Upset Watch Week 13 2020

This week's Upset Watch has 5 underdogs winning and 7 covering. Read on to see who we are tipping to upset the odds...

Upset Watch

3 Dec, 2020

We got back on the horse last week with some big time wins from New England and Atlanta. This week presents an even bigger opportunity, with no less than 5 underdog winners predicted for Sunday.

I'll be writing a development blog this week to talk about some upcoming new features for you, but I'll just quickly touch on them here first:

Stakes

You can now go back and track what your fellow users have staked on each game by going to the Supercontest pages for previous weeks. This information will only show after games - to see who picks best for each team and how much they're staking in advance, we'll be launching a Pro package for a small amount each month that offers more detailed information.

 

User Avatars

We're adding some cool personalization options, starting with avatars! You can check some of the work in progress out below. The idea is that you can upload a picture to represent you on Pickwatch, or select from one of our pre-designed images or team logos!

This is also part of a far bigger redesign of how your Pickwatch profile looks and works, that is next on our list of things to tackle.

 

Methodology:

Week 13 this season is unusual because there are only 15 games, as opposed to the standard 16 by this stage of the season. With the Panthers and Bucs on a bye week, we look to the percentages to find out the likelihood of games ending in upsets.

In week 13, on average 32.43% of games over the last 7 years end in the underdog winning outright, and 45.95% end in an underdog covering the spread.

That translates in a 15 game week, to 4.86 underdog wins and 6.89 underdog covers - which we'll round up to 5 underdog winners and 7 underdog covers.

 

Upsets

These underdogs will win the game outright

Jacksonville (+9.5) @ Minnesota

Let's start with our boldest move. The Jags have only one win all season long, which makes getting on board with them winning against a team that has won 4 of their last 5 very difficult, but when you look at how the Jags have played recently, the upturn has been enough to suggest something could fall into place - particularly if Dalvin Cook is limited by injury.

The Jags have run Cleveland, Green Bay and Houston close, losing those games by a combined 8 points, despite being huge underdogs. The Vikings run offense is absolutely critical and Cook's injury is clearly noteworthy for both the player and his coaches.

My worry here is not that Cook doesn't play, it's that he does and the Vikings can't move the ball. The Jags have proven against better offenses than Minnesota that they can stay in the game, and the Vikings survived against Carolina by a missed field goal, otherwise they were in line for back to back defeats against the Cowboys and Panthers. Does that sound like a -9.5 favorite? It doesn't to me, and I think Jacksonville's luck finally comes up good on Sunday.

 

Detroit (+3) @ Chicago

The Bears finally went back to Mitch, which gives me some more confidence as a Bears fan, but not much. Both of these teams lost 41-25 last week, and the Bears have lost 5 straight. Let's not pretend that either of these two teams is not capable of winning (or more accurately, losing) this game.

Which leads us to the 'how' these teams are losing. The Lions are strong starters, they're 9th in the league with 6.3 average points in the first quarter. The Bears? Not so much. They're 31st and average just 2.9 points in a quarter - not even a field goal in most games.

Where the Bears excel at scoring is when they are losing heavily. They have put up huge numbers in garbage time and actually rank 2nd overall in 4th quarter points - 15 in their last game against the Packers last week that was a blowout until the Packers eased off. Conversely, the Lions were doomed by idiotic turnovers - 3 in 8 plays, including a pick-6) that led to coach Matt Patricia's firing.

Oh, and teams that fire their coaches? They're 2-0 this season, the winless Texans and Falcons both ending their losing streaks after firing Bill O'Brien and Dan Quinn, respectively.

 

LA Rams @ Arizona (+3)

This is a reasonably big call, but regular readers may be aware that I remain unconvinced by the Rams. Last week the Cardinals were one of our favorites that we thought would lose, and the Patriots duly gave us one of our week 12 upsets. Can the Cards play the same role themselves in week 13?

A lot depends on the possibly-still-gimpy Kyler Murray. The Cardinals QB was limited in practice yesterday, but the indications are again that he will play. This is obviously incredibly important, and I caveat what follows with the obvious: If Murray is injured, this is a Rams win.

