Upset Watch Week 12 2020
Last week was tough, but we're going to rebound big time on Thanksgiving week. Here's which underdogs we're picking to win in week 12.
25 Nov, 2020
For those joining up recently, Upset Watch is our weekly ranking of all of the teams this week and their chances of an upset. The idea is that you can find 1-2 upsets to be really confident in and maximize your winnings over the year.
Up until last week, we were over $1000 up on the year if you'd staked $100 on every pick of ours, but last week was a disaster, and we lost half of that as all 4 of our underdog victories failed to materialize and only one of our covers - the Jets - got within the spread.
But that's the nature of the beast. All in all, we know we're going to miss on upsets pretty regularly because... well, they're supposed to be harder to pick than favorites! That's why you win more when you get them right, and why a big week this week could once again take us to a monster profit.
No, let's rephrase that: A big week this week will take us to a monster profit!
One thing we won't be overthinking is our approach to upsets. We have been wildly successful for years now by knowing how many upsets to pick and which games are most likely to yield results, Nothing changes because of a bad week, where nothing went our way.
This week the average over the last 7 years tells us there will be 4.0 upsets and 6.4 covers. As always, the majority of upset wins will come from those spreads below +3, but as we've seen already this season, every week it pays to try and find at least one big underdog to get behind, as a win there can really enhance your return.
The underdogs will win these games outright
Houston @ Detroit (+3)
Our first upset of the week is called for the very first game - and it's a bold one. Neither of these two teams have been very good, in fact neither has really managed to get out of first gear all season. Both teams are also nearly identical in profile - strong passing units, no run defense or running game at all. They even both have 18 passing touchdowns each, and both have scored 30 points or more on just one occasion this season. None of it bodes well for a great matchup, but the Lions are getting back RB D'Andre Swift, and at a time when marginal rushing gains will likely be the difference between these two teams, a guy with 6 TD's on the season, combined with the losses of Kenny Stills and Randall Cobb for Houston should tip the scales back towards Detroit.
Miami @ NY Jets (+7)
This is the one that will upset people. I know, the Jets... but they've got something going, and it would be naive to think they aren't knocking on the door of a victory if any team comes in and has a bad day - of which the Dolphins have had a few lately. The Jets held Buffalo to 18 points, were within 3 of the Pats on Monday Night Football 3 weeks ago, and put up 28 against the Chargers last week. Fun fact - since Tua took over, the Dolphins are last in yards per game on offense. Over the last 3 weeks, the Jets have improved and have the 8th ranked offense at this point, quite a turnaround for a team that was rooted to 32nd or 31st all season up until Joe Flacco took over at QB. At some point, the Jets are going to win, and whether it's now or against the Patriots in week 17, I think a divisional game is the most likely place for it.
Las Vegas @ Atlanta (+3)
This is my Upset of the week - a return of a term I've avoided lately, but the Falcons are a pass first team heading to one of the league's absolute worst passing defenses. To make matters worse for the Raiders, the Falcons have the means to counter their run attack and actually have the 11th best rush defense in the league. In essence, everywhere the Raiders are strong, the Falcons are good, but wherever the Falcons are strong, the Raiders are weak. The reliance on the run has been the trademark of the Raiders' fine recent form, and I think it will be far less effective on Sunday.
Arizona @ New England (+2)
I don't want to call this one until I know Kyler Murray's status, but assuming he is healthy - and not just playing, but healthy - I'd be on Arizona, with a very nice spread. But if he's not? I'm all in on New England and I think to be on the safe side, if I were a betting man, I'd be taking New England now at +2 and waiting for Arizona to slide if Murray is ruled out. There's a good chance that even if he plays, Murray is not 100% by a long way, and a limited Cardinals team could be fair game for a Patriots defense that can certainly still be a factor against teams that aren't at their best.
