Upset Watch Week 2
Week 1 is in the books, our Chicago and Green Bay picks were *chefs kiss* but our Browns cover pick was *opposite of chefs kiss*, who will we be backing to win in week 2?
16 Sep, 2020
Week 1 has come and gone in a blur. It was short and sweet, and it yielded plenty of upsets for us to learn from. This week we'll be picking every game as usual, finding which games are primed for an upset and using historical trends of weekly upset scenarios to guide us.
Upset of the week was clearly the Jaguars beating Indianapolis. Indy figure top struggle and while they have winnable games upcoming, their opponents will feel the same. The Washington victory was at least partly caused by their opponents' makeshift offensive line, it'll be interesting to see how they fare vs a more capable group.
The Cardinals winning will narrow some lines this week. I'm not 100% convinced yet but there's no doubting that the addition of DeAndre Hopkins is making a big difference, and their secondary was equally strong.
Of the other teams that faced a negative spread, we can discount the Seahawks - they were favorites all week - and the Packers, who we always believed were trustworthy. That leaves the Bears. Do we trust them? As a Bears fan... no. I do not. I have learned a lot in my 30 years watching the Bears, and this is act 639 of 'The Inconsistent Football Team'.
Week 2 is one of the biggest upset weeks of the season. People overreact to losses and wins, anoint new champions who got lucky in week 1, write off good teams... or they sleep on teams that won and will continue to in favor of the old guard.
Historically, there are an average of 6.4 outright underdog wins in week 2, with 9 covers. To give you some idea of how consistent underdogs are in week 2, there have never been less than 8 covers by underdogs in the last 7 years. That number has been as high as 11 in 2018, so you need to be picking at least 50% of the underdogs vs the spread.
So where do they occur? Well with so many, there's a more even spread, if you'll pardon the pun, of the scenarios, with a bigger sample size of games.
Number of upsets between 2013-2019 in week 2: 45 of 112 (40.2%)
Number of road underdog upsets: 28 of 76 (36.8%)
Number of home underdog upsets: 17 of 34 (50%)
Home underdog WIN average spread: 3.17 (average spread for all home dogs 3.95)
Road underdog WIN average spread 4.14 (average spread for all road dogs 5.38)
Of note, no home underdog has ever won with a spread larger than 6 points. This week the Jets, Chargers and Texans all face spreads over 6 points, and the Raiders are on +6 at time of writing.
Why is this important? Well, let's understand the spread as a concept. It reflects public confidence in a team, which although flaky and susceptible to knee-jerk reactions, is a good reflection of a team's general standing. The teams that are underdogs at home are generally going to be worse than teams who are underdogs on the road, so a team that is +7 at home? They're going to be quite bad in key areas.
Unfortunately, only one team is a home underdog under +3, the Eagles. We also have the Dolphins and Raiders, one of whom we will choose to win.
That means we need 4 of the remaining road underdogs (out of 10) as our remaining picks to win, with road underdogs with big spreads also prime candidates to cover.
CIN (+6) @ CLE (Cincinnati to win and cover)
Wow. So the Browns are probably not as bad as they looked last week, but the Bengals have a legitimate shot at a win here. For them to be road underdogs is to be expected, but +6? This is a Browns team without an offensive identity (or put another way, their identity is offensive...) and they have put too much in the hands of Baker Mayfield. I like Joe Burrow a lot and although he may struggle a little against the Browns D, I think he has a chance to do something special and win in his first road game.
JAX (+9) @ TEN (Jacksonville to cover, Tennessee to win)
These two teams are incredibly similar. Offensively they're efficient but unspectacular (The Jags had the second lowest passing yards in the league, but the highest completion percentage and 3 TD's) and they're both quite stifling on defense. I don't see this being a blowout for either team, but I think the Titans had more in their locker vs the Broncos on Monday and can edge a win. +9 is a bizarre spread we should be all over however.
CAR @ TB (-9.5) (Tampa Bay win and cover)
That's a lot of points, but this Panthers defense is not good. I guess we could make the case that the Bucs didn't look like an offensive powerhouse on Sunday either, but they will get better and have the personnel to do so. Do the Panthers have the defense to cope with Evans, Godwin, Gronk, Miller, Howard, Brate, Jones, Shady etc? No, of course not. The bigger question from a spread point of view is whether they can put up points and keep it tight. On that front. The Bucs dramatically improved against a good Saints team though, I think they can handle the Panthers.
