would make my life easier than trawling our database of 20 years of NFL play-by-play data that we have ready to be used by you. We teased some of it this offseason, but we hope that in the next few weeks, our game hubs will be live again, giving you data visualizations and expert picks galore for each game based on this data and more.
We’re also going to be launching a new competitor to Upset Watch that takes the best users in our database of 3m+ picks, and turns them into an algorithm that you can use to pick games based on performance. Not only that, but we also have big plans for making this a more interactive process for you very soon.
But for now, on with this week’s Upset Watch!
Week 10 is our secret weapon, BUT WAIT. We need to adjust. The below chart is accurate in one sense, as a number, this is how many games have been covered by underdogs in week 10 over the last 6 seasons, but there’s a minor discrepancy this year - there are only 13 games on the schedule!
We’ve gone with 6 covers this week, but you could stretch to 7 if you wanted to (particularly with a couple of 1pt spreads on the slate this week). It’s actually a schedule ripe for underdogs this week too...
LA Chargers (-1) @ Oakland
It’s worth considering that the Raiders have covered 4 of their last 5 spreads, but as an underog this season the average spread they’ve faced has been +6.5, so what amounts to a pick’em is not going to be quite the same. The Chargers have been strangely unpredictable this season, and last week’s win against the Packers (we called that one) was their first back to back victory of 2019. 3 in a row is very much doable, although a word of caution, that the Chargers have a habit of taking things right to the wire. Really, that should have been three in a row were it not for the disastrous 3 attempts from the 1yd line in week 8.
Arizona @ Tampa Bay (-4.5)
This one is just on the cusp for us. The Bucs are actually playing very well indeed, they just can’t close out a game right now. They’re favorites for the first time since week 2 when they blew it on Thursday against the Giants, but Arizona has made a habit of beating up on bad teams, and the Bucs, despite their record, are actually not that bad.
Atlanta (+13.5) @ New Orleans
I don’t like the Falcons here at all, but 13.5 points is a lot of points for the Falcons in a divisional game. This spread would have been covered by the winner of a Saints/Falcons matchup just twice in the last 14 matchups, and 3 times in the last 20. In that time, both teams have had big highs and lows to contend with, and I have no doubt that if there’s one game the Falcons feel they have to turn up for this season, it’s the Saints.
Baltimore (-10) @ Cincinnati
I’m picking the Ravens because they’re so far ahead of Cinci that this spread makes me borderline angry, but let’s talk about Lamar Jackson for a moment.
I saw a comparison to Mike Vick the other day, and that too made me wince. Forget about the morality of Vick’s utterly inconceivable crimes against animals for one moment. Think about Vick for those first 5 years in Atlanta. He was… well, he was very up and down. He had two good seasons and 3 mediocre ones, and then the final one in 2006 was so lop-sided (he rushed for over 1,000 yards but threw for just 2,474 in 16 games) that by seasons end, his position as the franchise QB of the Falcons was already under severe threat.
But again, the comparison of jackson with Vick is really only based on his legs. In that spell in Atlanta, Vick averaged just 52.2% completion percentage, while Jackson - ostensibly a run first QB - is averaging 64.3% through the first 8 games of the season, and is on pace to top 3,600 yards passing and 1,200 yards rushing. There has never been a Lamar Jackson in this league, but ironically, the closest to him? His backup, Robert Griffin III. His rookie season was a masterclass in dual threat signal-calling, 3,200 yards passing, 815 yards rushing and a completion percentage of 65.6%. He was, if only for a fleeting moment, the perfect quarterback for Jackson to emulate, but his cautionary tale should probably not be far from the mind of John Harbaugh, because Jackson throws himself bodily into defenders when running. That may hold up now, but he will not be able to do it forever.
Anyway, Jackson is arguably the most influential player in the league right now. No team is winning more, no player is dominating games and dictating every aspect of them the way he is. The MVP race is between him and Christian McCaffrey, but I think the way the Ravens are headed, Jackson has the inside track.
Buffalo (+2.5) @ Cleveland
11 times this season, a team with a winning record has played on the road as an underdog against a team with a .500 record or worse . Do you know how many times they have covered? All but once, and that loss was by 2 points (Indy @ Pittsburgh last week), which would mean that there has yet to be an occasion where the road underdog has been blown out. Home advantage counts, but last week was an anomaly, 12 home wins vs the spread is decidedly unusual. The Bills are a good enough team to take this dysfunction in Cleveland to a new level. Lose to Buffalo, and everything is up for change...
NY Giants @ NY Jets (+2.5)
Ah the battle of New York (or whatever). Every 4 years, these two teams come together to bumble around and generally play bad football. I’m going to let you in on a little secret here… neither of these two teams is very good this year either. I think the Jets are probably a little better on defense than the Giants are on offense, and they are also set up to score points against a very poor Giants D. My one rule in these type of games, is always err on the side of the team with the best defensive unit.
