Steven Lourie

Oct 012014
 

Houston Texans (3-1) at Dallas Cowboys (3-1)

The Cowboys have greatly exceeded my expectations. By far the biggest surprise has been the play of their defense. They haven’t been good or anything, but considering the complete lack of talent they came into the season with, a lot of credit needs to be given to new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli for turning this into an at least serviceable unit that allows the offense to do their thing. Rolando McClain has been the biggest surprise as the embattled former 1st round pick seems to have put his career back on the right track and is playing the best football of his career, but players like Sterling Moore and Tyrone Crawford have also exceeded expectations and free agent pickup Henry Melton has been key. I don’t expect the Cowboys to be as good as they’ve looked through 4 games all season, but they’re going to contend for a playoff spot.

However, they’re in a terrible spot here as they have a huge game in Seattle on deck. Teams are 70-99 ATS since 2008 as non-divisional home favorites before being non-divisional road underdogs. Going off of that, teams are 54-88 ATS as favorites before being underdogs of a touchdown or more, which the Cowboys could easily be considering Green Bay and Denver were 7.5 and 5 point underdogs in Seattle this season. Dallas also tends to fall flat as big home favorites. This is the first time they’ve been in this situation this season and they might be playing with less of a chip on their shoulder as a result. They are 12-20 ATS as home favorites of 3 or more since 2009. Finally, I think we’re getting significant line value with the Cowboys. This line should be 4 or 4.5 at most. The Cowboys aren’t 3 points better than a decent Texans team. This line was 3 a week ago. I’m going to fade the overreaction and the line movement and take the points here.

Dallas Cowboys 17 Houston Texans 16

Pick against spread: Houston +6

Confidence: Medium

Sep 302014
 

Minnesota Vikings (2-2) at Green Bay Packers (2-2)

I thought about waiting until we found out Teddy Bridgewater’s status for this one and who the starting quarterback would be for the Vikings, but I have a feeling this line is going to increase closer to game time so I want to lock it in right now at Green Bay -9. If I had to guess, Bridgewater will not play in this one, nursing a sore ankle on a short week, leaving Christian Ponder to be the starter. Once that’s announced, this line could be closer to 10.5-12. Even if Bridgewater plays, it’ll be at less than 100% on a short week after missing valuable practice time going into his 2nd NFL career start on the road. He’s clearly their most talented quarterback, but that might be too much for him right now.

I like the Packers in this one regardless as they’ve been very dominant at home recently. Aaron Rodgers is 21-9-1 ATS at home since 2010 and 27-4 straight up, with an absurd +416 point differential, meaning they outscore opponents, on average, by 13.42 points per game. They also have no distractions on the horizon with a random non-conference game against the Dolphins in Miami up next, while the Vikings will have to deal with the division leading Lions next week in Minnesota. Teams are 47-75 ATS before being 3+ home favorites since 2012 and teams are 57-87 ATS since 2002 as road underdogs before being home underdogs when their opponent will next be road favorites. The Packers should be the right side and I’m not waiting around for this line to go up to 10 or higher.

Green Bay Packers 27 Minnesota Vikings 13

Pick against spread: Green Bay -9

Confidence: Medium

Sep 302014
 

Cincinnati Bengals (3-0) at New England Patriots (2-2)

The Patriots are in three spots this week that have easily been auto-bets for them in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. They are 1.5 point underdogs here at home. They are coming off of a loss. And they are facing an opponent with a better record than them. Tom Brady is 31-15 ATS off of a loss in his career. Brady is also 42-18 ATS as an underdog or a favorite of fewer than 3 points in his career. This is just the 6th time the Patriots have been home underdogs since 2002. So far, they are 3-1 ATS and 3-1 straight up. Finally, he’s 30-10-1 ATS in his career against teams that have better records than his, including 18-6 ATS as an underdog. Possibly even crazier, he’s 29-12 straight up in that situation, a winning percentage of 70.7%. The rest of the league wins at a 38.6% rate.

The Patriots haven’t looked good at all this season. They rank 26th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 66.96% rate, as opposed to 72.00% for their opponents. That rate of moving the chains is 29th in the NFL, meaning only 3 teams are moving the chains at a worse rate than the New England Patriots. Those three teams include two that have benched their starting quarterback (Buffalo and Jacksonville) and one that has fired their head coach (Oakland). Not exactly good company. However, I don’t think they’re nearly as bad as they’ve looked. They still have a ton of talent on paper. They won’t be nearly this bad all season.

