We’ll be doing our now standard two-part Upset Watch, focusing first on Thursday Night Football, and then on the rest of the week’s games at the weekend. We’ll also have big news on game hubs by the end of this week, and we anticipate them being live and able to be used by you on Saturday at the latest!
The road dogs just keep getting it done when it’s least expected. At this time of year, our stats show that underdogs pick it back up, and we’re anticipating 7 covers out of 16 this week, the fifth highest of the season so far. Meanwhile, there is a minor resurgence for those home dogs facing bigger spreads, and as I said last week, we should always understand that there is a strong probability of these stats reverting more towards 50% as the season goes on.
Thursday Night Pick:
Dallas (-3) @ Chicago
We’re looking at Game Hubs as a tool here, so let’s delve into the stats we’ve put out there in v1.0.
As you can see, the Cowboys are far better in every offensive department than Chicago, but some context is also useful. In their last 2 games, the Cowboys put up just 24 points combined (against the Bills and Patriots). That’s not good, but a look at the Chicago schedule is also revealing.
The Bears have put up more than 24 points just twice in the entire 2019 season, so with the Cowboys still averaging 25.8ppg, this one comes down to how the team defenses play. As you can see, the Cowboys are far from pushovers, and it’s only on the ground where they fall much shorter, yet they still rank as a top 16 defense against the rush.
What is most critical here is how well the Cowboys defend the pass. Mitch Trubisky has roundly struggled to put up points even against the worst of teams, and the Cowboys? They’re 7th in passing yards allowed, and 8th in passing touchdowns allowed. They also heavily outpace the Bears in terms of sacks, and have the best pass protection in the league.
Can we trust the Cowboys? I believe we can tonight. The Bears struggle mightily with their 3rd down efficiency, ranking 29th on 3rd down and less than 2. The Cowboys are mirror images, getting it done when it counts. \
Road win and cover tonight, folks.
Baltimore (-5.5) @ Buffalo
So something we’ve been big on here in Upset Watch are those teams that face big spreads at home generally… well… not being very good. In the first 8 weeks of the season, teams with a spread of 4.5 or more covered just 5 times out of 16 attempts, and won outright just once from that position.
Since week 9? There have been 7 covers in another 16 attempts, all in just 4 weeks. Of greater note is that 5 of those teams also won the game. Those teams were Kansas City, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Miami and Denver.
So this one is actually a really difficult pick. The Ravens have scored more than 35 points in 4 of their last 5 games, and 40+ points in three of those. The Bills have averaged just 19.3 ppg, scoring more than 30 points just once this season.
Despite the Bills being on something of a run, it’s the good form of the Ravens against other good defensive teams (Seattle, New England, Houston) and the fact that the Bills have struggled against the run (115ypg, ranked 21st) that leads us to a Ravens win and cover.
Carolina @ Atlanta (-3.5)
![car @ atl sider
Carolina fired Ron Rivera after 8 years last week, but will it yield a benefit? Both teams are effectively out of the playoffs, but the Panthers are now in complete flux. With Cam Newton on IR, an interim head coach, and now Greg Olsen injured, the injuries and general situation is terrible. Add to that the Falcons getting Austin Hooper back at TE, and the news that Julio Jones will play, and you have a recipe for disaster for the Panthers.
Our spiderweb calls this the strength of the Panthers’ running game against the strength of the Falcons’ passing attack. Both teams have an advantage there, but I would say that the Falcons have been decidedly unfortunate in the last few games not to see their play rewarded, and this is the exact type of situation where they could pick up their first win of the season as favorites.
Cincinnati @ Cleveland (-7)
We picked the Bengals as upset of the week last time out and hey, what do you know… they duly delivered their first win of the season. The Bengals really needed Andy Dalton back, he’s the reason they have a single meaningful reason to be hopeful in games…
I think of note here is the Bengals’ strength in their games as big underdogs this season. They’ve been underdogs by more than 4.5pts seven times, and they’re 5-2 ATS in those games against teams such as Baltimore, Seattle and Buffalo.
What swings this back towards the Browns for us is that the Browns have covered well against the Dolphins and Jets, and they’ve been strong against the pass which is (to this point), as mentioned, the bengals’ only advantage. They may be inconsistent, but that generally comes into play against the tough opponents they’ve faced. When they’ve played bad defensive teams, they’ve been much better.
Denver (+9.5) @ Houston
Ah the Broncos. They’re not a great team at 4-8, but vs the spread? They’ve covered 4 of the last 5, and 6 of their last 8. All but one of those games was as underdog, and they’ve covered against the Chargers, Vikings, Colts and Titans in that time, so the Texans? They’re not an unassailable opponent in the context of a +9.5pt spread.
