Upset Watch Week 3
This week we’re revamping the format of Upset Watch to provide a little more information for you. For the last few years we’ve generally ranked the games 1-16 in terms of the upsets, and while that works very well in some ways (our upsets of the week are 2/2 in 2019 so far) we get many people asking questions about which team we think will win.
In this week’s upset watch, we’ll be trialling a new way of working - so let us know if you like it. The new format will list every game and then the reasons we believe an upset or underdog cover is possible in that game. We’ll then counter that with reasons why the favorite should win/cover. At the end of each game, we’ll offer a pick for the game and then summarize them all at the bottom.
Make sense? Well… it will do.
The new format will of course still factor in that Upset Watch is about assessing trends in the NFL.
Here are some ATS stats for the season so far:
Home covers in 2019: 10 of 32 (31.2%) Road covers in 2019: 22 of 32 (68.8%)
Home favorites in 2019: 5-14 (26.3%) Road favorites in 2019: 8-5 (61.5%)
Underdog covers in 2019: 19 of 32 (59.3%) Favorite covers in 2019: 13 of 32 (40.7%)
Favorites of 7 points or more in 2019: 3-5 (37.5%) Favorites of 2.5 points or less in 2019: 2-7 (22.2%)
Interesting, but how can we make sense of this? Well the first point of note is that home favorites are far from a banker in 2019. In fact, they’ve performed at an atrocious level of about 1 wins for every 4 home favorites, and the sample size of 19 is substantial enough to wonder whether that trend is indicative of a bigger factor. Is ‘home advantage’ still a thing?
The list of teams covering is not a list of realistic Super Bowl contenders who were misjudged, but includes teams like the Redskins, Jags, Bengals, Cardinals and Bucs. These teams all covered spreads over 6 points this year. In fact, if we discount Miami, only one team has covered a spread more than 7 points, Dallas in week 1 against the Giants. So we should theoretically be backing the underdog on the road a little more. 8 of those 14 road dogs who covered also won their games.
Week 3 analysis
So we’ve had the big overreaction that is week 2. It’s a perfect time for underdogs and as we predicted last week, 9 teams covered the spread as underdogs, but what happens in week 3 if we look back through history?
Well, things begin to take a different turn in week 3. Last week, we explained how 9.0 underdog covers is the average over the previous 6 years, but in week 3? That drops down to 7.3. We need to be careful not to weight too heavily on the past, but with one exception (2017) where underdogs covered a record 12 times in the week, we have never seen more than 7 covers.
Conversely, however, the spread actually jumps a little higher in week 3, as bookmakers and fans become a little more savvy of which teams they can trust and which are going to fold like a pack of Dolp… cards.
With the average being at 7.3, but this year throwing up more underdog covers than average, we’re going to round that up to 8 underdog covers this week, favoring especially road underdogs.
So without further ado, here is our run down of every game in week 3. Remember, unlike previous weeks, this is not in order of potential for upset! See the bottom of the page for this order.
Thursday night football:
Tennessee @ Jacksonville (+1.5)
Why the Jags will cover:
Gardner Minshew, I owe you quite the apology! Last week I said that nobody had heard of him, but now, we know what the Jags have. He reminds me of Trevor Siemian a few years ago, a guy who comes in, doesn’t do anything particularly well, but takes care of the football and gives his team a chance to win if their defense plays well.
Why the Titans will cover:
The Jags haven’t won at all in 2019 (including the preseason, where Minshew played extensively) and they haven’t beaten the Titans since 2016, when they won a Saturday week 16 game at home. They’ve actually lost 6 of their last 7 against Tennessee, and the recent history isn’t really in their favor either. The Jags haven’t scored more than 10 points in the last 3 meetings, and while Minshew may be a better QB than expected, the Titans have a clear edge here. The only worry here is that the Titans fall squarely in the <2.5 bracket we described in the methodology section. Pick: Titans (-1.5)
Atlanta (+2) @ Indianapolis
Why the Falcons will cover:
Well, they’ve been rough and ready, but the Falcons appear to be right in the wheelhouse of teams we should be loving based on 2019 so far. A road underdog, with a small advantage to the home team? Hook that up to my veins. These two teams haven’t faced each other in 4 years, so there’s no recent history between the two. The defense has been stingy against the Vikings and Eagles, and Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are getting into their groove at last.
Why the Colts will cover:
Well, they’re a better team than anyone gave them credit for at the start of the season with Jacoby Brissett. He’s proven to be as calm and competent as can be expected, and has an impressive 5-1 TD:INT ratio vs Matt Ryan’s 5-5 ratio for the Falcons. The Colts run game is one of their major strengths, and the Falcons have had two polar opposites on that front. The run-first Vikings pounded 172yds onto them, the anaemic Eagles backfield managed just 49. Flipping that round, the Falcons run game is more like the Eagles right now, so it will be on Matt Ryan to win this for the Falcons.
