Welcome to Week 13’s upset watch, our article rating the chances of an upset or underdog cover in the week’s NFL slate.
Before we get to the picks, some big site news!
Next week we will be launching our Game Hubs! This long-awaited feature will give you two new statistical pages to examine before making your picks each week:
Our stats homepage, with head to head charts and graphs detailing the strengths and weaknesses of each team
Our expert and user data, narrowed down to only the two teams involved in the game
Game hubs are the starting point for Pickwatch’s next level that will launch in 2020, so your feedback is welcome and valued. From next season, we’ll be focused heavily on using our technology to make your life easier each week when viewing NFL stats. We’ve developed some cool tools to help you compare, visualize and understand NFL teams and the massive amounts of data that are out there.
We’ll have more on this next week, but let’s get back to the Thanksgiving picks. The rest of our slate will be published on Sunday to account for injuries and line movement.
Last week those road big ‘dogs covered 3-1 and backed up our belief in them. This week, there are another 4 of them and we’ll be picking 3 again.
However it should also be noted that also covering at a higher rate than normal are home underdogs facing smaller spreads of 4 or less. With 6 of those teams in there this week, well be picking 4 of them too, and we’ll finish off with a single pick out of the two remaining road dogs who face lower spreads.
Chicago (-2.5) @ Detroit
Key injury Alert: Jeff Driskel (Detroit, QB, Questionable)
If Driskel plays, the Lions aren’t completely unable to win against a Bears team that averages just 17.1 points each game. They’re bottom 5 in passing yards and rushing yards too, so this isn’t just an inability to finish, it’s an inability to get started.
The x-factor is simply… Detroit. They have lost 6 straight vs the spread, and that’s with a full spectrum of big and small spreads, at home, on the road, as favorites, as underdogs, with Matt Stafford, without him.
If you want an interesting stat, the Lions have never won as an underdog or lost as a favorite on Thanksgiving since 2003. They have been favorites 5 times in those 16 games, and they’ve won each game, and they’ve been underdogs in the remaining 11 and yep, lost the lot.
Let’s just say the Bears have this one...
Buffalo (+6.5) @ Dallas
We have been on the road dogs with big spreads all year, and this one really catches these two teams headed in opposite directions. For the first time in well… forever, the Bills have a head coach not on the hot seat in December, while the Cowboys, well, they’re the Cowboys, so whoever it is, they’re always on the hot seat.
Anyway, the Cowboys are 6-4 vs the spread this season as favorites, and in fact have covered no fewer than five times this season when facing a spread of -5 or more. That said, the teams they’ve beaten? The Giants (twice), the Redskins, Dolphins and the Stafford-less Lions. Sure, it’s an art to win by lots of points even when favored, but this spread seems inordinate. The Bills are 2-0-1 vs the spread as underdogs this year and that includes games vs the Patriots, Titans and Browns, none of which are quite as easy covers. They’ve lost one game all season by more than this spread, and we’re taking them to cover, with a Cowboys narrow victory.
New Orleans (-7) @ Atlanta
At the opposite end of the spectrum to those road underdogs, are home underdogs of +4.5 or more. While last week the Bengals made it 1-0 on that front, they’re still covering just 35% of the time, and the Falcons and Saints, while always closely fought, may be a step too far.
The Falcons really miss TE Austin Hooper, along with any kind of defensive play. The way that Matt Ryan played last week was… unusual. He had multiple passes that could have gone for huge gains and TD’s with only the slightest of better luck, yet in the end? A mediocre stat line again and most importantly, he is missing exactly those throws each week.
Confidence seems low with Atlanta and they are now all but mathematically eliminated. Coach Dan Quinn’s willingness to throw Matt Schaub in - and Schaub’s ability to move the team down the field - do not bode well for the Falcons the rest of the way. We’ll not mention the T-word…
The Saints actually lost the reverse matchup against the Falcons as favorites 3 weeks ago and have been 1-1 vs the spread since then, but it’s worth considering that they were still able to knock off the high scoring Tampa Bay offense on the road, and this team is 4-1 vs the spread away from home in 2019. They’re our final Turkey-day pick.
Green Bay (-6.5) @ New York Giants
We don’t like home dogs with big spreads, but it’s worth considering that those teams are 5-7 over the last 4 weeks. They aren’t guaranteed not to cover, but we still expect them to lose, and in this case, it’s worth noting the spread is not high enough to justify a cover by the Giants. They face a team ranked 7th in points scored and New York give up 27.3 ppg.
Scarily for the Giants, their gameplan is all wrong for a rookie QB. With 36.5% of their plays running the ball, they don’t even play to their own strengths, or in this case, the Giants’ weaknesses. They’re running the 6th most passing plays per game and have thrown the 4th most INT’s.
Look for a big win for Green Bay and an easy cover.
NY Jets @ Cincinnati (+3)
I love Cinci in this spot. They’ve been playing short-handed without Andy Dalton, and it’s like playing soccer with a medicine ball. When you get your feet back on a ‘proper’ ball, everything just seems that little bit easier…
The strangest thing in this game is how closely matched the two teams are, yet their strengths are opposites and the strangest part is that actually, the way that the Jets play is extremely ill-suited to playing the high-octane Bengals with Dalton. The Bengals rank dead last in rush play percentage and dead last in rushing yards allowed, but the Jets are not good at running the ball easier.
What does this mean? That the Jets have to be able to stop the (still) 13th ranked Bengals offense, and in fact the rushing game may prove to be a non-entity in this one. The Bengals have a chance not only to cover, but I’m taking them to win this game in the upset of the week.
