Upset Watch: Week 14
6 Dec, 2017 by Shaun Lowrie
When I started Upset Watch in week 5, it was expressly concerned with how we can avoid falling into the trap of simply backing the favorite every week. I use statistical analysis to rank the teams vs the spread in an unbiased way, that ignores whether a team is 'good' or 'bad' and instead focuses on their actual performances in any given situation. To give you an example, a team like the Rams can have won 6 of their last 7, however, as they play the Eagles in week 14, are we interested in how they played against the Giants? Kind of, but we weight the relevance of that game according to how close to this matchup it is. How were the Giants doing? (badly, I assume), how did they (New York) fare against similar opposition? Did the Rams under or over-perform?
And then, of course, we look at the more relevant showings by the Rams, against teams like Minnesota and Seattle, where they lost. Clearly, those losses to comparable teams play a bigger role in our evaluation than those where the other team was a pushover like the Giants. Apologies to Giants fan John Halpin for these constant Giants digs, but let's be honest, after the last couple of weeks, it's kind of deserved...
Be sure to also check out Doc’s Sports NFL Picks
We're now batting at a 67.5% rate on all of our picks this season, which is quite a result and has led to a huge return for anyone following the page. Over the next few weeks, I'll be explaining more about Pickwatch's future and how we plan on rolling out a new analytical platform for our users next year that is focused on YOU rather than the experts, as we've now had in development for over a year. Hey, we even have a video to show you...
But how did we get to 67.5%? Read on my friend, and ye shall see.
Last week's results:
Units (5 unit stakes)
Top 5 + Bottom 5
We hit big last week - here are our top 5 picks
San Francisco 49ers
Kansas City Chiefs
New York Jets
As you can see, it was a great week and dragged the 'top 5' back towards parity, which is a fairly huge achievement if we manage to make it to the end of the season with anywhere near a 50/50 record. After all, these are upsets. We aren't just picking games, those top 5 should always be underdogs, so if more than 50% of the games we pick result in an underdog winning, then the rest of the picks (favorites) will likely convert at a higher rate even than the 53% that they convert at over the season so far...
Current Season Results:
Units (5 unit stakes)
Top 5 + Bottom 5
...Annnnnd they are. Yes, as mentioned, we're now 74-50-5 on the season since week 5 when we started. I could throw in some fancy gloating, but there's no need. The units are validation enough.
And on with the show, which games are ripe for the upset this week?
1 - Oakland (+4) @ Kansas City
I am not sure about the Chiefs here. They have a new OC (effectively) in Matt Nagy calling the plays instead of Andy Reid, but as Reid now says they will evaluate on a game-by-game basis, we can't take last week's foray against the Jets (31pts) as indicative of the Chiefs offense getting back on track.
The Raiders have won 4 of their last 6, stretching back to a 31-30 last second win against Kansas City in October. With the exception of the Patriots (who for the purposes of what we do, are not a comparable team to Kansas City right now) who beat them down to a bloody pulp in a 33-8 shellacking, the Raiders have gotten back on track since Derek Carr returned from injury.
I don't like either defense in this, but I do think the Raiders are secretly primed for a playoff run, and beating the Chiefs (and clinching the tie breaker between them) would be a massive step in that direction.
2 - Seattle (+3) @ Jacksonville
The Seahawks are playing good football and have won 7 of their last 9 games, including 2 underdog wins against the Rams and Eagles. I think they're a sneaky good team and are being overlooked because the Rams are the class of the NFC West. Their defense has been hit by injuries, sure, but they've given up more than 20pts just twice in the run that stretches back 9 games to Indy, and in fact, have conceded 20+pts just three times all season.
Jacksonville have existed on the same astral plane as the Seahawks, but without the 'clutch' factor of a good QB. Blake Bortles has thrown away a number of chances to win or ice games, and the Jags are an erratic team. Yes, they beat the Steelers in that infamous Big Ben implosion, but they also lost to the Titans, Rams and Chargers at home. That's not massively indicative of a big home-field advantage, put it that way...
3 - New Orleans @ Atlanta (+1.5)
This is a strange one. The Falcons went through a particularly rough stretch on the road mid-season, and that has severely impacted both their playoff push and their status as home underdogs in this matchup. They failed to cover 5 games in a row (4 as favorites) during October and the first week of November, but they have won 3 of 4 since and seem capable of hanging in with big scoring teams. again.
