Upset Watch Week 14 2020
Another good week sees us hitting the home stretch with some capital in the bank and some good vibes in the tank. Who are we picking to upset the odds in week 14? Read on...
9 Dec, 2020
Welcome to Upset Watch, my weekly column deciphering which of the week's slate will end in an underdog either winning outright, or covering. Last week we did well, correctly nailing the Patriots and Lions to win, alongside the Jets and Giants to cover. We missed on the Jags by a whisker, but they still covered. Those picks made for yet another solid betting week, and we're back for more.
I sometimes drop hints or reveals of new features in this article. This week I'm confirming what you'll have already seen, that you can now add an avatar to your public profile on Pickwatch. We've also designed some cool player avatars that represent the current best players on each team's roster, as well as some 'legend' avatars and team badges.
You can also upload your own avatar too. This is all part of a more social part of Pickwatch that is planned over the next year. We know there are lots of people using us, and we want to bring you all together.
We have two major changes coming over the next month or so. The first is the (FINALLY!) release of Pickwatch Pro, where we tell you the best experts and users for each team, in every situation, allow you to see the best bets of the week by the top users who are hottest right now (some are up tens of thousands of virtual coins on the season so far) and see the statistical factors that most often work in every team's favor.
The second is an update to user and expert profiles that gives you more information about yourself and others, the ability to add a bio, show your team colors, and most importantly, show off your record. You'll also get more in-depth weekly feedback about yourself to learn your strengths and weaknesses.
All of that is just a taste, we'll also be fixing some smaller outstanding issues, so feel free to get in touch with any niggling problems so we can add them to our list.
Historically there are 4.9 underdog wins and 7.1 covers in week 14 over the last 7 years, so we're picking 5 underdogs to win and a further 2 to cover this week.
Looking more closely at this season, there's also a big correlation with lower spreads yielding upsets - particularly at home. Where an underdog is at home with a spread under +2.5, they're 7-3 this season. That currently applies to no less than 3 of our slate this week.
And when the spread gets big? That has more than just the opposite effect, it annihilates the chances of a win. Just 8 of the 59 games where the spread has reached +7 or higher this season have ended in an underdog victory.
Want to know why you're reading this column? Because we called three of them, the Broncos (+10) win against New England in week 6, the Dolphins (+8.5) win in San Francisco in week 5 and the Eagles upset of the 49ers in week 4. That's a hell of a return and those three picks alone are worth 6-7x the value of getting any favorite pick right.
So let's see if any of the big underdogs take our fancy this week. It gets harder to get those big spreads as the season goes on, but as we saw with Jacksonville last week, we're definitely close to breaking another big one.
These underdogs will win outright
Houston @ Chicago (+1)
What did we say about home underdogs? And the Bears, despite their now faintly ridiculous SIX game losing streak, are a bad matchup for the Texans, who have struggled badly against any reasonable defense they've faced all season.
Last week marked the first time since week 3 that the Bears had scored 30 points in a game. It also marked the second game in a row that they scored 25 points or more in a game. Notable? Yes, very, because that was the first time they'd achieved that feat all season long. The problem for Houston is that they have the worst run offense in the league (Chicago are 31st...) but also the second worst run defense. Chicago have turned a corner in this regard since Mitch Trubisky came back into the lineup, and have back to back 120+ yd rushing games. I like them to finally break the losing streak here.
New Orleans @ Philadelphia (+6.5)
Terrifying stuff here. I don't trust either QB, but I do believe the Saints will be looking past the Eagles and at their game with Kansas City next week. The Eagles, conversely, finally have addressed the very clear problem at QB with Carson Wentz, and even a 20% upgrade at that position would have gotten them 3 more wins this season. I like the Jalen Hurts move, but ultimately, the Eagles had very little choice here.
The Saints are going to be an interesting watch this week. They had just 63 passing yards two weeks ago against Denver (it helps when your opponents have just 12) but even if we call that an anomaly, it's clear that the Saints are not going to obliterate teams the way people assume with Taysom Hill at QB. The Eagles will get a shot to win this game at the end, I believe.
Washington (+3) @ San Francisco
This one has sirens blaring loud for me. Washington are on a three game winning streak and just upset the undefeated Steelers. The Niners have won just one of their last 5 five games and look heavily dependent on a passing attack that will be shut down by the league's third best pass defense.
I also think the stakes are far higher for Washington, who can still win the NFC East, and for whose QB Alex Smith, this game represents more than just a win. The Niners have roundly failed to do the things they need to do to win football games, while Washington have found a way to make it work despite the injuries. They're headed in the complete opposite direction, and Washington are a bargain at +3.
