Well, this is the part of the season when things start to tail off for underdogs, so we’re here to guide you through the smaller pool of potential upsets that we have to work with in week 8 and beyond.
Why do upsets go down as the season goes on? Well, in a nutshell, we get better at understanding the teams we’re watching, and the teams themselves begin to play in a corresponding manner to their records.
This year’s Falcons are a great place to look when you’re thinking about this. Were they expected to do well in 2019? Yeah, within reason, we could have expected them to at least be .500 at this stage of the season. That means that our expectations have also been that they will pull out of their nosedives any time now… this is the week… no last week was just a blip… this time…
But the Falcons, along with the likes of the Redskins, Bengals and Dolphins are now done. There is so little chance of any of these 0-1 win teams turning things round, that they just don’t tend to pull out the stops like they could. Losses become blowouts very quickly for those teams.
The evidence? It’s actually there. We sat down with some data from the 2015-2018 seasons. In that time, we wanted to know something pretty simple: Do teams cover less as the season goes on?
We already knew the answer, as we’ve been tracking it for 6 years now, but we used our system to split the season into two. Weeks 1-7, and weeks 8-17. Our data shows that between week 8 and week 11, just 5.9 underdogs cover each week on average.
We also looked at specific scenarios. What happens when losing teams play winning teams? Well, in weeks 1-7, the underdog covers 42% of the time. In weeks 8-17? They cover just 37% of the time.
The differences are even more pronounced with straight up wins. Underdogs win straight up 25% of the time against teams with winning records during weeks 1-7, but they win just 14% of the time in weeks 8-17.
What does this all mean? Well, it means that when really bad teams play against good teams, they are very unlikely to win from here on in, and they’re likely to cover just 1 in every 3 outings.
*Note: London games are not counted towards home/road stats. Ties are discounted.
- Favorites in 2019 ATS: 41.9%
- Underdogs in 2019 ATS: 58.1%
- Home winners in 2019: 44/103 (43.27%)
- Road winners in 2019: 58/103 (56.31%
- Home covers in 2019: 39/104 (37.5%)
- Road covers in 2019: 65/104 (62.5%)
- Home favorites in 2019 vs spread: 24-44 (35.3%)
- Road Underdogs in 2019 vs spread: 44-24 (64.7%)
- Road favorites in 2019: 19-16 (54.3%)
- Home underdogs in 2019 vs spread: 16-19 (45.7%)
- Home underdogs with spread 4 or less straight up: 7-13-1 (33.3%)
- Home underdogs with spread 4 or less ATS: 12-9 (57.1%)
- Home underdogs with spread 4.5 or more straight up: 1-13 (7.1%)
- Home underdogs with spread 4.5 or more ATS: 4-10 (28.6%)
- Road underdogs with spread 4 or less straight up: 18-18 (50%)
- Road underdogs with spread of 4 or less ATS: 21-15 (58.3%)
- Road underdogs with spread 4.5 or more straight up: 11-20 (35.5%)
- Road underdogs with spread of 4.5 or more ATS: 22-9 (70.9%)
We are going with 6 underdogs this week, which means we must be even more judicious with our stats. Last week, we saw the continuation of the regression back towards ‘normality’, as underdogs covered just 5 times. That was the first time all season that under 50% of games had ended in an underdog cover, but in general, we would expect normality to be in line with previous season averages, rather than the 2019 season’s above-average performances in certain areas.
So this week, we want 6 ‘dogs, of which any road dogs over 4.5 are a prime target. Incredibly, this week there are 9 teams that match such criteria, meaning that one of the reasons we’d expect regression is sheer volume - put bluntly, that is too many teams to continue the trend! We’re going with 4 from that number.
We also have just two home underdogs this week, the QB-less Falcons at home to Seattle (that’s a hard no from us) and the equally QB-less Chiefs at home to the Packers. Add in a London game (Cinci at the Rams) and these games spell trouble. Because we don’t believe either of those spreads are reflective of the likely QB situations, and we hate London trends, we’re going to pull those games from the equation. That means our other two underdog covers will come from road ‘dogs who have a spread of 4 or less (and there are only two!).
But who have we got? Read on!
Washington @ Minnesota (-16)
Sometimes it’s hard to quantify how bad a team is, but the Redskins might be worse than the Dolphins, arguably the worst team in the NFL as things stand. Their roster is a mess, their coaching is… well Bill Callahan is their interim head coach. Ordinarily, a spread like this against a team missing a star wideout (Adam Thielen) would make us think a little harder, but to be blunt, the Redskins are done, and a classic contender to capitulate, especially if the only motivated player on their team - Adrian Peterson - is unable to go.