Pick: Falcons (+2.5)
Baltimore (+6.5) @ Kansas City
Why the Ravens will cover:
They’re a good team, let’s start there. They destroyed the Dolphins and had the game against the Cardinals largely in hand last week. 6.5 points is a lot of points to give a team who can score rapidly on the ground and through the air in the manner of this Ravens team. The Chiefs have allowed enough rushing yards to give the Ravens hope on that front.
Why the Chiefs will cover:
Because they have the capability to win through the air in a way that the Ravens are expressly bad at defending. The Ravens gave up 329 yards to rookie Kyler Murray. The Chiefs are barely rushing the ball at all but still putting up huge numbers. The problem with the Ravens is that having played Miami (much like last year when they played Buffalo in week 1), their stats are somewhat skewed in their favor. Are they a better team than last year with Lamar Jackson? Absolutely. Are they capable of beating the Chiefs if things go their way? It’s possible, yes. But the Chiefs have overcome a few obstacles and a pair of better teams in the Jags and Raiders, than the Ravens. As a side note, a minor worry about both of these teams would certainly be the calibre of opposition they’ve faced in the first 2 weeks.
Pick: KC (-6.5)
Cincinnati (+6) @ Buffalo
Why the Bengals will cover:
This is a tough one. The Bengals get back Joe Mixon, which is essential to beating the Bills. They have hung around with two good teams, Seattle and San Francisco, but in all honesty, there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to pick the beyond the size of the spread.
Why the Bills will cover:
Because they’ve allowed just three 200 (TWO HUNDRED) yard passing games since week 4 of last season, and one of those was a week 15 squeaker against the Lions. Their average passing yards allowed is just 157.9 in that time, and the Bengals are entirely reliant on that as a way of winning. They generated just 34 and 25 yards on the ground in their first two games. The Bills on offense have a powerful running game led by QB Josh Allen. The Bengals gave up 259 yards on the ground in week 2 against the 49ers backup RB’s and a guy coming off a torn ACL.
Pick: Buffalo (-6)
Denver (+8) @ Green Bay
Why the Broncos will cover:
Well, they’ve kept their games tight, but most importantly, the Packers have not got going offensively and come face-to-face with a guy in Vic Fangio who knows how to play this team and QB. The signs are there that Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers are some way apart on their vision for the offense of Green Bay, which should give the Broncos some hope. Neither team seems capable of scoring big points, which again favors a lower spread. None of the games with these two teams have been over the points in 2019.
Why the Packers will cover:
Tough to see them covering 8 points. They have yet to break 200 passing yards this season and were largely saved last week by Kirk Cousins’s poor play more than their own good performance. Given these two teams have a common opponent in the Bears, it’s worth noting that the Broncos were far more effective in stopping the pass too. I think there is a chance the Packers try to go run-heavy, but it’s a slim chance.
Pick: Denver (+8)
Detroit (+6.5) @ Philadelphia
Why the Lions will cover:
This is our big pick. The Lions have not actually lost in 2019 yet and played well in both games. Consider the aforementioned Cardinals and the Chargers as passing teams, and it’s interesting therefore to see the Lions stifle both of them on offense for large periods of the game. The Chargers are a great precursor to the Eages too, more reliant on the pass than the run. They’re also missing their biggest deep threat in DeSean Jackson. At 6.5 points this is a real value pick. Even if the Eagles win, 6.5 is a lot of points to get ahead of a team that has proved capable of staying in games.
Why the Eagles will cover:
As mentioned, I really don’t think they will, but theoretically, they put up a bunch of points against the Redskins (albeit many of those points came from Jackson who will not play Sunday) and were largely victims of a slow start. If they don’t start slowly on Sunday, can the Lions score enough points to keep it close? That would be the main debate, but with a 6.5pt spread, this one really picks itself.
Pick: Detroit (+6.5)
Miami (+21.5) @ Dallas
Why the Dolphins will cover:
Oh, you want to know why the Dolphins will remain within 22 points of their opponents do you? Well, that's... I… they… look bear with me here, I need to get something from my car… sound of engine screeching
In all seriousness, they probably won’t. The big x-factor is the spread. I still can’t get behind a spread this large, but when the Dolphins QB is even admitting they are tanking, this team is checked out. About the only possibility here is that the reverse psychology of actively trying to lose may somehow backfire on the hapless Dolphins.