Cleveland (-2.5) @ Pittsburgh
The Steelers with Devlin Hodges are safe, they don’t give the ball away much, but they are hampered by a very poor running game. That was their big advantage against the Browns who themselves are on a sneaky 3 game win streak.
We’re taking the Browns, who have a strong pass defense against a team that is not able to outplay it’s QB performances.
Philadelphia (-9) @ Miami
As mentioned, this matchup statistically favors the team on the road as favorite. The Dolphins have had their mid-season resurgence and proved that coach Brian Flores is not a write-off, and that Ryan Fitzpatrick is probably, somehow, against all odds, not done in the NFL.
But the Eagles are very very strong in all areas that the Dolphins aren’t, with one exception - the passing game. The Eagles have a strong reliance on the run game and the Dolphins are terrible at defending the run. It’s hard to see any outcome other than a convincing Eagles win, even
San Francisco (+6) @ Baltimore
Tampa Bay (-2.5) @ Jacksonville
This one is tight. It’s very much strength vs strength in that the Bucs are a terribly unbalanced pass-first team, and the Jags aren’t good at anything in particular except stopping the pass. Did you know that the Bucs give up the second-most yards on the ground in the league? That could well be decisive, but the Bucs have scored an exceptional number of points through the air this season and I think they’ll win in a tight game.
This is a good test of logic. Do the pass-heavy Bucs beat teams that are good at defending the pass?
Tennessee @ Indianapolis (-1)
Always two tricky teams, this is made even trickier by how unnervingly close these two teams are statistically, having incredibly similar profiles. They are both well balanced, score almost the same number of points (Titans 22.3, Colts 22.2) each game, and there is little to separate them, but where to they differ?
Well, they differ in a few core areas: The Colts win time of possession by a heavy margin (Titans 28th, Colts 6th) and they are far better at protecting their QB, allowing just 21 sacks to Tennessee’s 43 (ranked 31st). In a tight game, we would err with the team that is likely to see more of the ball, and protect their best player.
Washington (+10) @ Carolina
I know this trope probably gets boring, but at 66%, you need to be on these road dogs with big spreads. The Redskins are terrible, and it’s clear that their strengths are also the Redskins’ weakness. They run the ball extremely effectively, but it’s worth noting that while the Panthers are a better team overall, they don’t excel in anything apart from rushing the ball. They don’t score an exceptional amount of points and they don’t stop their opponents running the ball, which is going to be very much a factor in this game.
This one is tight, let’s play the percentages in a low scoring, run heavy game.
LA Rams @ Arizona (+4)
Has any team imploded as wildly as the LA Rams over the last 12 months? The scary thing is that they have now lost 4 straight vs the spread, and 3 straight as favorite against teams as poor as the Bengals, Steelers and Bears. Meanwhile, the Cardinals? They’ve covered their last 7 games, all as underdogs, and haven’t failed to cover since September.
The key for the Rams? The running game. They’re actually a very good team apart from that one thing, which ironically, is the only place that the Cards outrank them. This one is a worrying game, because it’s a real psychological battle for a better team, with every advantage, who for whatever reason have become a shell of themselves. We’re erring on the side of the recent history and taking the Cardinals to cover, but possibly not win.
Oakland (+11) @ Kansas City
These two teams are so wildly unbalanced in terms of pass and run. Let me illustrate with the matchup hub data:
The points on the top reference the offense, the points on the bottom refer to the defense. As you can see, the Chiefs are wildly skewed towards the pass and defend it well, whereas the Raiders are ranked 7th in rushing yards and 9th in rushing yards allowed. The thing is, these two teams are effectively good at stopping each others’ weaknesses, while neither is good at stopping their opponents’ strengths.
With that in mind, and our predilection for +4.5 or more road dogs, we’ll take the Raiders in a big shootout.
LA Chargers (-3.5) @ Denver
An AFC West divisional game in the most meaningless sense. Neither of these two teams are going anywhere, and the game comes down to the strength of the Chargers passing game vs the (lesser) strength of the Broncos running game.
As you can see, the strength is in passing yards for the Chargers, but unfortunately, this is very much the Broncos’s strength, ranking 5th in stopping the pass. What does this come down to? Drew Lock. The Broncos QB will start his first ever game today, and he’s got a tough task against a team that can stifle him effectively. Chargers win and cover.
New England (-3) @ Houston
Hate this game. The Pats have been… interesting vs the spread. They’ve generally not been particularly good at covering against good teams, but the Texans have had nothing much to shout about on that front either over their last 5 games, going 1-4 in that stretch.
Incredibly, the Pats defense now averages 10.6 points per game against them in the 2019 season. The Texans are arguably one of the best teams they’ve played all season, and the Pats have been weird against good teams, but they’ve also covered against the Browns, Eagles and would have covered this spread against the Cowboys. This one may be tight, but if the Pats offense gets going again, it’ll be anything but close. Pats win and cover.
Minnesota (+3) @ Seattle
Game of the week in a week full of ‘em. These two teams love a close game. The combined number of points in their last 3 games is just 28, which means they’re averaging a margin of about 4.5 each. The biggest issue? The Vikings D is incredible. They have stopped teams scoring points, and in a game that is likely to be close, that is what matters.
We love a road dog, but this may be one of those games that comes down to a 1-2pt victory. We’ll take the defensive team in that matchup, given the closeness of these two teams in every other respect.