Detroit @ Chicago (-2.5)
Talking about this game with my friend Joe Manniello of Newsday, Joe asked if I liked the Lions. I do, I like them enough to have picked them as an upset last week, but they just don’t seem able to finish. The biggest problem is the lop-sided nature of their games. Everything is difficult in Lions game. Winning? Alright, the other team will get a shot. Losing? Don’t sweat it, they’ll get you down to the 1 and then blow it.
Meanwhile, the Bears? Oh I don’t even know what to say about the Bears. As a fan, it’s hard to detach yourself from the outcome, but like most fans of bad teams, I’ve become very adept at this over the last three decades. Averaging just 17.75ppg, this is not a strong Bears lineup, but they do this great job of stifling teams that can score a lot of points. The Chargers, Packers, Eagles, Vikings and… well forget the Broncos. Those teams have all underperformed vs their average points per game this season against a stingy Bears defense, and this is where a 4 game losing streak ends.
Kansas City (-5.5) @ Tennessee
The Chiefs have handled Pat Mahomes’s injury really well, and if they have sense, they’ll consider sitting Mahomes for the short hop to Nashville. The Titans are a good enough team to cause the Chiefs problems, but equally, they are beatable with Matt Moore at the helm (phrases you never thought you’d write…) and Mahomes being back for the stretch is more important. With a likely playoff run upcoming, there is no sense to risking him.
The Titans are our bogey team. I would genuinely consider fading this pick if I were you, because until last week, we couldn’t pick them at all. Now we’re on a good run where they should (hopefully) lose loads of games by loads of points. YEAH! I mean.. Um… sorry Titans fans.
Miami (+10) @ Indianapolis
Until we know Jacoby Brissett’s status for Sunday - and frankly, it would be ludicrous of the Colts to play him - I think Miami can keep this respectable. Brian Hoyer should be good enough to take them down, but this Dolphins team has covered 4 straight and the Colts have not been especially prolific this season. With the Dolphins averaging around 19-20pts per game and the Colts with either a backup or a hobbled Brissett in the game (again. WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?) it is a good opportunity for a cover and even to run the Colts surprisingly close.
Carolina (+5.5) @ Green Bay
The Panthers roll into town with a problem - Kyle Allen has a shoulder injury, but assuming that he is playing Sunday, this team is 5-1 vs the spread over their last 6 games. The Packers have the 6th most rushing yards allowed in the league this year, although they have tightened up slightly over the last 3 games. The teams they’ve faced, however, were the Chiefs (24th) Lions (21st) and Bears (27th). The Panthers are 7th and have one of, if not the best running games in the league right now. That’s not to say this all comes down to rushing, but the Panthers do their work with short dump-offs and good running. It all goes through Christian McCaffrey, and the Packers are not best suited to stopping him.
LA Rams (-3.5) @ Pittsburgh
This one nearly made the cut, but the Rams needed this bye week I think. Last year, they pretty much imploded after the bye week in week 13, but this year? They’ve headed in without a big fanfare, and with a couple of good victories under their belt. There’s no doubt the Steelers are improving rapidly, but some context is needed. They’ve beaten the Colts with an injury to their starting QB mid-game, the Dolphins, the Chargers (we’ll give them that one) and the Bengals. Those are not things you can really brag about just yet, chaps.
Minnesota @ Dallas (-3)
Game of the week alert. But no upset.
Kirk Cousins in primetime is a bad thing. 6-13 under the lights in his career, we very rarely see the best of him on TV. That said, Dalvin Cook is the real star of the show for Minnesota, particularly with Adam Thielen out with a hamstring injury. The Vikings D has also been up and down based on the level of their opponents recently. They have given up big plays against the Chiefs, Lions and Eagles that the Cowboys would do well to emulate.
As for the Cowboys, it seems like a distant memory that we were being told Jason Garrett needed to be fired just 4 weeks ago. A month later, the Cowboys seem like what they always were: The best team in the NFC East, and when they’re playing well, the best team in the NFC. They have their biggest test in a month now against Minnesota, but I think they’ll cover, particularly in primetime, where they perform extremely well. They’re 8-3 vs the spread since 2016 at home under the lights, and have covered 4 of the last 5.
Seattle (+6) @ San Francisco
Upset of the week klaxon. First off, congrats to ESPN for not getting a clunker this week. It feels like they generally get the slightly more brown end of the stick when it comes to the schedule, and unlike NBC on Sunday nights, they can’t shuffle things around to get a better matchup. That said, their broadcast team is clearly a complete placeholder for whoever retires next (Olsen? Eli? Ben?) or whoever they can coax into the booth (Peyton?) and it’s often a tough watch.
But anyway, the Seahawks and 49ers are two of the best teams in football, yet here we are, with a big ol’ +6. Want to know how ludicrous that is? It will be the second highest spread that a team with a winning record has faced on the road this year. There have been 3 instances over +5, and they’ve all been covered by the underdog. +6 is a faintly ridiculous number for Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, even against the talented 49er defense.