Last week was… well, average. The last two have been in fact, which puts a lot more pressure on us in this spot. We’re still riding at a ‘good’ 56% for the year, so if those were our down weeks, I’ll very much take it.
Average underdog wins – week 6
Each week I’ve been going through the average number of wins vs the spread that underdogs manage over the last 5 years. Why? Because put simply, people have a very clear, yet almost subconscious bias towards favorites.
Take this week, for example. Here’s the number of underdog winners vs the line in the last 5 years…
-2013 – 7 -2014 – 7 -2015 – 9 -2016 – 8 -2017 – 11
That’s an average of 8.4 upsets per year. Of the 72 games played in that span, 42 have ended with the underdog beating the spread – 58.3%. Now you may think ‘but the spread is designed to make each game roughly a 50/50 proposition in our minds, 58.3% isn’t that far out of kilter with our expectations’
To that I would simply point you in the direction of our user ATS page where our users have collectively gone with a consensus of 12 favorites vs 3 underdgogs. This. Is. Wrong.
Every time we pick, we should be as conscious of these stats as possible. There’s no reason to be picking 80% of your ATS picks as favorites this early in the season. As it wears on, and our knowledge of this season becomes more concrete, then so too does our knowledge of how reliable a team is.
In week 6, the first thing that jumped out over the last 3 years was the staggering record of home underdogs, a notable 11-2-1 vs the spread. I’m not always taken by situational data, but if we think about why a team becomes a home underdog in week 6 of the season, we can begin to understand why they win so often (9-5 straight up).
First up, we still don’t truly know every team in the league right now. The NFL is a crazy old league, and 5 games is nowhere near enough to gauge certain teams. Does anyone truly know who the Bucs are? What about the Eagles? The Lions? Seriously, there are too many teams in that .400 to .600 bracket to make sense of.
So home underdogs, when we don’t even know who is good? That doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Giants are a prime example tonight against the Eagles. They’ve been in every game they’ve played, scored more points than any team in the NFC East, yet they’ll go into tonight’s game as 3 point underdogs against a team on a 2 game losing streak. Seem right? Of course it isn’t.
With that, and because I found myself delving into the keys to my picks as I wrote this, here are my upsets of week 6:
1 - Upset of the Week: Baltimore @ Tennessee (+3)
The Tennessee Titans are 12-2 over their last 14 home games, and have lost just 1 of their last 9 games in Nashville. In that time they have had a QB with a passer rating over 100 just twice, so there’s no magic boost to their overall skill-level at home, it’s just that they tend to play better there than on the road. They’re playing a team that is 7-13 since 2016 away from home this week when Baltimore travel to play them at Nissan Stadium, and who lost to the Browns last week.
So why are the Ravens favored? Well, it’s simple: they’re more fashionable. Everyone knows the Ravens are better, right? Except they’re… well… not. Discounting the lop-sided 47-3 shellacking of the Peterman’d Bills in week 1, the Ravens average 17 points per game on offense since, almost the same as the Titans (17.4). These offenses are not good, and in that context, with home underdogs right in our sweet spot, the Titans are very much my upset of the week.
2 – Philadelphia @ New York Giants (+2)
As I was saying, I like the Giants because they’re scoring points and not winning, which is a damn sight better than losing through ineffectiveness with the ball. They have not missed a beat since Evan Engram went down, and look increasingly like they’re a couple of lucky breaks away from a winning streak.
The worry for me is that the Giants collectively… pooped the bed under the lights against Dallas in week 2 and have not won at home this season. That is mitigated by Philly’s equally poor road record (0-2). I think losing Jay Ajayi is a huge blow for the Eagles and they have been shaky enough on defense to suggest this could well be one of those games that shocks a lot of people.
3 – Chicago @ Miami (+3)
Not all of my upset picks will be home dogs, but this one is my third on the spin. The Bears are… well… they’re an interesting team. I’m not unbiased here – they’re my team – but I just don’t trust them on the road in Florida.
The truth is, the Bears are statistically the best defense in football, but their offense hangs by a shoestring. The only reason they are ahead of Miami in any categories is the week 4 funeral pyre for Ryan FItzmagic’s lingering hopes of a late career renaissance. Without that, they’d average just 197 passing yards per game, and perhaps most importantly, 293 yards total per game that’d put them bang in line with the Dolphins at the bottom of the league.
I don’t trust Ryan Tannehill. My friends will likely confirm that I have spent much of the last few years (even when he was injured) mocking his propensity to turn the ball over. 50 fumbles in just 82 games, 71 interceptions in the same time span, but when they come, they’re always at killer moments.
This spread feels about right to me in some ways, but the home advantage the Dolphins have should play some role in mitigating it. The more I think about it, the more worried I am about Khalil Mack causing fumbles for Ryan Tannehill, but I’m going with Miami. Sue me.
Carolina (+1) @ Washington
Oh whuuut yeah that’s right baby a ROAD UNDERDOG. Road ‘dogs actually win 61% (27-17-2) in week 6 over the last 5 years, a pretty good ratio by any ATS standards. They’re also 18-11-3 when the spread is 3 or below (62% discounting pushes). I like those odds of some good road ‘dogs, and even though they’ve perhaps not been as overwhelmingly reliable as the home underdogs, they’re a good solid bet right now.
Carolina have been their usual weird self. I felt like they turned a corner last week, and although they let the Giants back in, any time they’re scoring points, that’s good news all round. The Redskins have somewhat regressed, and while I still think they have an upset in them… this… wouldn’t… be… an… upset? This is one of the most even matchups of the season so far, and I can very much see a road win.