It helps them that they return home here. They’ve played just 1 home game out of 4 so far and that was week 3 after starting the season with two road games. They didn’t cover as 14 point favorites against the Raiders that week, but teams that start with two straight road games more often than not don’t cover week 3 at home. The Patriots have still won 10 straight home games and 12 of their last 13, going 9-4 ATS over that time period. Unlike the last time they are at home, they’re in a very good spot this week, and I’m not just referring to the trends I mentioned earlier. They have no distractions on the horizon with a trip to Buffalo on deck. They should be at least 3 point road favorites in that game and teams are 71-47 ATS before being 3+ point road favorites since 2012. On top of that, teams are 66-42 ATS as home underdogs before being road favorites since 2002.

While the Patriots have been having recent success at home, the Bengals have had issues on the road over the past couple of seasons. While they have covered in all 10 home games over the past two seasons, they are 3-5-1 ATS and 4-5 straight up on the road. That included losses in 2013 to non-playoff teams like Cleveland, Miami, Chicago, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh and a close call in Buffalo. They won in Baltimore week 1, but they only moved the chains at a 62.96% rate, as opposed to 75.68% for the Ravens. Ordinarily, I’d be more confident in the Patriots in this spot, but, again, they’ve really struggled this season. That being said, I think this line has moved far enough that we’re actually getting some value with the Patriots right now, so I think they should be the right side.

New England Patriots 23 Cincinnati Bengals 16 Upset Pick +115

Pick against spread: New England +1.5

Confidence: High

Sep 302014
 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) at New Orleans Saints (1-3)

The Saints are 1-3, which has caused some people to hit the panic button for them, much like they did for the Packers last week (how did that work out?). The Saints did not look good in Dallas last week, but you have to look at more than their record. Three of their first four games have been on the road and they came very close to winning two of them. They are a few plays away from being 3-1 with a couple of decent road wins. If the Saints were 3-0 going into Dallas last week, would as big of a deal be made about their loss? I don’t think so. The Saints are still moving the chains at an 81.56% rate and while their defense is allowing opponents to move the chains at a 79.20% rate, I expect what was a solid defense last season to bounce back and they’re still positive in rate of moving the chains differential, coming in at 15th.

I like the Saints’ chances to bounce back this week. Not only is Drew Brees 19-5 ATS off of a loss as long as Sean Payton is on the sideline (including 14-2 ATS at home), the Saints are a much better team at home than they are on the road. The Saints are 32-10 ATS at home since 2008 in the games which Drew Brees and Sean Payton were involved.  On top of that, they are 17-0-1 ATS at home over their last 18 home games with Drew Brees and Sean Payton. They’ve won all 18 of those games by an average of about 20.3 points per game, with just three being decided by 10 points or less and just one being decided by less than 6 points.

They should be able to win by double digits here against a mediocre Buccaneers team that has to be exhausted in their 3rd straight road game. Underdogs are 50-65 ATS in their 3rd or more straight road game since 1989 and it makes sense. Meanwhile, the Saints are going into their bye so they’ll be completely focused here at home for a depleted, mediocre football team. Big home favorites almost always dominate going into the bye, to the tune of 53-17 ATS since 2002 (as home favorites of 6 or more).

New Orleans Saints 34 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13

Pick against spread: New Orleans -10

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Sep 302014
 

Atlanta Falcons (2-2) at New York Giants (2-2)

The Falcons’ road woes are well documented and they reared their head again last week as the Falcons lost to the Vikings and rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota, a week after blowing out the Buccaneers 56-14 on Thursday Night Football. Now they are once again on the road in New York to play the Giants, but I expect a different result. Instead of being in their first road game, they are in their 2nd of two road games, which makes a huge difference.

Teams are 103-67 ATS in that situation since 2008, including 88-46 ATS when it’s their 2nd straight road game and they next play a home game. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 173-179 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.10 points per game, as opposed to 242-349 in their 1st of one road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.22 points per game. As much as the Falcons have had road issues in the Matt Ryan/Mike Smith era, they’ve done well in their 2nd of two road games, going 10-4 in their second straight road game, including 6-2 ATS off of a road loss. Going off of that, Matt Ryan is 23-10 ATS off of a loss in his career. This line is a huge overreaction to things that happened last week as it was a pick ‘em a week ago. We’re getting a lot of value with the Falcons as this line should be 3 points at maximum. The Falcons aren’t worse than the Giants.

