Upset Watch Week 7 2020
Our weekly rundown of who will beat the spread and win outright from this week's collection of underdogs.
20 Oct, 2020
Before I get into Upset Watch, I want to make you all aware that we're making a small change to the Supercontest.
From Week 8, we will be removing ALL limits on how many Pickwatch coins you can stake on a game, straight up or ATS. That means you can theoretically put all of your coins on one game, or make larger plays on fewer games.
Why are we doing this? Two reasons - first is for your data. When everyone puts the max stake on each game, it means you are essentially assigning the same confidence to every pick and not making decisions about which games you love and which you hate. This had become a pattern that we explicitly were trying to avoid and we had signposted before the season began that we would adapt the rules to ensure the game prevented this.
Secondly, we did it to make sure that the game reflects reality. There are no such restrictions if you use a bookmaker, and that means the game will as always, reflect real life. It will also give everyone an equal chance at success each week, which is the real aim of the game!
Last week yielded our best upset pick of the season, as the Broncos beat the Patriots. We also got the Bears and if you were on the Monday Night game, the Cardinals who had somehow shifted to +1 underdogs. We'd picked them to win heavily as favorites.
As always, our methodology is based on two big factors. First, the average number of upsets in week 7 historically, and second, how trends in the spread impact which games are most likely to end in an upset.
This week there's a slight downturn in the number of games we expect to pick. Of the 14 games in week 7, we'll be picking 5 underdogs to win and 6 underdogs to cover (average of 6.4).
The spread has been one of the most decisive factors in upsets this season. So far, underdogs who face a spread of +2.5 or below are winning outright 78% of the time and have covered in all but two of the 18 games that applied to. That's a huge guide for us and handily, there are a number of games that fit the bill in week 7.
These underdogs will win outright
Dallas (+1) @ Washington
Let's assume this stays at Dallas as underdog, which I doubt very very heavily because the public absolutely love the Cowboys even if they are playing a 3 legged dog in the secondary and are almost magnetically pulling opponents down the field and into the Dallas end zone.
Assuming though, the Cowboys are underdogs, I will take them for two reasons. One is our aforementioned understanding that low spread underdogs are actually more likely to win, and the second is that the Washingtons are actually not remotely set up to hurt the Cowboys. They don't have a running game (rank 32nd) to take advantage of the Cowboys' biggest weakness and haven't scored more than 20 points since week 1. I think if Ezekiel Elliott holds onto the ball, the Cowboys can win this by some way, as there is no way for Washington to keep up if they can score more than three touchdowns.
Detroit (+2.5) @ Atlanta
Yeah this one is big - Atlanta seemed to turn a corner last week, but they still have a huge problem defending the pass. Let me put it this way, they have surrendered at least 300 yards passing in every single game this season, in fact even when faced with some of the league's worst teams passing (the Bears and Vikings) they've still managed to give up that many yards.
Not only do the Lions fall into our +2.5 bracket, but they're also a much better team since the return of star WR Kenny Golladay and can exploit those holes particularly well. The passing nature of the game always comes down to passing yards allowed as one of the greatest signifiers of potential upsets, and that's something that greatly favors Detroit.
Chicago (+6) @ LA Rams
SPOILER ALERT: I'm picking the Bears again. This spread is reasonably ludicrous given the low scoring nature of both teams (Chicago 27th, LA 19th) and the tight defenses on both sides. What I like is the Chicago defense against the Rams offense, who are only scoring 'big' points against poor defensive teams like Washington, Philadelphia and Buffalo. When they come up against even moderately good defenses, they tend to fold, even in victory.
Meanwhile, Chicago just... keep outplaying their opponents. Teams don't score points on them, even the pass-heavy Colts put up just 26pts, the only team to get over 20 this season against the Bears. I think the spread is all wrong and the Bears will not only cover, but win.
Pittsburgh @ Tennessee (+2)
This one is tough. It's easily the game of the week, even in a week of solid, equal matchups for the most part. My initial instinct was that the Titans are probably up against their match in the Steelers, who just have such a big defensive edge that it can't be ignored. What our stats show however, is that the Titans are just... better. Better at football, the things that matter - getting the ball in the end zone. They're scoring in 78% of their redzone possessions, they're light years ahead of the Steelers in offensive efficiency and it's not particularly close. The Steelers have had an odd dynamic where they are yet to play a team with much of a running game (Even Cleveland last week went away from the run) and this Tennessee team... yeah, it's not your average running team.
The Steelers are incredibly strong, but I think 'efficient' is not how you would describe them, so in a game where both teams are incredibly well matched? Yes, we're taking the team that makes more of every opportunity they get than the team who rank 24th on 3rd and short, or 18th in redzone TD efficiency. Pittsburgh will have many good moments this season, but don't be surprised if they waste one-too-many opportunities against the Titans.
San Francisco (+2.5) @ New England
The Patriots are ripe for another upset. As we saw last week, the biggest problem they currently have is their ability to get into the end zone and they rank 26th in the league on points per drive. What really worries me? Their problems with longer downs and situations where the running game isn't a viable option. The Patriots run more than almost any team in the league (3rd) and their 3rd down and long efficiency? It's terrible. The Bills rank 1st in the league converting over 55% of their 3rd and long shots. The Pats? 28th, converting just 25.8% of the time.