But if he's not, the Rams have been extremely odd all season, losing to the 49ers (twice), the Dolphins and the Bills. Interestingly, the Cardinals have beaten the Bills, they've beaten the 49ers, and they were extremely close to beating the Dolphins, losing 34-31. Essentially, the Cardinals have found ways to beat the same teams that have found a way to beat the Rams, and that gives me some faith that they can do the same. 

And want one last thing? The Rams have been favored in all but one of their losses so far and are 4-3 as favorite (consider that they've played the NFC East), so being the favorite isn't always in their favor...

 

New England (+1) @ LA Chargers

The Chargers are the weirdest team in the league, apparently good at everything, yet not converting any of their proficiency into scoring, or stopping other teams from doing so.

I made a point last year about Anthony Lynn. I like him. He's a players coach, he has his players playing objectively, good enough football to win. They're ranked 3rd in passing yards with a rookie QB, 10th in rushing yards with Austin Ekeler injured for much of the season, 12th in passing yards allowed, 15th in rushing yards allowed, both without stars like Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa for large stretches.

Last week's game against the Bills was the first all season that the Chargers have lost by more than a single score, but it encapsulates how lacking in ruthlessness they are. Things go to hell for the Chargers when the game is on the line, and they make bad decisions - whether it be the coaches or the players, it all comes back to Lynn, and I'm afraid that despite rooting for this guy, and objectively recognizing that he is actually a great coach, you cannot see the types of clock management and play calling mistakes the Chargers have made over the last 2 years and back him.

The list of teams the Chargers have beaten in 2020 is small. The Jets, the Jags, and the Bengals. I don't see the Patriots - 3-1 in their last 4 games - joining that list.

 

Buffalo @ San Francisco (+1.5) 

What an interesting game this is. In a relatively benign week, you could make the case that it's actually the most intriguing matchup, as the Bills have had extremely unconvincing moments such as their wins against the Jets and Patriots, while the 49ers seem to have unusual moments of inspiration, beating the Rams twice and the Patriots.

I am of course worried about the whole 'Nick Mullens' situation at QB for San Francisco. It's certainly a consideration, given that Mullens accounts for 7 interceptions in 7 games, but on the other side of that coin is that Mullens is one of the more capable backups in the NFL, and the 49ers can certainly win with him against a ragged Bills defense. With Raheem Mostert, Brandon Aiyuk (who has 2 rushing TD's) and Deebo Samuel in the lineup, they have a good chance of re-establishing their running game, a crucial weakness for Buffalo.

But ultimately, we know where this will be decided - can the strong 49ers defense, which matches up extraordinarily well here, hold firm against Josh Allen and the Bills? Working in their favor is Allen's injured ankle, which even if he plays, is likely to heavily impact his running ability. The Bills aren't set up to win with an immobile Allen against the league's 4th best pass defense, who have also allowed just 7 rushing TD's all season.

For all of the above reasons, the 49ers are my Upset of the Week.

 

Underdog Covers

These underdogs will cover, but the favorite will win the game

NY Giants (+10) @ Seattle

You're definitely going to think I'm insane here, but I would be surprised if the Giants don't run the Seahawks very close. SO close, in fact, that were it not for the QB injuries making some teams more attractive, they would have been our long shot of the week.

The Giants defense is very good. For a unit almost constantly let down by their compatriots on offense, the Giants D allowing just 23.6 points per game is insane. They rank 6th in the league in rushing yards allowed and have generated consistent pressure on opposing QBs. The Giants have a neutral turnover differential, which again, is staggering given the 9 interceptions and 6 fumbles by their offense.

Meanwhile, Seattle have just not been at the races for the last month. They lost to Buffalo and the Rams, two good teams, sure, but they struggled to beat the Eagles last week, and are 2-5 against the spread in that time. I may not like the Giants to win with McCoy, but the Seahawks are not as good as they were in the early season, and 10 points is enough to tip the balance.

 

Las Vegas @ NY Jets (+7.5)

Josh Jacobs having a sprained ankle is not good for the Raiders. who have lost two straight and perhaps most importantly, have a heavy dependency on the running game to win. The Jets are of course no match for the Raiders, and I worry that they've gone back to Sam Darnold after a few weeks of progress on offense with Joe Flacco, but this has the hallmarks of a low scoring battle.

