Welcome back to another year of Upset Watch, ladies, gentlemen, and - I'm now contractually obliged to say - miscellaneous.
In case you've missed it, yes, Pickwatch has changed quite dramatically over the off-season. I've covered that off in more detail elsewhere in another blog post , but I will take this chance to talk about the direction we're headed in and how relevant it is to you guys.
When we conceived the new direction for the site, we had two goals that were at the core of what we're doing
- Expand and improve the experts section of the site
- Add a new analytics section that allows users to explore NFL data the same way Upset Watch does
Of those, we're currently heavily focused on number 1, as you can imagine! As much as Pickwatch is a simple enough concept, it has been built on hard work, ingenuity and relatively complex coding relationships. Whenever we looked to improve the site in the past, the general process for budding contractors was always:
Step 1: Look at site and laugh at how simple it was Step 2: Promise to easily revamp the entire site into a mobile friendly, all singing all dancing Facebook lite Step 3: Take money Step 4: Look at code base, cry, look some more, fail to understand what me or you guys want from the site, panic, spend 6 months pretending to be working, then rush through everything in the last week of August.
It's pretty funny, or at least it would be if this wasn't a job, and didn't hurt millions of people trying to make picks an
But those days are now gone. We have a small, but very proficient, group of developers for whom building and maintaining this website is a full time job. Indeed, like me, for these guys, it's more than just a 9-5, it's a 'whatever we need to do' kind of job.
But I digress
Analytics on Pickwatch
The concept behind the part of the site that has a working title of Pickwatch Pro is that we believe analytics as a whole are a valuable tool for you to use, but there are two problems we have seen in this area. First, analytics are often aimed exclusively at the extremely savvy math junkies among us. If you've never used analytics before, it's borderline impossible to learn to use them effectively.
But secondly, what has been a constant source of exasperation to me personally, is that analytics are seldom, if ever, designed to help you predict the outcome of NFL games. They're great for fantasy sports, they're a useful tool for teams to evaluate player data, metrics and physiology, but where is the use for us as fans? Where is the use for bettors or those trying to pick games?
I'd argue that there isn't any. The companies that claim to have a secret sauce are permanently trying to keep that secret, so they'll perhaps give you an answer for a price, but they won't necessarily show you how to get the answer yourself.
We're going to change that, and when you're reading Upset Watch this season, bear in mind that everything we are doing is working towards delivering a whole new content platform running side-by-side with Pickwatch that will revolutionize how you make your game picks.
But enough of that, it's on to week 1's picks!
1: Upset of the week: Kansas City (+3.5) @ LA Chargers
Patrick Mahomes is not a rookie. There. I said it. Whatever your thoughts on this battle, it shouldn't be framed in terms of the two Quarterbacks. Yes, Philip Rivers is a big name, but like many, I believe Mahomes will be part of the next generation of superstar QBs in the NFL, so my advice is to position this as a QB-off at your peril.
Where the Chiefs are still dominant is in their dynamic playmakers. Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and now the big play ability of Sammy Watkins. Add in myriad underrated potential breakout stars in Chris Conley, DeMarcus Robinson and DeAnthony Thomas, and this Chiefs offense is ready to burn holes in the AFC West's largely mediocre talent pool.
The Chargers aren't pushovers, but these two teams haven't changed dramatically since the two games last season that ended in a combined 54-23 scoreline for the Chiefs, including an early season road win in LA.
Chicago (+7.5) @ Green Bay
Take the points here, as I think there's a good chance that the strong Bears front 7 will be overwhelming for Green Bay's offensive line. Remember Aaron Rodgers has lost Jordy Nelson, his go to receiver. At this stage, if Randall Cobb is healthy he'd be my outside fantasy football tip, because Rodgers loves people he can trust and won't have much time to work with.
This could well be the watershed season for the Packers in the Rodgers era. It's kind of crazy to think that Rodgers is approaching the age where Brett Favre began dancing around his retirement each year, and while that's not going to happen for a long time, I think this is the weakest Green Bay team in years. Conversely, the Bears can fly under a lot of radars, particularly if Mitchell Trubisky and Allen Robinson get going.
Cincinnati (+3) @ Indianapolis
Until I see Andrew Luck healthy, I can't back the Colts. Flip side? The Bengals started badly over the last few years. Last year they started with 3 losses, which is spectacular by any reasonable standards. Stil, I don't see the Bengals as some kind of lost cause under Marvin Lewis, and actually, neither do the experts. The Bengals are now 67% favorites straight up, and a feintly ridiculous 83% to cover the +3 point spread. The Colts are banged up and haven't turned enough of a corner to trust them here.
Houston (+6.5) @ New England
ABOUT FACE! I'm doinga full 180 here and going to say that we CAN trust the Texans despite not seeing DeShaun Watson healthy. Yes, I know I just made the opposite case with Luck, but Watson's best taste of NFL action was in the game against New England last year. It put him firmly on the map. The Texans were very close to winning the whole game and I wouldn't be surprised to see them run the Pats close again.
Do we know if this Pats team is capable of replicating the dynasty years one more time? Losing Amendola, Solder, Edelman (for the first 4 games) and Malcolm Butler is an almighty blow to that team, no matter who is quarterbacking them. Too many of these points spreads are working on 2016 time...
Seattle (+3) @ Denver
Speaking of which, Super Bowl rematch anyone? I don't like Denver at all, and the Seahawks are one of those teams it's easy to get down on, but they're well coached and have one of the best quarterbacks in the league making plays that no other player can make.
Yeah, I just picked a team starting a guy who only has one hand, but you know... sooner or later they'll play the Bills and he probably still has a better chance of not fumbling than Nathan Peterman.
Washington (+1.5) @ Arizona
I really think Washington will surprise people this season. They've lost some good players to injury, not least Derius Giuce at RB, but they're infinitely better with Alex Smith at QB than the Cards are with Sam Bradford under center.
What puzzles me is why nobody can see some inevitable paths in this game. Bradford will be accurate, but he will be terrified of getting hurt. We saw this dynamic in his game for Minnesota last year in week 5 against the Bears in prime time. Bradford tried to play and was quite simply, lacking any confidence in his legs at full speed. While not wishing any ill on Bradford, it seems patently obvious that he is one hit away from never playing the game again, let alone missing a few plays.
Apart from that, the Redskins figure to be a better team with Smith at the helm than Cousins, and their defense is arguably in better shape than the Cards at this stage. The thought of a slighted Adrian Peterson running towards this Cardinals defense would not fill me with great enthusiasm.
...and the rest
Ranked in order of the chance of an upset, here are the other games. We're not classing these as upsets, but keep an eye on where I think there's value in the points spread
Atlanta (+1) @ Philadelphia
Dallas (+3) @ Carolina
San Francisco (+6.5) @ Minnesota
Pittsburgh @ Cleveland (+4)
Tennessee (-1.5) @ Miami
LA Rams (-4) @ Oakland
Jacksonviille (-3) @ New York Giants
New York Jets @ Detroit (-6.5)
Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (-9.5)
Buffalo @ Baltimore (-7.5)