The stats heavily favor Houston, except through the air, where we would expect them to do most or their damage. In this respect, the Broncos hold a big advantage, ranking 4th vs the pass and 2nd in passing touchdowns allowed. For reference, the Texans have scored 18 of their 28 TD’s through the air.
For those reasons, we’re taking a Broncos cover and a Texans victory.
Detroit (+13.5) @ Minnesota
What to make of the Lions under David Blough. Well compare him with Drew Lock, and he threw for double the number of yards in his first start, and a healthy 2 TD’s to 1 INT. He was sketchy, sure, but he made some good throws and clearly is not a complete scrub.
The Vikings have lost to two backup QB’s this year, Matt Moore of KC and Chase Daniel of the Bears, but I don’t know if that means I trust the Lions to win. Scarily, they’ve failed to cover their last 7 games on the trot, but I think a very crucial context for that is that they have yet to lose a game by two scores this season, and their average defeat since Matt Stafford got injured is just 5.5pts. Given that the Vikings need this win, it’s not inconceivable they will play ‘safety first’ in the final quarter, and I think Blough has enough to keep the game within a score by the end.
Indianapolis (+3) @ Tampa Bay
One of the toughest games of the week to predict. Both of these teams have been in our bad books, with the Bucs going on an epic run of 6 failed covers, before bringing it all back with two wins in the last two weeks. Meanwhile, the Colts have generally been better as underdogs than as favorites, covering 4/6 compared to a 50% rate as favorites.
The big x-factor here is turnovers. We know that Jameis Winston throws interceptions constantly, in fact the Bucs have a league worst 14 INT’s in 2019 and have 7 fumbles to add to that too.. The Colts are middle of the pack, but just hold an edge there.
I think the Bucs will implode here. They are facing a top-10 passing defense and the level of overperformance that other teams have when facing their defense is quite something.
For that reason, we’re taking the Colts to cover and win.
Miami (+5) @ NY Jets
Well look at that spiderweb… these two teams have just a single statistic out of our six fundamental offensive and defensive statistics that is in the top 50% of the league (the Jets’ 3rd ranked run defense). The next best? Miami’s 18th best passing defense. Essentially, both of these two teams are very bad at almost everything.
Given how few yards the Dolphins have achieved on the ground this season (a 31st ranked 66.3ypg, just ahead of the 32nd ranked Jets with 65.4ypg…) it’s hard to think that it will have much of an impact on the game.
Miami have been a bit of a secret weapon for us this season. They’ve covered 6 of their last 8, and that includes a game against today’s opponent in the Jets. It’s also worth noting that although the Dolphins have a terrible ppg record (11.6 points on average) it’s skewed heavily by their early season struggles. Their average over the last 5 games is actually 23.4ppg, which would put them in the top 15 teams in the league.
I think the Jets are equally much improved, but a gut-wrenching loss to the Bengals and the absence of Le’veon Bell equal a Dolphins cover and outright win for me.
San Francisco @ New Orleans (-2)
Oh wow this game. I’ve held off picking it for a while because I do not like it at all. Two NFC teams that are 10-2, and look at that Spiderweb, that’s two good teams that play to their strengths.
The Saints haven’t played a non-divisional opponent since the last week of October, and in the last 5 games have alternated between wins and losses vs the spread, but I think the most critical stat is that they have lost just one of their last ten games outright, and even a field goal margin (the same margin San Francisco lost to Baltimore and Seattle by…) would give them a cover.
I love the 49ers and they will do some damage to the Saints, but they are largely reliant on their run game and that is where the Saints are strong. They also have only a single interception over the last 5 games, and have been largely reliant on their fumble recoveries to keep them in a positive turnover differential (+4). The Saints? Oh, they’re first in the league with just a single offensive fumble lost this season.
Saints win and cover, please and thanks.
Washington @ Green Bay (-13)
The weather may be the ultimate factor here. The Redskins are on a mini-roll (not the cake) and beat the Panthers and Lions in their last two outings, but the Packers are a different beast, particularly at home in the cold (34F) expected to be in play by the end of the game. The Packers excel in that weather and the Redskins? They haven’t thrown so much as a single TD in their last 3 road games in cold weather. Keeping pace with the Packers will need more than just a running game, and this is one I see getting genuinely out of hand as the Packers seek to extend their NFC North lead.
LA Chargers (-3) @ Jacksonville
Gardner Minshew eh? Remember that guy? The big thing here is that Minshew didn’t really regress, as much as he had his worst two games of the season at the exact point that Nick Foles was coming back from injury. Up until the Houston game in week 9, he was 13:2 in TD:INT ratio. He then had two INT’s in the Texans game, and the team panicked and went back to their big money investment in Foles.