I like the 49ers in this spot. The two teams are extremely well matched and Bill Belichick possibly has enough inside knowledge of Jimmy Garropolo to give him some problems, but offensively, the Patriots look unable to function without a passing game to take advantage of turnovers, just as they did last week against Denver.
These teams will not win, but will cover the points spread
Jacksonville (+7.5) @ LA Chargers
The Chargers will win this game I believe, but Jacksonville have one strength and that is a passing game that matches up well with the weakness of the Chargers who cannot defend the pass. Of course, Jacksonville have the exact same weakness and the Chargers are very good through the air with Justin Herbert, but the Jags can stay in this game for longer than people will believe. Ultimately, despite the spread, both teams have only one win this season and will be approaching this game looking for a win with their unbalanced teams and I think that similarity will be evident on Sunday.
Carolina (+7.5) @ New Orleans
The Saints blow very hot and cold, and would have covered this spread only once all season, in the opener against Tampa Bay. The issue they may have here is that the Panthers D very much stacks up well against their pass-first offense. The Panthers have allowed just 7 passing TD's all season (2nd in the league) which could be a major factor. As you can see from our spiderweb, the Panthers are far from uncompetitive and actually outrank the Saints in some crucial areas. I like Carolina to stay in this game and to even have a shot to win it.
These favorites will win outright and cover the points spread
NY Giants @ Philadelphia (-4.5)
If I could pick both teams to lose, but I can't, so it's the Eagles, who I now make favorites for the NFC East. The issue here is that Giants offense, which again last week failed to do much and ranks 30th or below in almost every major category. Their defense is strong against the run, but the Eagles are a flash-play type of team and I like them to gash the Giants with big gains, and the Giants to have no answer. At some point, the Daniel Jones situation will become untenable...
Buffalo (-13.5) @ NY Jets
I tried. I swear I tried to find a way the Jets could win but everything ends up in Buffalo winning and winning pretty convincingly. Since Josh Allen took over at QB in 2018 the Bills have often blown hot and cold, but when they play bad teams, they generally win and win convincingly. In fact, the Bills have covered this spread 6 times in Allen's career, which is no mean feat because it's the Bills and they're honestly not that good.
I just can't see it happening for the Jets. Their redzone efficiency, the Bills being a tight unit in those situations... it all adds up to a big win for the Bills.
Green Bay (-3.5) @ Houston
Go hard on this spread I say. Two weeks ago it would have been closer to ten points than 5, and here we are after an extremely out of character loss for the Packers, talking about 3.5? Give me a break. The Texans have no defense worthy of the name and present a perfect opportunity for Green Bay to ride their running backs in order to make time for Aaron Rodgers. The Texans are, in other words, the complete opposite of the no.1 vs the run Bucs who just beat the Packers.
Cleveland (-3) @ Cincinnati
There is some doubt here about Baker Mayfield. This is assuming he plays and is healthy.
The Browns are a completely different beast to the Bengals. Cincinnati have no defense and the Browns are heavy on offense. They have struggled against the tough defenses of Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but Cinci? They are weak against the run, giving away 5YPC and Cleveland, assuming Kareem Hunt is healthy, are perfectly suited to that kind of porous defense.
However, a caveat, if Mayfield doesn't play, or is hobbled by his rib injury, I would stay well away from this game. Joe Burrow has enough to keep the Bengals in any game where Mayfield isn't at his best.
Kansas City (-9.5) @ Denver
The Broncos showed where their strengths and weaknesses are last week. On the one hand, they can stifle a team with their strong defense, but on the other side of things? Turnovers and inefficiency. These are the demons you must slay if you wish to be successful against the Kansas City Chiefs. I like The Chiefs to take big advantage of said turnovers and inefficiency. Pretty simple.
Seattle (-3) @ Arizona
The Cardinals have beaten just one 'good' team this season, in the opener against San Francisco. Apart from that, their wins have come against the Cowboys, Jets and Washington, all of whom have enormous problems, far more than the Seahawks who rank first in points scored. The Seahawks have a weakness - they can't defend the pass - but it is not where the Cardinals are particularly strong. Kyler Murray is growing, but this will put where the Cards are into perspective.
Tampa Bay (-3) @ Las Vegas
This nearly made it to the upset category. At times, there appears no discernible pattern to why Vegas win or lose. The biggest indicative factor would appear to be that when they get their running game going, they win, and when they don't, they lose. To illustrate the point, the Raiders have scored 6 TD's on the ground in their 3 wins and 0 (zero) in their two losses. One thing I like about them is Derek Carr's single interception in 2020, but the Bucs are the league's no.1 run defense by a mile, I mean a MILE. They allow just 64.3 yards per game and the Raiders D? That's not great. They've allowed 2 rushing TD's in every game, they've allowed an average of 30.4 points per game and the team as a whole have a turnover differential of -4. I love the progress of the Raiders, but Tampa Bay's defense are the decisive factor here.