As much as the Falcons have issues on the road, the Giants actually have issues at home. In the Tom Coughlin/Eli Manning era, since 2004, the Giants are 51-38 on the road, outscoring opponents by an average of 0.12 points per game, as opposed to 49-37 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 2.94 points per game. The Giants seem to only be marginally better at home. Going off of that, they are 6-15 ATS since 2004 as home favorites of 3.5 or more after winning on the road.

The Giants are also in a bad spot because they have to go to Philadelphia next week, while the Falcons head home and take on the Bears, a much easier and less meaningful game for them. They’re significantly less likely to be distracted for that reason. Since 2008, non-divisional road underdogs are 106-70 ATS before being non-divisional home favorites, while teams are 84-103 ATS as non-divisional home favorites before being divisional road underdogs since 2002. Combining the two, teams are 93-55 ATS since 2010 as underdogs before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs, including 93-56 ATS since 2008 as road underdogs before being home favorites when their opponent will next be road underdogs. This is a trap spot for the Giants and I like the underdog a good amount as long as this line is past the magic number of 4.

Atlanta Falcons 24 New York Giants 20 Upset Pick +185

Pick against spread: Atlanta +4.5

Confidence: High

Sep 272014
 

New England Patriots (2-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-2)

This is another game where there’s been significant line movement as the Patriots were 6.5 point favorites last week in this game and now they’re 3.5 point favorites, after the Patriots barely beat the Raiders in New England and the Chiefs won big time as underdogs in Miami. There are reasonable explanations for both as the Patriots were coming off of two straight road games (a tough spot for a team week 3) and the Chiefs were in their 2nd straight road game (usually a spot where teams cover). Some line movement was warranted, but 3 points seems a little much.

That being said, I’m hesitant to bet on the Patriots as big favorites. Tom Brady has been showing his age much more over the past two seasons than he was pre-2013. Things will get easier for him once Gronk returns to form, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll do so this week. On top of that, Brady’s arm strength seems close to gone and his mechanics have been slower. Declines can get guys fast and, now 37, I’m concerned that’s happening with Brady. Not helping matters is how poorly his offensive line has been playing. It’s why I didn’t take the Patriots as double touchdown favorites last week. I’m taking the Patriots this week, banking on their defense allowing them to bounce back and not have back-to-back disappointing performances and fading the line movement and the public underdog on principle, but I’m not confident.

New England Patriots 20 Kansas City Chiefs 13

Pick against spread: New England -3.5

Confidence: None

Sep 272014
 

Detroit Lions (2-1) at New York Jets (1-2)

This line seems too low. On paper, the Lions should be at least field goal favorites here and win by at least a field goal even on the road against the Jets. Even after beating the Packers, I still think the Lions are underrated. The Lions were one of the best teams in the league last season regardless of what their record said, as they finished 6th in rate of moving the chains differential at 5.42% and this season they are once again right around there, ranking 5th at 5.98%. However, despite that, people are still chalking up last week’s win to Green Bay not being as good as we think. The Packers, regardless of how they’ve looked through 3 games this season, have an incredibly talented offense and the Lions held them to 65.22% moving the chains. They should do something similar to a significantly less talented Jets’ offense. Both the Packers and the Lions are underrated and both should win this week on the road.

The key word is should. There are a few reasons why I’m not that confident in the Lions here, even in essentially a pick em game. One, they’ve lost stud middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch for the season with a torn ACL, which I think hurts their chances of finishing 12-4 and in first place in the NFC North, as I predicted at the start of the season. Two, it’s possible they won’t be 100% after such a big win last week and might overlook a non-conference opponent like the Jets, unlike the Packers, who are coming off of a loss and are facing a divisional opponent. Three, I’m somewhat concerned that Calvin Johnson is dealing with an injury. If he’s less than 100%, it could easily have a noticeable effect on this offense. Four, the Lions are heavily bet by the public and this seems too good to be true. This is too much of a square bet for me to feel comfortable. They should be the right side though.

Detroit Lions 20 New York Jets 13

Pick against spread: Detroit -1.5

Confidence: Low

Sep 272014
 

Miami Dolphins (1-2) at Oakland Raiders (0-3) in London

The Dolphins should cover this spread fairly easily as mere 3.5 point favorites in a neutral site game against the pathetic Raiders. This line was at 7 last week before the Dolphins got blown out at home by the Chiefs. Obviously the line should have moved a little bit as a result, but the Chiefs were in a good spot as road underdogs after a road loss and the Dolphins’ biggest issue last week was their game plan as they aired it out 43 times to 20 runs, even though they averaged 7.1 yards per carry on the ground and 4.8 yards per attempt in the air. They should commit themselves to the run this week and run all over a hapless Raider team, who they are significantly more than 3.5 points better than.

