Upset Watch Week 6
12 Oct, 2017 by Shaun Lowrie
Last week we began Upset Watch, in which I arbitrarily rank the games of the week based on the likelihood of an upset. That's why it's called... well you get the idea.
Week 5 went extremely well. Usually, we're going to look mainly at the top 5-6 potential upsets, and everything else is a bit of a muchness, but the results were good across the board, so with that in mind...
I thought about scoring over the weekend for this column, as it's a bit of a conundrum. In some ways, the idea of upset watch is both to tip the biggest (and therefore, most lucrative, depending on how you use them) upsets of the week, but it's also to say which games are not likely to feature an upset. This being a column devoted to the underdogs springing a 'surprise', however, we need to weight it accordingly. Getting 3 upsets right is a damn sight harder than getting 3 average games right, and so the scoring system has to reflect how people can use the advice, ie: vs the spread.
As a result, I'm going to use 3 different parameters for scoring:
The unit win value of the top 5 picks vs the spread
The unit value of the top 5 picks and the bottom 5 picks vs the spread
The overall unit value of all picks
This should ensure we get a good feel for how the column is doing and what the strategy should be for following it. You can choose to go big on the top 3-5 upsets, or you can choose to stagger across the entire board of picks. In week 5, all of those options would have worked out pretty well...
Week 5 Results vs spread (5 unit stakes on each game):
Top 5: 4-1 (+13 units)
Top 5 + Bottom 5: 6-3-1 (+12 units)
All Games: 9-4-1 (+20.5 units)
Of course, how you choose to use upset watch is your call, hence me providing all of those broken down results. I am simply ranking the games, and if you feel like using this information for anything in particular, I'm happy if it works out...
Week 6 Upset Watch
A note - I don't think this will be a big week for upsets. There are probably only two that I feel anywhere near strongly about, and only the first five entries below are what I consider to be potential upsets...
1 Detroit (+5.5) @ New Orleans
I like the Lions. They're better than their loss last week, and they're a couple of Eric Ebron drops/incredibly bad refereeing calls away from being perfect on the season. Meanwhile, the Saints have beaten the Dolphins (um...) and the Panthers. Neither of those teams make me feel like they're representative of where the Saints are as a team, so the idea that they would be 5.5pt favorites - or even favorites at all - seems difficult to get on board with. The concern would be Detroit's lack of a run game for a second straight season, something that is keeping the pressure firmly on Matthew Stafford.
Nonetheless, I just don't feel the Saints have the passing defense (5th worst in the league) to deal with the Lions. Consider again that they shut out the Dolphins, and already had their bye week, which skews their stats positively (they gave up just 164 yards to Jay Cutler) and they're still the 5th worst team in the league against the pass. I think the Lions win outright.
2 Los Angeles Rams (+2.5) @ Jacksonville
So last week I had Jacksonville to beat the Steelers, but that doesn't mean they're insusceptible to an upset loss themselves. Favored by 2.5 points at home isn't a glowing endorsement anyway, but I really think the Rams are a better team than they showed against a division opponent last week vs Seattle.
Meanwhile, as I said about the Jags last week, their defense is stout, but they were aided by a poor Steelers team and ultimately, the huge decline in play by Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. I worry about Blake Bortles, who really didn't do a great deal last week or in any previous week, and the Rams are a really well rounded team. Road win.
3 Chicago (+6.5) @ Baltimore
I really don't know how I feel about the Ravens or the Bears, and that makes it somewhat easier to say that the Bears can at least get within a TD on Sunday.
Mitchell Trubisky was quick out of the gates on Monday night but he slowed down real quick, real hard. It's just a bit difficult to see these two putting on some dynamic offensive show though, and I think it'll be one of those that ends up closer than it looks on paper. I'm really not sure the Bears will win, but I'm guessing it's < 1 score.
4 Philadelphia (+4.5) @ Carolina
TNF alert. I really like the Eagles this year. They have interchangeable RBs, about 15 decent passing targets and a solid defense. I make this one a coin flip, both have ground out tough wins over opponents that weren't too stellar, but both have a few nagging flaws in them.
I think in the end this comes down to Carson Wentz, who I trust more than Cam Newton right now. It's not that Cam can't get it done (as he's proved countless times), it's that I still don't know which Cam we actually have this season. A win vs the Eagles would go a long way toward proving that he is the 2015 version rather than the 2016 one.
5 Cleveland (+9.5) @ Houston
This is an awful spot for Houston. I don't love the Browns, but I can tell you now that they're not the terrible football team made out, and that QB play has held them back for too long. If Kevin Hogan plays like he did last week, it'd be insane to say they don't have a shot here against a Houston defense that lost arguably it's two best players (Whitney Mercilus and JJ Watt) in their Sunday Night loss to the Chiefs.