DEN @ PIT (-7.5) (PIT win and cover)
This is tough. I don't want to be guided by what I think will happen over the course of the whole season, because it's easy to think that the Broncos can improve and I personally believe the Steelers will fall off, but in this game, defense is king and the Steelers have one of the best in the league. The Broncos have a bright future, but I think this one may be a stretch.
LAR @ PHI (+1) (PHI win and cover)
I hate this pick so much and I think a lot depends on if Lane Johnson and Jason Peters suit up on Sunday, If they don't, I don't give the Eagles any chance at all against the Rams. Aaron Donald will disrupt the interior and the deeply flawed O-line will be a big problem again. But if veterans Johnson and Peters are available, I think the Eagles have a chance. Put it this way, they actually handled the R...Football team even without much of an O-line in the first half last week. I don't think it's inconceivable... look this is a data driven pick, I hate it, you hate it, let's just take it and blame the numbers if it goes wrong, right?
SF (-7) @ NYJ (San Francisco win and cover)
The Jets are categorically the worst team in football and ordinarily, I would say they're not even in the same zip code as the next best team. Unfortunately, the next best team in football are the New York Giants, so not only are the Jets bad, but they and the Giants have ruined a perfectly good opening line. THANKS A BUNCH GUYS. Look, if anything, I see the -7 to the 49ers and think that's incredibly generous towards the Jets. They couldn't get close to Buffalo, just think of what the niners will do to them...
BUF @ MIA (+5.5) (Buffalo win, Miami cover)
Buffalo are now officially Patriots B now that New England has the original and best rushing QB in the division. The blueprint is there for the Bills to beat the Dolphins, but I don't know if it'll be that simple. The Dolphins were exposed in New England and looked anaemic on offense, but they were slow out of the blocks last season and with a lot of much-needed new parts in the backfield, I think they will settle into more of a groove this week. I still think the rushing QB in Allen will cause them a lot of problems, particularly as like Cam, he is more of a bruiser than an elusive runner, but I like the Dolphins to keep this close.
MIN (+3) @ IND (Minnesota win and cover)
Oh, these guys. Yeah, I am low on both of these teams, but one of them simply must win. Unless there's a tie, but there won't be, even though there could be, and there might... there probably will. I think the key here is that the Colts are not strong enough on offense to outscore the Vikings, who figure to be a shootout type of team all season long as they're playing with half a defense. Indy are just so mediocre, I think this will put a lot of people on notice about their problems this season, particularly their weak defense and Rivers's propensity to turn the ball over - particularly without starting rusher Marlon Mack.
DET @ GB (-6) (Green Bay win and cover)
Kenny Golladay, it turns out, was the difference between a win and a loss for Detroit on Sunday. D'Andre Swift's drop will get the headlines, but Matt Stafford completed just 57.1% of his passes, unusual for a guy who has a passing title and last year completed 64.5%. The Lions are relying on a 34yr old Danny Amendola and Marvin Jones Jr, who hasn't looked like a no.1 receiver for at least 3 years, if ever. Golladay will likely miss Sunday's game, which does not bode well for a team that likely faces a shootout. Green Bay looked good, maybe a little vulnerable on defense, but the Vikings are lopsided enough that perhaps that is to be expected. I can't see the Lions staying close here.
ATL (+4.5) @ DAL (-4.5) (Dallas win and cover)
What a game this could be. I do believe the Cowboys are comfortably better than Atlanta, but the Falcons have a lop-sided passing heavy offense. The pattern Atlanta follow is generally to get blown completely wide open early on, then slowly creep back into contention, or at least respectability, via Matt Ryan simply airing it out to Jones and Ridley. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does make them difficult to count on. Unsurprisingly, they were 8-8 vs the spread last season, with virtually no consistent pattern. The Cowboys look a little out of sorts, but they are in the mold of the Seahawks and I suspect that the Falcons will not be quite as effective at stopping them as LA were. Just edging towards Dallas on this one.