Pittsburgh (+2.5) @ Buffalo
Yes please, that will do nicely. The Bills are good, inf act last week at one point they looked unstoppable offensively, seemingly able to move the ball at will against the Niners. The Steelers, meanwhile, lost to Washington as mentioned above, to end their unbeaten status atop the NFL.
But the Bills are not infallible. They have not faced a defense like this since week 3 against the Rams, but arguably have not faced a defense like this at all.
I don't like Buffalo here. They're at their best as underdogs and the defensive frailties of the Bills are in stark contrast to their opponents. In the end, I believe that Ben Roethlisberger has a far greater chance of being able to do his job than Josh Allen, and that makes it hard to avoid the idea of a low scoring, but relatively comfortable Pittsburgh win.
Baltimore @ Cleveland (+1)
Fun angle to this game: If Cleveland win this game, they can all but cement a playoff spot as a wild card team with a 2 game minimum lead over the other contenders. The Ravens are pretty much on the brink of elimination, and Cleveland going to 10-3 would make for quite a turnaround after they were soundly beaten by Baltimore in week 1.
The Browns have been... well... weird. Their upset win against Tennessee last week (who themselves also upset the Ravens 3 weeks ago) was emblematic of a team that despite it's clear shortcomings, can pull wins out of nowhere and put up extraordinary points when they're on form.
The Ravens defense has been far less formidable over the last few weeks and has allowed 250+ passing yard in each of their last 3 games, after going 5 games without allowing that number. They've also allowed 100yd rushing games in 5 of their last 7 games (the two they didn't were both against the Steelers...) which indicates there may be some joy to be had for the Browns and their streak of 5 games with a 100y rusher, and 4 wins on the spin.
Minnesota (+6.5) @ Tampa Bay
I'm going to add a pick in here that may become a regular thing. This is what I'm going to refer to as a game that I have a hunch about, and it goes against a lot of the stats. The Vikings match up badly against the Bucs, having a very average pass defense and a running game that will be up against the league's best run defense. On paper, it's a recipe for the Bucs to shut down the Vikings on defense and pick them apart on offense.
But I have a feeling that will not be what happens. I can't back this one up with stats, except to say that the Vikings are 5-1 over their last 6 games, and the Bucs have lost 3 of their last 4 - albeit against much better opposition. Maybe it's the fact that the Vikings have won their last 3 games by a combined 10 points, while the Bucs have lost two on the bounce by just 3 points. Maybe it's that I don't trust any team after a bye week, particularly not one as rocked as the Bucs, but I think this one is a consideration if you're feeling bold.
These underdogs will cover the spread, but the favorites will win.
Kansas City @ Miami (+7)
I don't like this for KC. Both of these teams have had plenty of scares recently and it feels like the Chiefs are riding their luck a little. Let me put it this way, they have won their last 4 games by just 15 points - an average of just 3.75pts. That includes relatively middling teams like the Panthers and Broncos.
In fact, the Chiefs are incredibly vulnerable on defense, and while the Dolphins have huge issues themselves, don't underestimate their defense, which not only ranks 2nd in the NFL in points allowed, but also 1st in passing TD's allowed and 4th in turnover differential, despite 14 giveaways on offense. Miami may not win, but they have a good chance to cover and an outside chance of causing a major upset.
NY Jets (+13.5) @ Seattle
The Jets have found some kind of offensive groove recently. They've scored 27 points and been within a score in 3 of their last 4 outings, and as we all know, should have won last week's game against the Raiders, were it not for the Gregg WIlliams blitz call. Yeah, that's right, I'm giving Adam Gase one free pass on that one - it's on a guy who is rightly despised around the NFL and whose record should talk about his 0-16 defense in Cleveland and what is looking like an 0-16 defense in New York.
But enough of that - the Seahawks are just not scoring enough points - or stopping teams keeping things close. The Giants beat them, but the Seahawks somewhat incredibly average less points per game (19.8) over their last 4 than the Jets (21.5). This game may look like a comfortable Seattle win, but the current form suggests it will be anything but easy...
The favorites will win these games and cover the spread
New England @ LA Rams (-5)
LA are our bogey team, which makes me nervous as the spread is just about big enough to look enticing. I think that the Pats will struggle against a team that is so good up front on defense, though. Can you see Cam Newton running on them? I can't. The Rams, for all my nay saying, are 3-1 in their last 4 and have some momentum on both sides of the ball. I have no doubt the Pats will make Jared Goff's life difficult, I'm just not sure they can make Cam Akers, Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson's lives difficult too.