*Note: From here on, I don't really like any of the following games for an upset, but they're ranked in order of potential anyway
6 Los Angeles Chargers @ Oakland Raiders -3
Even if Derek Carr is back, I don't think the Raiders are amazing and it should still be a game, as it always is between these two. Nevertheless, I think the Raiders will come through.
The Chargers showed signs of life last week, but they need to stop getting themselves into holes as they have done for 3 years now. Keenan Allen is a player who they desperately need to step up and be their no.1 guy again on offense.
7 New England Patriots @ New York Jets (+9.5).
The spread here is too high for a divisional game so I'm taking the points but I think the Pats will win. The Jets always play the Patriots hard, although I wasn't buying this from Bill Belichick on Josh McCown:
You could literally line a corpse up under Center for the Jets and Bill would be at the podium the preceding week telling you 'He's great in the coffin, nothing fazes him, one of those guys who is cold as ice when the game's on the line...'
8 San Francisco @ Washington (-10)
I think the Skins will win but if I was making a case for the 49ers, they have 11 players who line up opposite their Washington counterparts, therefore it is impossible to say they can't win.
That's the best I can think of right now.
9 Indianapolis @ Tennessee (OTB)
Indy haven't been as bad as advertised, but if Marcus Mariota plays I like the Titans. If Matt Cassel plays again, I do NOT like the Titans. I would genuinely be shocked if we don't see Brandon Weeden on Monday night instead if Mariota can't go. In fact, I would be surprised if you or I don't get a call ahead of both of them, because both have proved themselves incapable of even the most basic capabilities when playing in the NFL recently. Of course, we know who they won't call...
So essentially, with Mariota = Titans win, Without him = Indy win
10 Pittsburgh @ Kansas City (-4.5)
You always have to bear in mind that the Steelers have Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown before writing them off, but that Chiefs D is really good and that Steelers D ain't. In fact, neither is the Steelers offense either. They really miss their tight ends. Don't we all...
How good is Kareem Hunt in the 4th quarter by the way? I love the way they use him to batter down defenses for 2 plays at a time, then bring Charcandrick West in as a pass catcher out of the backfield on third downs. Alex Smith is playing better than ever (I won't wax lyrical again but he deserves all of this) and if Travis Kelce plays, I think the Chiefs will serve the Steelers a huge exclamation mark on their CRISIS!.
11 Green Bay (-3) @ Minnesota
I'm all on board the Green Bay hype train. Last week I called the Packers to beat the Cowboys and the Vikes to beat the Bears, which were hardly shocks, but I think of the two teams., the Packers are in form and marginally healthier at key positions.
Case Keenum should start this game, after watching the MNF debacle where Sam Bradford made sweet sweet love to the turf of his own free will, rather than face being within 5 yards of a Bears defender. You can't run an offense with a guy who looks like he's struggling with flashback visions from Nam. I wouldn't be surprised if we found he was carrying a can of pepper spray in his back pocket just in case someone got within 3 feet of him on Monday.
Anyway, long story short, I like Keenum (and he puts a lot of other backup and starting QBs into perspective) but the Packers are a complete team.
12 Tampa Bay (-2.5) @ Arizona
I may revise this up a couple of notches at some point this week, but I think the Bucs have enough to win. Loved Doug Martin's running again, he looked like the muscle hamster of old - and he really needs to embrace that he was at his peak when that nickname was in fashion.
Meanwhile, the Cards just signed AD and have 50 or so rushing yards per game. Their defense has been utterly decimated, especially losing Markus Golden their pass rushing specialist... they will struggle even at home I think.
13 New York Giants @ Denver (-12)
Did I ever tell you I'm a big CJ Anderson fan? Well I am. He's really dependable and much like say, James White of the Patriots, his QB can rely on him to do everything perfectly. He outplays his reputation, and it's great that Jamaal Charles is getting touches too.
And then there's the New York Giants.
What a mess. No O-line, no Linebackers (name one, go on, try I dare you) and no running backs worth the name (Vereen doesn't count because he's a receiver in a RB body). They're a disaster and I honestly don't know that Ben McAdoo is the fundamental problem, or that firing him will make things better. Eli Manning is oddly, not the problem here, but losing OBJ will mean Sterling Shepard needs to become their no.1 receiver which won't help him and could lead to premature ELI IS DONE narratives. Color me skeptical. that all this drama will be enough to beat Denver on the road.
14 Miami @ Atlanta (-11.5)
Just no. There is no rationale or logic that would support a Miami upset. It doesn't matter whether it happens, it matters that you shouldn't think it's going to happen.
That's Upsetwatch for this week (I think we're going with all one word...), check us out on twitter and facebook for more pick'em related news, and don't forget our main picks table and our ATS picks.
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