Arizona (+9.5) @ New Orleans
This is more like it. The difference between a team like the deadskins and the Cards? Simple momentum, my friend. The Cards are trending upwards and at .500, could still easily continue their recent 3 game winning streak and challenge for the playoffs. You know who else is on a 3 game winning streak? Well, not the Saints, their winning streak is 5. That may very well continue on Sunday, but a spread of 9.5 is very wrong given that the Cards have averaged 29 points over their last 3 games. The Saints are good, but last week was again an exception, and I don’t see them scoring over 35 points again.
Cincinnati @ LA Rams (-13)
London game? Eek. I have a friend who says that the team that travels first, wins. I have another theory: Teams that are 0-6, lose. The fact that the Bengals are openly talking about trading their players should be enough for most people to see how badly this one could go, even with a big spread. Interestingly, the Rams have previous in London, winning 33-0 against a Carson Palmer-less Cardinals in 2017. The Bengals don’t have Palmer, but it gets worse, I’m afraid: They have Andy Dalton.
LA Chargers @ Chicago (-4)
I really want to pick the Chargers here, but last week was bad. Really bad. As you may know, the Chargers were our pick of the week, but they contrived to blow what should have been a comfortable victory - but at worst a tie and overtime - by fumbling at the goal line. Twice.
The problem I have is that the calls weren’t just unimaginative, or conservative, they were actually stupid.
Heres the situation: down 3 points, 1st and goal at the opponent’s 1 yard line, with 34 seconds left and NO TIMEOUTS.
If you call a run here, you are in a real conundrum if it goes wrong and you don’t get the TD, because with no timeouts, you could well end up having to spike it after just one attempt, losing a down. That might leave you with 20 seconds left after the pile has been cleared. You’d then have one more shot at the end zone - which would have to be a pass - and at that point, you would need to not be sacked or tackled in-bounds, or the field goal unit wouldn’t make it out.
But it gets worse. After watching Gordon semi-fumble at the half yard line, Anthony Lynn then calls ANOTHER run for Gordon on second down, this time, the snap goes at just 19 seconds left. At this stage, you’re reliant on the refs clearing the pile and maybe getting a spike before time runs out in order just to tie it up. You are almost certainly going to end up with so little time that you can’t run a third down pass play.
So why not just call a pass play on second down? The worst case scenario is that everyone is covered and Rivers throws the ball through the back of the end zone with 13-15 seconds left, giving him another shot at the exact same thing on third down, with very little risk of not getting the kicker out in a worst case scenario.
In essence, what I’m saying is that they had 3 downs to get into the end zone, but Lynn’s insistence on running the ball with no timeouts and a running clock made it incredibly likely that the Chargers would only get 2 shots.
And that, my friends, is why I am taking the Bears. Who are very bad. But not badly coached.
New York Giants @ Detroit (-6.5)
Both of these teams are on the brink. The Lions are oddly 2-3-1 and the Giants are 2-5, which means that Detroit has way, way more to play for here. Also, they’re a good team, really good, and this is a game I think they’ll want to make a statement in. The Giants have sucked badly this season, and Daniel Jones looks like what he is - a work in progress. The Lions seem to stay in games until the third quarter and then just let their opponents run riot, but in this one, I think they can make it stick.
NY Jets (+6) @ Jacksonville
For real? Yes. The Jets are not a bad team at all and won the line of scrimmage (no points for this achievement) on Monday night against the Pats. Their defense was consistently put in bad situations by the offense, leading to a rout. The Jags are not quite as good in any areas as the Patriots, and while I think they’ll win, it’s worth noting that last week’s scoreline very much flattered them after the Bengals had made things a bit tight. I think the Pats defense is great, so great, that we may have to discount them when evaluating their opponents against other teams.
Denver @ Indianapolis (-5.5)
Jacoby Brissett is so, so good. I mentioned it in week 1, but Brissett is someone I believe can play at the highest level in the NFL. He’s proven so much this season, but I don’t think he has yet come up on the radar of a lot of people. That may change this week, and I see no let up for the freefalling Broncos, who traded away one of their few offensive weapons in Emmanuel Sanders. Again, these are the moves we all know teams that are losing make.
Philadelphia (+2) @ Buffalo
Now here’s a team that doesn’t give up. I like the Eagles here, because the Bills have been unconvincing in victory, and are due a slip up. Yes, it’s that time of the year, when early-season hope evaporates as the weather turns in western New York. Sure, I may be one of the only people in the universe who sees the Dolphins as underrated, but this Bills team is probably not 5-1 without a lot of help from an easy schedule. They’ve played the Jets, Giants, Bengals and Dolphins this season, teams with a collective 3 wins between them. Add in the Titans (also 2 wins) and you can certainly see how that record got to this stage. I want to see them beat a good team before I anoint them favorites against a good team in bad form.