LA Chargers @ Cleveland (+1)
I like picking the Browns. You feel edgy and weird. I was looking back through old games as part of researching this column, and came across a a game from 2014 when the Browns beat the Steelers 31-10 at home. They were 3-2 at that point with Brian Hoyer, Jordan Cameron, Isaiah Crowell and co playing decent football. They were as good as 7-4 that season, before Brian Hoyer stank the joint out and they went to Johnny Football. In many ways, wasn’t that the seminal moment in the unmitigated disaster that was the following 3 years?
I guess my point is that the Browns, despite all appearances to the contrary, are a professional football team, and when they do good things, we should not treat them differently because of the past 4 years of failure, that can largely be traced back to a ludicrous firing of Rob Chudzinski and the bizarre hiring of Mike Lombardi. The only common factor is owner Jimmy Haslam throughout all that.
Anyway. Long story short, the Browns have a really good defense, the Chargers aren’t great on the road (8-18 since 2015) and score less points in these long haul games than at any other time. They’ve only played Buffalo in the eastern time zone this season (how can we ever judge that?) and they may find the trip to Cleveland the sternest test of their season so far.
And just for old times sake, who ever thought we’d be saying that?
Kansas City (+3.5) @ New England
The Colts are not the Chiefs. The Cheifs are not the Colts. Repeat that mantra over and over again.
One of the things that annoys me in the NFL and particularly in pick’em, is the propensity for people to overreact to games that bare no resemblance to upcoming games. The Chiefs are pound for pound, one of the top 2 teams in the NFL (LA Rams, if you’re wondering) and arguably, the best.
The Patriots are of course a challenge, but who have they played? Indy (they had no players), Miami (Tannehilled) and Houston (Watson’s first game back). Meanwhile, as soon as they played a team with any quality (Detroit, Jacksonville) they were exposed. Of those teams, do you think the Chiefs fall into the category of Colts, or Jaguars?. Exactly. This is a good football team with a history of beating them under head coach Andy Reid early in the season (2-0). Will Patrick Mahomes be phased by this? Come on. Nothing phases him except Miss Piggy.
Pittsburgh (+2) @ Cincinnati
The Steelers have won 8 of their last 9, and the last 5 straight, against the Bengals. That traverses some reasonably strong Bengals teams, and some relatively poor Steelers teams.
The Bengals are a strange team in that they seem to be heavily momentum driven. When they start badly, they can recover if the other team lets them (see also: Atlanta), but I feel that the Steelers are a much better team than the Falcons (hence beating them 41-17) and will not allow Andy Dalton the opportunity to regain that momentum.
I still have doubts about Ben, but not quite as much as early on in the season. Conner looks legit, that O-line is still one of the better ones in the league, and they seem to have recovered their defensive ability somewhat in the last few weeks.
Tampa Bay (+3.5) @ Atlanta
One final upset. This was a tough one. I was tempted by Buffalo in Houston, if only because teams seem to be very much overlooking them, but I couldn’t do it. The 49ers intrigued me, as did the Cowboys, but ultimately, I’ve gone with another road underdog in Tampa Bay.
This is really as much a reflection of how injured the Falcons are as anything. At some point, I always say that we have to stop considering a ‘good team’ that has lost a lot of games a ‘good team’. The Falcons are 1-4, and in serious danger of becoming a non-factor already, despite having one of the most formidable offenses in the game.
What inevitably happens at this stage is that players begin to question everything. This isn’t the first time a few of these Falcons have been through the doldrums, so it’s not going to be unfamiliar to them. This really is fight or flight, and we all know which a Falcon would choose…
Meanwhile the Bucs are a complete mystery in many ways. They’re 2-2 but we’ve not seen much of them with the guy who plays at QB for them except in a disaster zone in Chicago. Will they become some uber-offensive team overnight? Can they physically manhandle the Falcons up front? Are they the type of team who comes in and takes what they want, whether it’s theirs to take or not?
I’ve just checked the QB’s name, and I believe that yes, that’s exactly who they are.
Indianapolis (+2.5) @ NY Jets (dependent on injuries) This is a weird one – if the Colts are as injured as they have been, then this is a Jets win, but if they aren’t, I think the Colts are favorites in my book.
Arizona @ Minnesota (-10.5) I was tempted by the Cards purely for the size of the spread, but the Vikes have a better team and more motivation to come out and lay down a beating.
Jacksonville (-3) @ Dallas
I could see a cover if this game turns into the dirge it looks like on paper. The Jags do this weird good game/bad game alternating pattern under Bortles and Marrone, but their defense will likely give Dak and Zeke a harder time than others they’ve faced.
Seattle (-2.5) @ Oakland Oakland need to become consistent, and OH GOD THE DIRT AT THE O.Co. - is there anything more annoying? I wonder what it's like to fall on that with a 300lb guy on top of you.
LA Rams (-7) @ Denver
This is a tricky one. It feels like a trap game, but in some ways, that’s exactly what the Rams overcame last week against Seattle. When they’ve played bad teams, this team has put them to the sword, and unfortunately for Broncos fans, it’s hard to argue with that description right now.
Buffalo @ Houston (-10) This doesn’t look too good…
San Francisco @ Green Bay (-9.5) The Packers are definitely not trustworthy, but the Niners in Lambeau with a backup QB feels like a very bad combination.