Last week was an incredible week for upsets, and set the scene for a big opportunity in week 2 as bookmakers and the public overreact to a week where 10 underdogs covered the spread and 5 won outright. That’s the highest number of week 1 covers by ‘lesser’ teams since 2014 (which is further away than it sounded when I said it aloud…).
Week 2 is always a big week for underdog covers. Historically, over the last six years week 2 has never generated less than 8 covers by underdogs and averages 9 exactly over that time, which means that to just have a shot at breaking even, you HAVE to pick at least 50% ‘dogs this week.
Well, most of it is the aforementioned overreaction. Of course, the Jags, Dolphins, Bucs and Raiders (ignore that Oakland actually managed to win) are BAD TEAMS playing GOOD TEAMS this week, but a +19 point spread for Miami at home to New England is a monumental leap of faith in any NFL matchup. Baltimore are favored by 13.5 points this week after beating the Dolphins on the road, but one of those things is likely a more definitive factor in the Ravens victory last week. Even more likely is that neither is quite as good or bad as they seemed in week 1.
Last year, 11 underdogs covered the spread in week 2, one of the highest volumes of upset in any game week over the last six years. Given that the average number of upsets in the NFL goes down to around 6 per week across the other weeks of the season, you can see why week 2 is so important to getting off to a fast start.
There is some sense to picking every game as an upset given that this would have left you at a minimum of 50% vs the spread in the last 6 years, but I think that leaves you over-exposed to a fluke week where favorites cover at a ridiculous rate.
We’re going for the 9 upsets this week. It’s super important to play the numbers right when you have a meaningful trend like we have in week 2, and the numbers are historically very very good for us indeed. You’d have to go back to 2011 (officially before time began) to find the last time favorites covered more than 50% of games.
And the makeup of those upsets? Well, around 74% are actual upsets straight up too, so 6 or 7 need to be wins for the dog, not just covers. More importantly, 88% (15 of 18) home underdog covers in the last 6 years have also resulted in an outright win for the underdog.
So around a third of our picks (3) need to be home underdogs, and we should likely pick them all to win. The rest should be road dogs, and 4 of them to win outright, which leaves us with:
9 underdog covers 7 to win outright 4 home dogs who also win the game 3 road dogs who also win the game 2 road dogs who cover but lose the game
Saturday edit: This was amended to
3 home dogs who also win 1 home dog who covers (Miami) 4 road dogs who win 1 road dog who covers (Arizona)
1: Pick of the week: Philadelphia @ Atlanta (+1)
I love this game. Both of these teams should theoretically be in the mix for the NFC this year, but had markedly different week one games. What struck me was how both took a while to get going, but once they did, they showed how to move the ball. The Falcons faced arguably the best defense in the NFL against Minnesota, but still managed to convert 27 first downs and actually moved the ball.
The Eagles figured it out later on, but what troubles me is that they very much struggled against a very poor Redskins team. This really shouldn’t have been what it ended up as, and I worry that while they may figure it out, they are up against a much stronger opponent, on the road. They will struggle to rely on their passing game, which garnered all of their points and most of their yards in week 1. This is one of those strange games where the preceding games tell us that strength meets strength, but where either or both of those ;strengths’ may be an illusion.
2: Arizona (+13.5) @ Baltimore
Do we know how good the Ravens are yet? Absolutely not. The Dolphins were not only weakened by a poor off-season, but clearly didn’t turn up in any form last week. Lamar Jackson was excellent and the Dolphins secondary are not pushovers, but are they going to leave Hollywood Brown to wander into the end zone without touch? You’d like to think not.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals - like maky teams in week 1 - found a groove that worked later in the game last week. For a rookie like Kyler Murray to drag his team to the brink of victory from the position they were in was an excellent feat and bodes well for his development. These two QBs are pretty close in terms of their development, given that Jackson really hasn’t shown any prior ability to throw downfield in the NFL.
This spread is way too big for a team that didn’t even lose their week one game and are up against a team that were flattered by a team that didn’t get out of the blocks.
3: Minnesota (+3) @ Green Bay
Question: Which of these two teams is better? The Vikings. Why are they underdogs? Well, the public love the Packers, and they showed some vague sign of life last week against Chicago - albeit they still made incredibly hard work of it. The Vikings were heavy on the run (Kirk Cousins had just 98 yards passing) but when they did pass, they were accurate and effective.
The Packers are a team in rebuilding mode, going against a polished team they have beaten just once in the last 7 outings. This is a classic week 2 overreaction in favor of a fashionable team who the public loves.
4: Seattle (+3.5) @ Pittsburgh
The Steelers, like the Packers, are a big favorite of the public. It’s hard to overstate, however, how poor the Steelers were. Interestingly, they managed 32 rushing yards in New England on Sunday night, while the Seahawks allowed just 34 rushing yards from the Bengals. The difference? Ben Roethlisberger being in classic early season ‘form’ and getting nothing going through the air of note.
The Seahawks are undervalued here and are 9-3 on the east coast since 2014. There is no time zone issue and the only question mark is around which of these two slow burning quarterbacks will start quicker.
5: Buffalo @ NY Giants (+2.5)
Can we all just remind ourselves that the Bills are playing back-to-back games at Metlife stadium against different opponents?
I really like the Bills as a rough-and-ready team who can win by any means necessary (ie: not a very good team), and they have the league’s top rushing QB in Josh Allen, but I think they may find the short trip to Jersey somewhat difficult. They didn’t really do anything particularly well against the Jets and have a very lacklustre offense.