Why the Cowboys will cover:
They are a formidable, well-rounded offense with a good QB, a great RB and weapons galore for Dak Prescott. They have a great O-line and a strong defense. They are, without doubt, the pick of the NFC. They’re 2-0 against two big spreads in 2019 and while they may struggle to put up 3 and a bit scores more than most teams, the Dolphins are really not able to stop anyone or score points of their own. I expect there to be a lot of talk about penalizing teams for egregiously tanking after this game, as there really is a huge market in Miami being made to suffer as a team actively tries to lose.
Pick: Dallas (-21.5)
New York Jets (+22.5) @ New England
Why the Jets will cover:
There is this to be said: Luke Falk may not be a massive downgrade over Sam Darnold. It’s also 3 and a bit scores, maybe Bill Belichick will renounce his lifelong hatred of the Jets (even when he was an assistant…) and take it easy on them? The spread makes me anxious with an untried QB who completed 80% of his passes in his limited game action last week. All the Jets need to do is play ok defense and this one doesn’t get out of hand, something they’ve actually been good at despite two losses.
Why the Patriots will cover:
They’re one of the best offenses in the league, and they have a grudge. They’ve actually not been great against these monster spreads, but you can be sure that Bill Belichick is aware of the expectation, and he has instilled a relentless attitude into the players. The Jets often play the Pats hard, but barring a serious injury to Tom Brady (heaven forbid…) the Pats will likely rub salt into this one as they did against Miami.
For reference when the next person tells you that the Jets ‘always play the Pats hard’, they haven’t scored more than 17 points against them since 2015, the last time they won. They lost the corresponding game 38-3 last season.
Pick: New York Jets (+22.5) on a whim, because it’ll likely be the Pats by 20 or something.
Oakland (+8.5) @ Minnesota
Why the Raiders will win:
Oakland have been quietly competent this season. They were blown away by a great Kansas City team, but KC are the opposite of the Vikings who have been reliant on big plays from Dalvin Cook. The two teams have very similar profiles (mid-range passing attack, strong ground game) and the Raiders have moved the ball downfield better than the Vikings. The Chiefs are an outlier, the Vikings? Maybe not.
Why the Vikings will cover:
Perhaps Mike Zimmer has reigned in Kirk Cousins. The Vikes were in a position to beat Green Bay narrowly twice last week and blew both shots. They also had a penalty that brought back a TD at the end of the first half, all of which suggests that despite a capitulation, they are capable of more as they showed against Atlanta. Defensively they were good even against the Packers, the worry for me is that the Raiders ground game will be something the Vikings haven’t had to face this season.
Pick: Oakland (+8)
Carolina @ Arizona (+2.5)
Why the Cardinals will cover:
They’re home ‘dogs, which we all like, but mostly they are just a better team right now than the Panthers. I mentioned in Upset Watch last week that I had a big diatribe, well here it is in summary: The Panthers are in flux. Cam Newton can be a top level passing QB, but it will take time to build that type of team around him. It’s really not great watching him play at 50% because he can’t take off and run anymore.
But lets focus on the Cardinals and their positives. To even be in those first two games with a rookie QB and a coach fresh out of college indicates that this team has potential. Larry Fitzgerald is playing like it’s his 5th season and Kyler Murray is proving that despite his running in college, he is a very good passing QB. Put simply, they have points in them, and that will count for a lot on Sunday. I don’t just think they’ll cover, I think they’ll win.
Why the Panthers will win:
Christian McCaffrey. He is their best hope, but the big problem is that the Cardinals are not fools, they know it and I think they’ll focus heavily on nullifying him, much as the Bucs did last week. The signs are also there that Cam is adjusting to pass-first, with a 313yd game behind him, albeit in a losing effort.
Pick: Cardinals +2.5
NY Giants (+6.5) @ Tampa Bay
Why the Giants will cover:
This is a strange spot. The Giants are not actually terrible and if Eli was playing, they would have been a few points closer. Is Daniel Jones the answer? We don’t know, but we also don’t know that he is not the answer, and I get wary when rookie QBs like Minshew, Jones, Murray and co face bigger spreads, because they are unproven, and every QB is capable of a breakout performance. The fact is that the Giants have moved the ball surprisingly well if you ignore the Eli dilemma, while the Bucs? Not so much. The Giants have a weakness in the passing game, but they are capable of stopping the run. I expect them to get back to the same way they played against Dallas in week 1.
Why the Bucs will cover:
It’s tough to gauge the Bucs right now and I think 6.5 is too many points while they remain unproven as a favorite. If we’re making the case, it of course revolves around Bruce Arians, but I think this is set up for Jones to upend the Bucs and get off to a winning start, particularly as it’s very hard for teams to gameplan for such an unknown QB.
Pick: NY Giants (+6.5)
Houston (+3) @ LA Chargers
Why the Texans will cover:
Well, I actually think this spread is completely fair. Neither team excelled last week on offense, generating just 25 points between them in tight games. There isn’t much to choose between them, but the Chargers have home advantage and hence the advantage in Vegas. Still, if DeShaun Watson is on form, the Chargers may find the Texans are very capable of putting up big numbers.