Dallas (-3.5) @ Cincinnati
This was a surprisingly tough game to pick. The Bengals have made life difficult for opponents of late and were unfortunate not to cover against the Dolphins last week. Similarly, Dallas have caused problems for the Steelers and even beat the Vikings.
The reality, however, is that each of these two teams' last seven games has yielded just a single win apiece. It's hard to be confident about either team, but the Cowboys just edge it because they can move the ball on offense enough to cause problems for the Cinci D. I think this will be tight though and the Bengals have a habit of turning up almost at random and beating a team down.
Green Bay (-7.5) @ Detroit
At one point this week, I considered putting all of the +7 or above underdogs into the 'cover' bracket. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if the Lions managed to keep this close, and the stats say that over half of the season's games of +7 or more end in an underdog cover.
But the Lions have been that team all year. They can beat the Bears, or the Jags, or Washington, but Green Bay would be their biggest scalp of the season so far, certainly since their upset win against the Cardinals in week 3. I think the Packers have hit enough of a groove recently to make this one more of a 10-14pt game than a 5-7pt game.
Arizona (-2.5) @ NY Giants
This one was a close pick. Some of you may know by now how high I am on the Giants. I particularly love their defense, which last week came up with it's biggest stop of the season against the Seahawks. I think people are now very much on notice about their potential.
What matters for me here is that the Cardinals - despite their mid-season slump - have found ways to win against teams like the Giants. They may have lost 4 of their last 5, but those losses came against Miami, Seattle, New England and the Rams. The Giants are the type of team that Arizona can beat, particularly if they insist on bringing back Daniel Jones early from injury...
Denver @ Carolina (-3.5)
Another classic 'could go either way game here between two 4-8 teams. I like the potential of both of these two teams to be winning a boatload more games next season, but if Christian McCaffrey is back (and it seems he very much is) then the edge is very much with the Panthers, who I would expect to use the run to set up big plays to Robby Anderson.
Their bye week really came at a perfect time to get Teddy Bridgewater healthy again, and the Broncos rank 31st in points scored this season. I'm afraid that perhaps worse, with Drew Lock playing a full game, the Broncos somehow average just 0.45 points more each game and still fall 31st, with only the Jets worse. The Panthers may not be exceptional, but they don't need to be to beat the Broncos.
Tennessee (-7) @ Jacksonville
Again, there is a temptation to arbitrarily put this one in the big-spread-so-they'll-cover group, but I think that would be a mistake. Yes, the Jags are 4-1 vs the spread recently and have lost only one of their last 5 by more than a score. Yes, the Titans have lost some games they should have won.
But the Jags have summarily failed to capitalize on their opportunities and I think the Titans represent a horrendous matchup for them. I don't think they'll be able to stop Derrick Henry, who has 9 touchdowns in his 8 games against the Jags. For all their improvement, the Jags have not faced a runner like Henry and late on in the season, it's a recipe for disaster. I think the Titans run relentlessly and win comfortably.
Indianapolis (-3) @ Las Vegas
One of the low-key games of the week is out in Vegas, where these two teams will know that their playoff path is much harder after a loss on Sunday. For the Colts, with a 1 game advantage over the Raiders, who sit just outside the playoff spots, a loss would shuffle them out of the picture and rely on other teams slipping up to make the playoffs. The Raiders are already in that predicament, and their task has become much harder with the injury to star RB Josh Jacobs.
If Jacobs plays, things could turn out very different, but otherwise, the Raiders are plummeting. They scraped a win against the Jets (THE JETS) last week and really shouldn't have. That would have been their third loss on the bounce. I like the Colts here and I don't like the Raiders offense to put up a huge amount of points even if Jacobs plays.
Atlanta (-2.5) @ LA Chargers
I don't think the Chargers are a 45-0 loss type o' team by nature, but last week served as a reminder that people are giving them way too much credit because Justin Herbert has a big cannon arm. That's it. That's the thing.
Basically, there is now a belief that at any given moment, Herbert could unleash the Rex Grossman style power he has been imbued with and launch a deep bomb to <interchangeable deep threat>, which in turn leads people to believe that they will never be out of any game. The problem with that theory is that it's garbage. The Chargers are 3-9, and the combined wins of the three teams they've beaten in 2020 (Jags, Bengals, Jets) is 3. That's it. The Bengals have won 2, the Jags 1, and the Jets... well...
So are the Falcons a guaranteed winner? No. But their 4 wins come in the midst of a difficult schedule that has had no gimmes, so I like them to win this game against a Chargers team that has proven itself incapable of winning meaningful contests. The spread for this game is incredibly generous, I suggest getting on it.