NYG (+5.5) @ CHI (-5.5) (NYG win and cover)
This is tough. As a Bears fan, nobody knows the frailties of the Bears once they start winning. What they inevitably do is lose ridiculous games, and this one... I think it's going to be set up for exactly that. Let's not forget that these two teams met in this exact matchup last season, and the Bears narrowly won 14-19 on a Khalil Mack strip sack that set up a game winning TD. Mitch Trubisky was awful, the Giants missed two field goals (that would have won the game) and essentially, what I'm saying is that these are the BEARS. Lightning will not strike twice, I think the Giants have enough pieces to make this a seriously competitive game, and it's Mitch. There's no way the Bears are winning by 6 points, no matter what he has to do to stop it.
WAS (+6.5) @ ARI (Washington cover, Arizona win)
Interesting game for two franchises who won in week 1 in upsets. There should be no doubt that the Cards are the better team here, and as much as I like the Football Team's defense, I just need to see some dynamism from Dwayne Haskins and the offense before I tip them against a team that has almost the exact opposite profile. The Cards are a bigly offense who have put the right pieces around Kyler Murray to succeed. If their defense plays as well as it did last week, they could even cover this, but I am hedging and taking the Football Teams to cover, because week 2 is all about that underdog energy.
KC (-8.5) @ LAC (Kansas City win and cover)
I mean... this is where I'd put this line. The Chargers are not a good team, they have a defense, but their offense does not have the same ability to move the ball. Tyrod Taylor completed a league low 53.3% of his passes last week, which is not going to do the business against a Chiefs team who won't let up against a division rival. I think I if anything had underestimated the Chiefs this season. This is a team entering a phase of greatness, and we are discovering week after week that we do not even know how good Patrick Mahomes and this team can even be. Just stay healthy, Pat.
BAL (-7) @ HOU (Baltimore win and cover
This one hurts. The Texans are not good enough on defense to stick with the Ravens, and that's going to be a real problem for them all season long. The scary thing is that the Ravens match up extremely well against this D, a great rushing attack, but one that is not Josh Allen, who can't hit an open guy 20yds from the nearest defender. Lamar Jackson can keep the defense honest. Meanwhile on the other side of the ball, how much will the Texans be able to do against the Ravens' top 10 defense? Like the Washington/Arizona battle, this is set up for the Ravens to exploit weakness, and unlike Arizona, I trust them to do it.
NE (+4) @ SEA (-4) (Seattle to win and cover)
I am deeply torn on this game and I'll be blunt, I'm tempted to overrule our data. The Seahawks are far and away better than New England. They are a complete team, playing against a QB with a 2-6 record against them and a head coach with a 1-2 record against them (0-2 in the regular season) since the two head coaches faced each other. The Pats lumbered over the Dolphins, but this is not a team in the same stratosphere as Miami.
The problem? Well, New England as +4pt underdogs is sorely tempting and based on our data, extremely likely to be a contender for an upset. The Seahawks are notoriously not a team that comes out firing early in the season. Even accounting for last week, I still think there is life in this game, despite what I would consider to be a dramatic mismatch in ability.
I'm taking Seattle. The data says New England. Now I hate myself.
NO(-6) @ Las Vegas (+6) (Las Vegas to win and cover)
This is the dicey pick of the week, that I know some of you will hate, but I love it and even if my other option wasn't the Dolphins, I'd probably still roll with the Raiders at home to the Saints.
Las Vegas will be encouraged by the fight they showed last week in beating a spirited Carolina team with a high powered offense, and even though the Saints put up 34pts (not all on offense...) against Tampa, they really didn't move the ball, with just 271 total yards, good for 6th bottom of the entire league in week 1. Only Jacksonville and Washington managed to win with less points, and while a lot of losing teams got a lot more yards, the signs of weakness are there.
Alvin Kamara and Drew Brees looked far from their old selves, the defense notched some good plays against a guy old enough to be someone's grandfather, but apart from that, it was as much about the Bucs losing as the Saints winning.
As for the Raiders? Derek Carr looked poised, completed 73% of his passes, handed the ball off to Josh Jacobs who looked special for the first time in his career scoring 3 TD's, and they played largely mistake free offense. There is definitely room for improvement on the defense, but as I mentioned, I think Carolina will shock people with how many points they put up in 2020, 30 points is probably more reflective of that than anything.
Plus... a home underdog, in week 1... this is where it's ok to follow the data.