Start the kickers in fantasy football, and take the under, as these two teams cancel each other out.

 

 

Favorite Covers

The favorites will win these games

Cleveland @ Tennessee (-5.5)

The Browns are not that good. The Titans are. That may sound simplistic, but both of these teams are 8-3, so it'd be easy to think they're equal. That's not true. The Browns have beaten teams, sure, but in their last 5 games they've mainly beaten the likes of the Jags, Eagles, Texans, Bengals - some of whom have run them unnervingly close. The Titans had a midseason blip, and then annihilated the Colts and Ravens in consecutive weeks to make themselves one of the favorites for a playoff spot in the crowded AFC picture. I can't take the Browns here, not with 4 games this season where they've failed to score more than 10 points, 3 of which were against playoff contenders.

 

Cincinnati @ Miami (-11.5)

A tough game to pick because of the QB situations, but the Bengals have given up the ghost and without their leading rusher (still Joe Mixon) or their starting signal-caller, they will clearly struggle against an aggressive Miami defense. On the other side, Ryan Fitzpatrick looks a probability to start a second game for the Dolphins, which some would argue is not a downgrade from Tua. The Dolphins are a fun team because they're not particularly good at anything statistically, yet they've won 7 games. Sort of like an anti-Chargers. Anyway, this is a big line, but I think Fitzmagic has got this.

 

Indianapolis (-3) @ Houston 

I think the line here is skewed by Houston beating the decrepit Lions last week, and the Colts slipping up against the Titans in quite unflattering style. Let's not mistake the Texans for the better team here though - they're not. They took advantage last week, but the Colts are a formidable defense who will make life extremely difficult for a team without a true lead running back, and with their best receiver (Will Fuller) now on the PED suspension list.

 

New Orleans (-2.5) @ Atlanta

The Saints defense holds the key here. They're up against the Falcons, who have won 3 of their last 4... the only problem? The 4th was a loss to the Saints two weeks ago. Not only was that a loss, but the 24-9 loss was also the only time they didn't score at least 15 points all season.

I dont' love the Saints with Taysom Hill, but 2.5 points is just few enough to err on their side, even if they don't throw a pass longer than 10 yards.

Philadelphia @ Green Bay (-8.5)

The Carson Wentz implosion tour continues in Wisconsin, where he will be ritually beaten into the ground at least five times in the name of sport. What is perhaps worst about the current regression is that it doesn't look done yet. Wentz posted arguably his worst passing performance of the season last week, with a paltry 4.8 yards per attempt, and just 55.6% completion rate. His 15 career interceptions are more than double the most he'd had in any season before this, and the 46 sacks he's taken are already 8 more than his previous worst last season.

Oh, and the other team is the Packers, with Aaron Rodgers. So yeah, as much as the Eagles love to hang around in garbage time, I think this one may get out of hand.

 

Denver @ Kansas City (-13.5)

This spread isn't ideal. I think the Chiefs will win - I wouldn't strain credulity by making the case for a Broncos win - but there's an outside chance that Denver keeps it close. I think that's slightly mitigated by the current vein of good form that the Chiefs are in and how few points the Broncos are putting up recently. Forget about the ridiculous game against the Saints last week - a game that should not have been played - the Broncos haven't been great. They've averaged just 18.6 points per game over the last 5 weeks, while the Chiefs average 32.5. Although wary of the cover, I think there's enough in Kansas City's favor to suggest a blowout is very much possible.

 

Washington @ Pittsburgh (-8.5)

This one was off the board earlier. My inclination is with Pittsburgh to win, clearly, but I think also to cover. Their defense is the best in the NFL and Washington are unfortunately still limited a little by Alex Smith's mobility. When they played the Giants - the only reasonable defense Smith has faced so far - they lost, and you can pretty much multiply that dynamic by... a lot. Even on a short-ish week, the Steelers are capable of reducing the Washington offense to dust.

 

Dallas @ Baltimore (OTB)

No final judgement on this one until we see a spread, but I'd guess we're looking at Baltimore by a touchdown, which I'd pick in their favor. Anything beyond +8.5 and I'm with the Cowboys. Oh, and this is the league's worst fumbling outfit against the team with the best fumble recovery rate. I'll leave it to your imagination to decide which is which...