Why the Chargers will cover:
Well, for the exact same reasons above! The two teams are very evenly matched, making this one a bit of a coin-flip. I do like the Chargers though, they have already proved that they can both run and pass the ball and put up big numbers in both areas. I think that gives them an edge
Pick: LA Chargers (-3)
New Orleans (+4) @ Seattle
Why the Saints will cover:
Well, they didn’t immediately become a bad collective without Drew Brees. The pieces on this team are there to remain competitive, and the Rams are one of the better teams in the NFC. Their defensive front remains formidable. Teddy Bridgewater isn’t a rookie, despite his limitations and the Seahawks are notoriously slow starters in the opening weeks of the season under Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll.
Why the Seahawks will cover:
This is a good spread for a home team who have a backup QB in opposite them. Bridgewater has roundly been unimpressive since his return from injury in 2017, and the Seahawks are not an ideal opponent for a player trying to get a handle on things. Particularly as Taysom Hill is widely acknowledged as a potential long-term successor to Brees. They have a QB in Russell Wilson who will keep the Saints defense working, and a problem for New Orleans may very well begetting that defense off the field.
Pick: Seattle (-4)
Pittsburgh (+6.5) @ San Francisco
Why the Steelers will cover:
They have a backup QB who - to his credit - came in and played solidly last week. He knows this team is his and will play without pressure. That’s about the best you can say. There’s really not much to suggest a cover.
Why the 49ers will cover:
They have a defense that will give Rudolph fits in his first start this season. Richard Sherman and co are playing excellent football and have been backed up by an offense that got over it’s growing pains early in Tampa during their week 1 win there. The main reason, however, is that the Steelers are utterly abysmal at playing on the west coast under Mike Tomlin. They’ve won just one game ever under Tomlin in the pacific time zone, a 2015 win against a woeful Chargers team. This, they do not like.
Pick: San Francisco (-6.5)
LA Rams @ Cleveland (+3)
Why the Browns will cover:
Well, they blew away a few cobwebs against the Jets practice sq… team on Monday, but do we think they are legit yet? For me, the same questions I had at the outset of the season remain. They have yet to prove themselves as capable of hanging with big teams. That said, IF OBJ is playing the way he did the other night, the team is far more likely to remain competitive with a Rams team that hasn’t set the world alight. While both teams are somewhat in the doldrums offensively, perhaps it’s worth considering a Cleveland cover.
Why the Rams will cover:
The Rams have consistently covered even when playing bad football under the McVay-Goff combination. A -3 spread for them is generous and a slight on their defense which has been a huge positive. The Browns are certainly not pushovers, but let’s not pretend that Baker Mayfield is unable to be rattled. Our friends at PFF have consistently graded him poorly this season, and there is every reason to believe that those problems still exist despite a week 2 win against the Jets.
Pick: Rams (-3)
Chicago @ Washington (+4)
Why the Redskins will cover:
I really think they will. I’m not just anti-jinxing this as a Bears fan. The Redskins have proven themselves able to put up a solid number of points against two teams that were simply able to outscore them. I have watched enough of the Bears now to know when there are problems, and this team lacks a real identity as things stand. The passing game is non-existent, the running game anaemic, and the inability to convert chronic. There is a real danger of the Bears’ season slipping away with another loss and a tough schedule after this week. By the time they get some home respite, it could well be week 12 when the Giants come to town.
Why the Bears will cover:
Stifling defense is the only key here. Despite their inability to put up points, they’ve limited two (admittedly mediocre) offenses to 10 and 14 points respectively. Are the Redskins a high-powered offense? No, albeit they’re probably better than the Packers current iteration and the Broncos. My worry is that even when beating the Broncos on the ground, there was very little to suggest the Bears were able to pull away.
Pick: Redskins (+4) and win.
Upset of the week: Detroit (+6.5 & WIN) @ Philadelphia 2: Chicago @ Washington (+4 & WIN) 3: Carolina @ Arizona (+2.5 & WIN) 4: Atlanta (+2.5 & WIN) @ Indianapolis 5: NY Giants (+6.5) @ Tampa Bay 6: Oakland (+8) @ Minnesota 7: NY Jets (+22.5) @ New England 8: Denver (+8) @ Green Bay 9: Miami @ Dallas (-21.5) 10: LA Rams (-3) @ Cleveland 11: Houston @ La Chargers (-3) 12: Tennessee (-1.5) @ Jacksonville 13: New Orleans @ Seattle (-4) 14: Pittsburgh @ San Francisco (-6.5) 15: Baltimore @ Kansas City (-6.5) 16: Cincinnati @ Buffalo (-6)