Meanwhile, the Saints have 9 of their last 10, but I'm not sure that's relevant headed into two games against the Falcons in three weeks. I think this will be a high pressure game for the Saints, knowing that a loss puts the Falcons right back in the mix for the NFC South (Falcons 7-5, Saints 9-3), and in fact puts them in control of their own destiny, as a two game swing for Atlanta would also hand them a tie breaker in the event the two teams finish tied.
Yes, the Saints are putting up big numbers, but I am interested to see Alvin Kamara without Mark Ingram as his backfield compatriot. A friend said earlier in the week that he sees Kamara as a first round fantasy back next season, and while that's likely going to be true, I think he is benefiting from a steady back like Ingram who wears down defenses for him to take advantage of.
4 - Tennessee @ Arizona (+3.5)
The Titans are sneakily bad. Our friend Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post explained why the Titans have consistently underperformed vs their position in the AFC South, and while I don't think it hurts to win ugly, until last week, they had won 4 of their last 5 games by less than 4 points. They haven't scored more than 30pts in a game since week 6, either.
This is a tough one, but I think the Cardinals can edge this or at least keep it close enough to beat the spread. Their play hasn't been bad, and a trip to the Titans and a potential close game could be exactly what they need to get a win before they go full tank to try and get a Palmer replacement...
5 - San Francisco (+6) @ Houston
The final upset of the week comes courtesy of San Francisco. Look, I'm not banging the table for them, but they have a talented QB who is going to grow into his position as the season goes on, and those field goal drives last week (5 of them) should really lead to more points than they got in Chicago.
More importantly, they beat the Giants and Bears, who are comparable to Houston right now. The Texans have lost two straight and have scored over 16 points just once in their last 5 games. I feel like it's tempting fate to say that this game screams 'under', but it does, and I can see the 49ers at least covering...
The rest of this week's snappy, one liner picks...
6 - NY Jets (-1) @ Denver
The Broncos are not cut out to lose well. Their players have checked out, while the Jets are actually fighting for respect. There is the difference between players who haven't known adversity, and those who have only known it.
7 - Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-5.5)
True story: The Ravens have not covered two spreads in a row since weeks 1 & 2. They beat the spread last week...
8 - Washington @ LA Chargers (-6)
The Skins are so badly beaten up, it's really difficult to see them fighting against the Chargers who have every shot at a playoff berth still...
9 - Philadelphia @ LA Rams (-2.5)
This was tough, but ultimately I don't think it'll come down to less than a field goal, and the Rams can take advantage of the Eagles as they ease their way into the playoffs...
10 - Minnesota (-2.5) @ Carolina
The Vikings are one of the best teams in the NFC and often overlooked, but this would be a statement win. I feel like this is not the matchup to put Greg Olsen back into with his injury record recently...
11 - Dallas (-4.5) @ NY Giants
Fun fact: Geno Smith's passer rating and completion percentage vs the Raiders were both better than 4 of Eli Manning's last 5 starts. I definitely don't think Eli deserved what happened, but it's worth considering that Eli's worst performances of the season were far, far worse than Geno's performance last week.
12 - Green Bay (-3.5) @ Cleveland
I can't take the Browns, even though I strongly feel like this is their best shot at a win. I think Aaron Rodgers will be back in the next couple of weeks, and the Packers might play harder knowing they have a shot at running the table and sneaking into a wild card berth.
13 - Chicago @ Cincinnati (-6)
I can't get behind Big Mitch as a Bears fan yet. The Bengals haven't been particularly good, but I'm not sure how good teams need to be to beat the Bears right now. I mean... the Niners basically turned up and kicked 5 field goals, still won.
14 - Indianapolis (+3) @ Buffalo
This is off the board. If Tyrod Taylor plays and is deemed genuinely healthy, then I'd take Buffalo. If not it would depend on the spread. I could envisage the Colts as favorites if Nathan Peterman starts for the Bills.
Sunday update: Taylor is indeed out, and I'm taking Indy who for some reason are still underdogs.
15 - Detroit (PK) @ Tampa Bay
Difficult one to call until Matthew Stafford is confirmed as healthy. The Bucs haven't done much to inspire confidence, but they did move the ball well last week until it counted. I'd take a healthy Stafford over them, but I'd take the Bucs over a Stafford-less Lions. Hope that clears things up.
Sunday update: Stafford plays, so I'm taking the Lions.
16 - New England (-11) @ Miami
The Pats have won their last 4 games by the following margins: 20pts, 18pts, 25pts, 25pts.
I'll take the Pats please.
Shaun Lowrie is the founder and editor of Pickwatch, a site designed to give you a new perspective on experts in the NFL media by tracking their performance when picking games or predicting draft picks, team performance, or player potential. You can contact him at [email protected] or on twitter at @pickwatch