Seattle (-3.5) @ Atlanta
Even if Matt Ryan plays, we can’t get behind this spread. It certainly doesn’t look great for him, but the Seahawks are light years ahead of Atlanta and can tear the NFL’s weakest defense to shreds this week. If this spread were reversed with the Arizona spread, that would seem logical to us.
*Tampa Bay (+2.5) *@ Tennessee
Ahhhh ha! An upset! The Titans eh? I’ve already gone on at length about the Chargers, but the Titans deserve credit for keeping that game in hand. I mean, they should absolutely have lost against pretty much any team in history 99% of the time in that scenario, but let’s forget that for a second…
The Bucs are at the crossroads. It really is now or never, and while I suspect heavily it will be the latter, there may still be enough fight in a Bruce Arians coached team to make this one competitive. Plus they’re both quite bad, so the Bucs offense in a shootout? Yes please. The Titans have failed to break the 10 point barrier 3 times this season already, a staggeringly bad situation. Sure, maybe Ryan Tannehill is the answe… no I can’t do it, I can’t say it with a straight face.
Carolina @ San Francisco (-5.5)
Does Emmanuel Sanders tip the niners offense into ‘good’ territory? They’re not amazing, but they certainly have a pretty hefty amount of offensive talent now that Sanders is in play. His presence could open up a lot for George Kittle, the team’s best weapon. Meanwhile, the Panthers have put up some gaudy numbers since Kyle Allen took over at QB, but a long road trip to the west coast? This is new territory for the young buck.
Interestingly, Carolina re 5-2 under Ron Rivera on the west coast, but all of those games were with peak Cam Newton. This one could be pretty interesting.
*Cleveland (+13) *@ New England
Breathe deeply, my fellow Pickwatchers. I’m taking Cleveland to cover against the Patriots.
Take a trip back in time two years. At this point, try to imagine stretching the bounds of credulity to the point where the Browns could stay within 13 points of the Pats. Well. I think they can. There. I said it. They’re just more competitive than 13 points, and unlike most teams, the sense of pride within them is unreasonably high considering their 2-4 record. They scored 28 points in defeat against the Seahawks, they scored 40 against Baltimore, so there are points in this team.
I don’t think the Pats can keep this pace up, and whisper it… the Browns are the best team that New England have faced this season. Yeah, probably even better than the week 1 Steelers. I don’t even want to say this out loud (so if you’re using text-to-voice software, please mute this) but… the Browns could seriously shock the NFL on Sunday.
Oakland @ Houston (-6.5)
This is a very tasty matchup. I am tempted to break the rule here, because the Raiders are a better team than they showed in Green Bay last week. Indeed, they were in that game for long periods, and the game really hinged on Derek Carr’s fumble through the end zone that Green Bay turned into a two score advantage, rather than a close game.
But I can’t get on board with them against Houston until we know where the Texans are. Last week was disappointing, but they were close enough against a team that is, simply, the class of the AFC South. We shouldn’t judge too harshly, particularly as they too had a crucial moment when DeShaun Watson was ruled down instead of the refs giving him a TD he had clearly thrown. On such moments do those games hinge, but I think the Texans have a big score in them and this may be it.
Green Bay (-4) @ Kansas City
If Patrick Mahomes were playing - and I think it’ll be at least one more week after this - we may be having a different discussion, but Matt Moore? No thanks. Moore is far from the worst, but he is way past the point of effectiveness and the Packers? They’re rolling. There’s an ominous sense in the NFC North that this may be the Rodgers-led Packers of old, and this will be a stetement game for them on Sunday.
Miami (+14.5) @ Pittsburgh
Hands up if you’re looking forward to MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL! YEAH! COME ON EVERYONE! LET’S ALL WATCH THE BIG GA…
Look, this is a terrible game, but I am calling it right now, pick of the week, MIAMI COVER AND WIN. The Steelers are in flux and frankly, Mason Rudolph had them playing ok, but not great, I’m still not 100% that he is an upgrade over Devlin Hodges, but it’s immaterial, because this is where the Dolphins make their stand. This is where they make the name for themselves that changes their narrative forev… well for at least a few weeks. No more double digit spreads (which they’ve really been working hard on, covering the last two), let’s get back to… well… losing by not quite so much.
Look, the Dolphins are bad, but they will win at some point this season, and frankly, I think they’ve shown a bit more spirit the last few weeks. The Steelers are struggling to stay relevant this year, and this may get the Mike Tomlin questions started...