The scale of Foles’s ineptitude (great guy, but he’s just not amazing) is apparent when you consider that they’ve benched a $20m+ QB for Minshew, a 6th round rookie based entirely on performance. Under Minshew, the Jags were simply a better team, but can they beat LA?
Well… yes they can, but I don’t think they will. Despite how effective the Jags are running the ball, they still call 58.1% passing plays, so it’s not like this is a run first team (13th in the league). The worry is that between them these two teams have failed to cover 7 games, with the last cover for Jacksonville being in October against the Jets.
I love Minshew mania, but something tells me with a low spread and a clear general advantage, take the better team, particularly vs the pass.
Kansas City (+3) @ New England
Oh wow. AFC Championship rematch hoooooooo
Let’s start by looking at recent games between these two teams. They’ve played three regular season games since Andy Reid took over and two postseason games. The Chiefs have covered all of the regular season matchups as underdogs, and the Patriots have won both of the playoff games.
The last few games for New England have been… interesting, however. These two teams are quite clearly moving in opposite directions on offense. In the last 3 games the Chiefs average 32 points per game, the Patriots just 17.3. They haven’t scored more than 30 points in a game since week 7 against the Jets, and as was pointed out numerous times in these columns, it’s not hard to figure out the correlation with their schedule’s weakness in the front end of the season and their inflated numbers.
The good news for the Patriots is that their defense is still strong, but only against weak teams. They held the Cowboys and Eagles under 20 points, but the Chiefs? They’ve had a tough schedule against the likes of Baltimore, Green Bay, Houston and Minnesota, and they’ve still put up big points each time. They top passing yards and they have thrown the least interceptions all season, I just think this is set up not only for a cover, but a heavy win that gets people talking a lot more about the reality of this New England team.
Pittsburgh @ Arizona (+1.5)
Ok let’s start with the Pittsburgh offense. IT JUST DOESN’T EXIST. It’s actually insane to be that at both rushing and passing, and yet somehow still be 19th in the league in points per game. This fundamentally comes down to their defense, with a solid +11 turnover differential.
What I always say about the Steelers on the road under Tomlin is this: They are inordinately bad on the west coast. They have only won twice in 8 attempts in the pacific time zone, and twice in 6 attempts in Mountain, so that makes 4 wins in 14 attempts. This one may be a defensive slugfest at times, which would favor the Steelers, but I think the Cardinals have enough young talent to put points on the board, and that’s going to be difficult for Pittsburgh to counter.
Home win and cover.
Tennessee (-3) @ Oakland
I hated the Titans early in the season because they were the public’s bogey team. As favorites, they lost their first 4 games this season, but they’ve now won and covered their last 4 games when favored. This is actually a huge game for both teams, and could well dictate which of these two teams holds a wild card or division winners spot come January.
The Titans are a different team under Ryan Tannehill, as much as it galls me to say it. I still believe Tannehill is a turnover waiting to happen, but he’s turned this offense into a well balanced machine with passing and rushing attacks. Worryingly for Oakland, they can’t defend the pass, and they’re possibly missing their leading rusher in Josh Jacobs, which would be a poor omen.
I’m taking the Titans to win and cover.
Seattle @ LA Rams (PK)
Game of the week, in a game full of them. Why? Well the last 3 meetings between these two teams have yielded an extraordinary point differential of just 8, so expecting this to be a pick’em is par for the course.
It;s strength vs strength, too, in some ways. The main one being that the Seahawks run the ball well and the Rams stop it, but the two teams are somewhat unbalanced. Seattle isn’t strong defensively, but the Rams have struggled to pass themselves recently. Does anyone trust Jared Goff under pressure?
But that said, I think the Rams are sneakily underrated. Sure they screwed the pooch against the Ravens and 49ers, but those are two good defenses, the Seahawks are middle of the pack at best and actually allow a lot more passing yards (rank 27th) than most. I think Goff gets a statement victory on Sunday night.
NY Giants (+9.5) @ Philadelphia
Ah Eli, what a treat for us on Monday night.
And how good is Manning vs the Eagles? Well, he’s lost the last 5 games against them, but only one of those games was a blowout. Eli is a real scratchy type of player, he’s annoying because he has periods of games where he’s just not there, but will drag his team back within striking distance.
The spread for me is key here, because as much as Eli is a defining factor, the Eagles are the ultimate flake team this season and have lost three straight, not covering any time. The added motivation for the Giants here, particularly Eli, is huge, and I think this will set up a weird end of season conflab about Eli’s future. Road cover, home win. Just.