Carolina (+4) @ Minnesota
Again, my heart may lie with Carolina right now, but it's a tricky one until we know Teddy Bridgewater's status. I love PJ Walker and as I said last week, I really liked him to win (In fact, as that game ended up with Carolina as underdogs, it should really class as an underdog victory for us...) against Detroit, but Minnesota are a level up. Their strong run game can be unstoppable at times and the Panthers defense is as middle of the road as it comes. This one is caveated. I'm taking the Vikings for now, but a lot depends on Bridgewater and Christian McCaffrey. If they play and Adam Thielen doesn't for Minnesota, it's a different game...
Sunday Update: I am moving this to the Underdog wins section - Teddy Bridgewater will play and has no injury designation, while Thielen will not play. I like the Panthers here.
The favorites will win these games, but the underdogs will cover.
New Orleans (-15) @ Denver
As you probably know, the Broncos have no Quarterbacks available to play in this game following a Covid breach in their QB room. This means they'll start with a WR at QB, in a game against the league's second ranked run defense.
With that in mind, I would take New Orleans to win by at least 20 points and unfortunately I can't back Denver to even cover that 15 point spread, despite my belief that with a QB, they could have caused the Saints problems.
It's inconceivable that they move the ball much against such a strong run defense, without being able to pass, with the result that their defense will spend way too much time on the field to keep the Saints from moving the ball. I believe this game should have been cancelled, but it will be played and that's how I see it.
I'd be very, very nervous if I were a Saints fan. Vic Fangio is a great defensive mind, and he will be watching the Taysom Hill film all week, knowing exactly what he will get on Sunday. The other problem the Saints have is that the Broncos have legitimately been in games recently and have the kind of defense that could life very difficult for the Saints if they want to go heavily towards the run. You'd assume the latter would be very much the case after Taysom Hill's struggle with accuracy when throwing deep in his debut on Sunday and that could play into the hands of Denver.
Chicago (+8.5) @ Green Bay
I hate picking the Bears, last week was a blessed relief after this season of ups and downs. My feeling is that if Mitch Trubisky is healthy, he should be the starter. He's won games for the Bears and despite his flaws, he has abilities that Nick Foles doesn't have. After 4 straight defeats, the Bears have to do something. Regardless, there is another point to this - the Bears defense is very good at smothering the Packers and haven't lost by more than a TD since week 4 of 2017. Whether you think Green Bay should win does not appear to have much bearing here - they almost certainly will - but the Bears to cover a spread this wide? That's a good bet.
The favorites will win and cover these games
Washington @ Dallas (-3)
This is a sneakily even game. I had considered Washington heavily as an underdog, but I think the Cowboys can do this. First off, as we saw last weekend, Andy Dalton gives them a chance to actually throw the ball, which is what this team must do to win. Now the antidote to that is the league's best pass defense, but I think that ranking is heavily, heavily skewed. Washington have played almost exclusively against non-passing attacks all season long. When you play against the Giants twice, the Ravens and the Browns, you're playing against 4 teams that barely throw the ball. I don't think Dalton is a miracle worker, but at some point, he is going to get opportunities to beat Washington and I believe that coupled with an effective run game against a mediocre Washington rushing defense, he can do this.
Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-5)
This game has been pushed back to Sunday, but I don't think it matters too much. The Steelers handled the Ravens in Baltimore and I like them to do so again. Covid protocols won't help the Ravens (although it hasn't always signified a loss for players to be out of practice, as Ben Roethlisberger can testify. Ultimately, the better team is the home team here and they are 10-0 because they have the league's best defense and are also putting up almost 30 points each game. That does not bode well for a Ravens team that has very much looked average over the last month.
Cleveland (-6.5) @ Jacksonville
I don't like the idea of starting Mike Glennon in any way shape or form. He has proven a number of times in Tampa Bay, Arizona and Chicago that he isn't up to the task of winning in the NFL, but hey, maybe this time he'll... well you know how these teams think. Anyway, Cleveland finally got back to close to their average score last week, running on the Eagles enough to get over the line, but I think somehow, the Jags are worse than Philly. Their defense is a good tonic to Baker Mayfield's recent struggles in the wet, and with a 31st ranked 9 sacks on the season and the loss of Josh Allen, the Jags figure to be easy pickings.