The Giants are simply not pushovers. Scoring an average of 28pts after their bye week in 2018, they regularly kept games close last season and I believe the Cowboys performance on Sunday dictated the blowout nature of the Giants’ defeat in Dallas. Eli Manning was quietly effective, Saquon Barkley looked solid, and Evan Engram was in beast mode, catching 11 balls. These are good signs, because the Bills are not a particularly high scoring team.
6: Chicago @ Denver (+2)
This is a bit of a Chicago-centric pick. The Bears were appalling last week, and I have real fears about Mitchell Trubisky facing his former defensive coordinator in Denver. Let me put it this way - it’s much harder for a panicked QB to exploit a good defensive coordinator, than it is for a DC without top quality players to get said QB into said panic…
The Broncos being home dogs makes me worried slightly, but their schedule last year that led to a 3-5 record at Mile High was skewed somewhat by the strength of their schedule. I think this is a home victory.
7: New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins (+18.5)
This is the biggest spread New England have had since a week 13 game with the Colts in 2011, where they failed to cover a 20.5pt spread against Dan Orlovsky and co.
What worries me about this spread is that it is too early in the season to be writing any team off by 3-4 scores in a divisional game, against a former member of their staff. The Patriots are ok when it comes to covering the spread (9-7 in 2018), but covering big spreads in the early weeks of the season is NOT their forte.
Since 2010, the Pats are 1-8 when facing a spread of -8 or greater in their first 4 games of the season, their only cover coming against YOUR 2015 JACKSONVILLE JAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGUARS. It’s not easy to cover that many points in any NFL game, even if you’re the Patriots.
8: New Orleans (+3) @ LA Rams
This is the game of the week, a rematch of the Pass Interference scam of 2018, but also a rematch of a game played last season in New Orleans, where the Saints won a shootout 45-35 that seemed to separate these two from the NFC pack in terms of their explosiveness and their ability to put up seemingly endless amounts of points.
The Rams are at a real crossroads, Jared Goff has largely struggled since their bye week in 2018 week 12, and last week highlighted how shaky he is still. A very poor passing game is not going to cut it, and most worryingly for Goff, that Saints front 7 looked formidable last week against the Texans.
9: San Francisco (+2) @ Cincinnati
I just can’t quite get on board with the Bengals after last week’s let-down loss against the Seahawks. I think the Seahawks are not a great defense and this 49ers team looks somewhat more capable of defending John Ross and co. They dominated the Bucs last week and made Jameis Winston squirm, in fact perhaps the line is reflective more of the teething issues Jimmy G had in his first game back from injury.
I think last week was no fluke and the Bengals will be a force this season, but the 49ers made an interesting statement last week and the world is still in ‘bad old 49ers’ mode, and now’s the time to get on that action...
The rest of this week’s games in order
Cleveland (-6) @ NY Jets
I don’t want to touch this game and the fact it is in the grey area of ‘maybes’ should highlight that. What are these two teams? I mentioned last week, but again, it’s worth stressing that the Browns are still not trustworthy until they find a rhythm with their new pieces. As for the Jets, they’re really not good vs the spread, but I think they have a chance to win. I’ll probably not make a pick for this one until right up until game time, but now it’s a slight, microscopic lean towards the Jets.
Saturday edit: Clearly, you should be very careful with this game, but if you really must, I'd say Cleveland ONE UNIT.
LA Chargers (-2.5) @ Detroit
This was a close one, but I don’t trust the Lions yet and while both teams capitulated last week to some degree, the Chargers were 7-1 on the road last year and look a better team this season already.
Dallas (-4.5) @ Washington
So the Cowboys are legit then. They really do appear to have a good setup down in Dallas this season. Love the Randall Cobb addition, but the biggest factor? Michael Gallup. This guy is really close to being a household name as a deep threat, and he is going to have a field day if DeSean Jackson’s success last week is anything to go on.
Kansas City (-8) @ Oakland
The Chiefs are in mid-season mode, and while the high spread makes me nervous, it is possible Patrick Mahomes makes it look puny. The Raiders are tangibly better off without Antonio Brown and his sex offences.
Jacksonville @ Houston (-9)
This was a surprisingly generous spread for the Texans given they are starting a gentleman that nobody had heard of until he stepped onto the field last week. Glib as this sounds, the Texans are a proven commodity and outscored the Texans 40-10 last season. Maybe Gardner Minshew is the second coming of Brady (and I did think the sixth round parralel was interesting) but until we see more... home cover.
Indianapolis @ Tennessee (-3)
The Titans will be in the mix for an AFC South title this season. Great defense, good offense. The Colts will keep this close, but the Titans by 5-6 is more accurate. I really like that defense.
Tampa Bay @ Carolina (-6.5)
Thursday night favorites are 12-4 in the last 16 games and the Bucs have never won on TNF.
*Edit: This is a lesson we can all learn. I wrote a long spiel about how Cam Newton is not the same, analyzed plays he made in week 1 (2 rushing plays, a screen pass behind the LOS that was classed as a fumble and therefore, erroneously, a rushing play) and questioned whether we should look at Carolina as a good team until proven.
I subsequently, in betting parlance, bottled this completely and decided they were trustworthy until proven otherwise. In a week where I advocated more upsets rather than less, this was a cardinal error.*
Last week’s results
Upset of the week: Tennessee (+5.5) @ Cleveland WON Denver (+1.5) @ Oakland LOST LA Rams @ Carolina (+3) PUSH Detroit @ Arizona (2.5) WON Pittsburgh (+6) @ New England LOST Baltimore @ Miami (+7) LOST Buffalo (+3) @ NY Jets WON Cincinnati (+9.5) @ Seattle WON