Welcome to another edition of Upset Watch, where we rank the games of the week in order of the chance that the underdog will cover the spread.
My favourite part of our upset watch methodology is watching how close the average upsets each week gets to the real number, and conversely, how our public consensus % differs from that. As an example:
Predicted upsets 2018
As you can see, our methodology, while not always perfect, has been closer than the public consensus every week except week 4, when we were both out by one. This isn't a brag, it's something I shout about almost every week - you have to understand why you'd be picking more underdogs at the start of a season than at the end.
Think about how a team becomes an underdog in Vegas. This is ultimately dictated by whether the fans betting on the game believe one team will win or lose. If Vegas sets an opening spread of +3 on a team, but the public money is 90/10 in favor of the underdog, then that spread comes in until the percentage of cash wagered on the game is more even. By the end of the week, Vegas wants public money to be close to 50/50 between the underdog and the favorite.
So every spread is a reflection of the public's collective knowledge and understanding of the two teams, hence why at the start of the season, we see a pattern of knee-jerk big spreads and misconceptions of teams that are subsequently proven to have been incorrect. As the season wears on, we start to get a good idea of who is who in the NFL, and we can more rationally assess the spread.
With that in mind, here's our five week 9 Upsets, and the rest of the picks below:
Upset of the week: Pittsburgh (+3) @ Baltimore
The Ravens are just not all that. I have said it all year, but something is really weird about how quickly people jumped on their bandwagon, given the calibre of team they have defeated and some of the huge red falgs (scoring single digits against Cleveland, failing to capitalize on a huge advantage vs Tennessee).
They don't score enough points for my liking, and again, last week, they hit their '3 touchdown average' score. Discount the Buffalo game with Nathan Peterman, and that's how many points they were averaging headed into the Panthers game. Lo and behold, that's exactly what they hit...
The Ravens rank quite high in defensive passing yards allowed (2nd, 195ypg) but I think this is skewed by the Tennessee (Mariota injured and barely able to throw) and Buffalo games they've played this year, where they gave up just 51 and 70 yards, respectively. Discount those games, and the average is actually 288 yards per game, good for 27th in the league and making their pass D look more like that of the Chiefs...
This is a perfect spot to question 'season stats' - a big part of what we're doing at Pickwatch over the next 12 months.
2: Houston (+1) @ Denver
The Texans have won 5 straight, while the Broncos have won just 1 of their last 6 games. Their last home win was in week 2 and since then, they've struggled against the high tempo offenses of the Chiefs (twice) and the Rams. In fact, their only win came against the anaemic Cardinals on the road.
I don't know if the Texans are completely legit yet, but they improved at the trade deadline with the acquisition of Demariyus Thomas (an interesting wrinkle to this game) and despite being relatively similar to the Broncos in their statistical makeup, the two teams are heading in polar opposite directions. The Texans can take a big step towards the playoffs on Sunday, the Broncos need a win just to keep their hopes alive at the midseason point.
3: Green Bay (+5.5) @ New England
This one falls into the 'there might be a sweet spot...' category. The Packers are not a terrible team, in fact they are statistically and actually playing well without winning, but most importantly, they haven't been blown out against some opponents that are relevant to this game. The Rams, Lions and Vikings all won (or tied) but the Packers arguably could (and should) have won all of those games. Put another way, do you think this spread is 5.5 if Ty Montgomery doesn't make a stupid decision last week and the Packers nab a 1 point win in LA?
The Patriots' pass defense is terrible and the Packers look like getting Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison into the lineup this week. I like the chances of them keeping this one close, and if any team knows how to play in those chilly, primetime games on a Sunday night, it's the Packers.
4: Kansas City @ Cleveland (+8.5)
The Browns are bad, but they not only have a new head coach, but they also have a habit of winning vs the spread. They're 5-3 this season despite winning just two games, but again, I think Gregg Williams - for all his flaws - is the type of kick up the backside that the Browns need. Personally, I'm of the opinion that the Browns have a talented enough roster to win games, and I think they have an opportunity to shock a couple of teams in the next few months.
Don't be surprised if the Browns keep this one closer than expected.
5: Tampa Bay (+7) @ Carolina
The lure of a touchdown or more! This one comes down to the Panthers being a little hit and miss, while the Bucs continue to be the most bizarrely lopsided team in the game today. Tampa Bay is 1st in passing yards and 31st in passing yards allowed, but it's worth considering that the Panthers are not a pass-first tupe of team. Their strength is rushing (2nd in the NFL) but that is where the Bucs defense is also decent, stopping the Saints, Steelers, Eagles and Falcons from running on them. The fact that they gave up 300+ yards in all of those games is irrelevant...
In all seriousness, the Panthers have had just one 300yd passing day this season, and aren't amazing vs the pass (17th). I think there are some interesting dynamics to this one that make the 7pt spread too difficult to call in favor of the Panthers.
The rest of this week's slate (ranked by chances of an upset)
LA Rams @ New Orleans (-1.5) Tennessee @ Dallas (-6.5) Detroit @ Minnesota (-4.5) Atlanta @ Washington (-1.5) LA Chargers @ Seattle (-1.5) NY Jets @ Miami (-3) Oakland @ San Francisco (-2.5) Chicago (-10) @ Buffalo