Tennessee @ Indianapolis (-3.5)
Game of the week? Arguably this matchup is tighter and more interesting than the Steelers Ravens game, as both teams won important games last week against high ranked opposition, and a win for Indianapolis sees them put one foot into the playoffs. Will it be close? It should be on paper, but Indy look a much better team in most regards right now and may legitimately lay claim to being the 3rd best team in the league right now after KC and Pittsburgh. If you're not sure if there's much difference here, check this out from our game hub:
Indy are all round one of the best teams in the league, and with a run game would be a scary proposition. The Colts dominated this Thursday night game a few weeks ago, I like them to do so again on Sunday at home.
NY Giants (-5.5) @ Cincinnati
Oh Joe Burrow. My little touchdown scoring prince. I loved his dedication to the QB sneak, and I loved his dedication to scrambling that almost got him killed about half an hour before he really was hurt badly on Sunday while trying to run it in from a few yards out. Burrow's loss is a massive blow to Cincinnati, especially with RB Joe Mixon also sidelined. The Giants also must win this game - I mean must. They will face the Seahawks, Cardinals, Browns and Ravens over the following 4 weeks, and any win now keeps them at least in with a chance of an unlikely playoff berth.
LA Chargers @ Buffalo (-5.5)
I don't see the Chargers pulling out another win against an AFC East team after limping over the line against the Jets last week. They certainly aren't the team that I'd expect to hurt the Bills, who have been improving dramatically of late and have beaten their peers like Seattle and New England. The Bills are weakest against the run, which is also not a strength of the Chargers. Where the Chargers are profligate - ranking 1st in time of possession and only 24th in points per drive - the Bills are super efficient, ranking 7th in points per drive and converting over 75% of their 3rd down and short attempts. I like Justin Herbert but he is, as I've said a number of times, extremely raw. He'll throw the ball a lot on Sunday, but I think the Bills will comfortably win.
San Francisco @ LA Rams (-7)
This one should have been great, but I'm going to have to get back on the Rams bandwagon after falling off it for a few weeks. I really think LA can be very difficult to predict at times - let's not forget that the 49ers beat them 5 games back - but San Francisco's offense is just obliterated by injuries. Whether it's Nick Bosa, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jeff Wilson, Raheem Mostert or George Kittle, the parts that should make this a contest are not a factor on Sunday. Even if Mostert makes it back, the reality is that the Rams have one of the best defenses in the league and Nick Mullens (or CJ Beathard...) will struggle to stay upright long enough to hand it off. This one is all about the 49ers injuries, and I think the Rams will look very good on that basis.
Kansas City (-3.5) @ Tampa Bay
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! With a full slate of games this week, the bonus football keeps coming. Tampa Bay have been a major letdown, with just a 2-4 record against winning teams. While they've yet to record back to back losses, they haven't had to come off the back of one to face the league's best. Kansas City's only major weakness is in their 26th ranked run defense, but Tampa Bay's 26th ranked rushing attack mirrors it perfectly. Conversely, we all know what Kansas City will do on Sunday: Pass the ball, which is something that the otherwise solid Bucs defense can't seem to stop right now and has slid to 15th in the league. I think this spread is quite generous and doesn't quite do justice to how big the gap is here - the Chiefs have scored 33 or more points in their last 4 games and haven't scored less than 26 since week 2. The boom or bust Bucs may give them another 30+ on Sunday.
Seattle (-5) @ Philadelphia
The week ends with a dud. I'm picking Seattle and nothing you say could persuade me otherwise. Last week was the first time that I wondered if Carson Wentz is... fixable. The way he has played this season is beyond any kind of organic (non-injury or age related) drop-off I've seen for years. I was trying to think of a player who went from accuracy in the 65% range to just dropping off a cliff and being 58% this season. Some of it is of course attributable to a poor O-line, but Wentz has already doubled the 7 interceptions he has thrown over the last 3 years. If he keeps on this pace, he'll throw more than in the last 3 years combined.
So yeah, in a nutshell, even though their defense is all kinds of bad, pick Seattle...