The key word is should though and I’m not that confident here. I want to fade the massive line movement, but I don’t have a ton of trust in Joe Philbin and the Dolphins in terms of their ability to develop a game plan. I also never know what to do with these stupid London games, as it’s tough to know if both teams will give it 100%. You’d think the Raiders would give less than 100% as a 0-3 team who has to give away a home game for this game, coming off of a close loss to the Patriots in New England, but there are no guarantees.

Miami Dolphins 24 Oakland Raiders 13

Pick against spread: Miami -3.5

Confidence: Low

Sep 272014
 

Atlanta Falcons (2-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-2)

Atlanta dominated last week at home against the Buccaneers, winning 56-14, moving the chains at an 82.05% rate, as opposed to 47.83% for the Buccaneers. However, now they go on the road to Minnesota and they haven’t had nearly as much success on the road in the Matt Ryan era. Since Matt Ryan and Mike Smith came in 2008, they are 39-14 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 5.91 points per game, as opposed to 24-27 on the road, getting outscored by an average of 0.53 points per game. They were blown out in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago. Minnesota isn’t as good as Cincinnati, but they don’t need to blow them out to cover this spread as 3 point underdogs.

The Falcons also will have had 10 days of basking in their own glory after last week’s blowout victory over the Buccaneers. Road favorites are 9-18 ATS after a Thursday Night win of 10 or more since 1989. This line has shifted 4.5 points since last week, from 1.5 points in favor of Minnesota to 3 points in favor of Atlanta. Obviously, some line movement would make sense after that type of blowout win, but this seems excessive. This suggests that the Falcons would be about 9 point favorites in Atlanta, even before you take into account the home and away disparity for the Falcons. Considering the Buccaneers were 6.5 point underdogs in Atlanta last week, that seems excessive. And yet, the public is obviously still all over Atlanta. It’s not a high confidence pick, but I’m going to fade the public and take Teddy Bridgewater in his NFL debut.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Atlanta Falcons 23 Upset Pick +135

Pick against spread: Minnesota +3

Confidence: Low

Sep 262014
 

Buffalo Bills (2-1) at Houston Texans (2-1)

Both of these teams started a surprising 2-0 after finishing with a top-10 pick last season and then fell flat in their 3rd game of the season last week to fall to 2-1. However, one team is significantly better than the other. While the Bills are moving the chains at a 64.10% rate, 31st in the NFL, while allowing opponents to move the chains at a 73.33% rate, 16th in the NFL, the Texans are 21st (72.94%) and 20th (75.54%) respectively. That means that, while the Texans aren’t that impressive with a rate of moving the chains differential of -2.57% (22nd in the NFL), they’re better than the Bills who are -9.23% (31st).

That being said, it’s not a high confidence pick on the Texans, even as they are mere 3 point home favorites. The Texans aren’t in a good spot as they have to travel to Dallas next week, where they will likely be underdogs. Teams are 68-99 ATS since 2008 as non-divisional home favorites before being non-divisional road underdogs. The Bills have to go to Detroit next week, so they have some upcoming distractions, but the Texans are still in the worse spot. The Texans are the pick, but I’m not that confident.

Houston Texans 17 Buffalo Bills 9

Pick against spread: Houston -3

Confidence: Low

Sep 252014
 

New Orleans Saints (1-2) at Dallas Cowboys (2-1)

This is a tough one. On one hand, the Saints’ road struggles are well documented and they’ve been especially bad over the past two seasons. Just this season, they’ve already lost in Atlanta and Cleveland as road favorites. The Saints are 3-9 ATS on the road since the start of last season, as opposed to 8-0-1 ATS at home and I’ve had a good deal of success picking their games almost solely taking them at home and going against them on the road against the spread.

However, it seems like this line is already compensating for that, maybe overcompensating, as the Saints are mere 3 point favorites in Dallas. The Saints are a lot better than their record suggests as they could easily be 3-0. They have a positive point differential and they rank 4th in rate of moving the chains differential on the strength of a dominant home offensive performance last week in which they scored 3 touchdowns on 7 drives (excluding a 14 play, 70 yard drive to end the game) and picked up 27 first downs in the process. The Saints are moving the chains at an 83.76% rate on the season, as opposed to 76.92% for their opponents, a differential of 6.86% that ranks 4th in the NFL and is comparable to their 8.12% differential from last season, which ranked 2nd. That’s despite playing 2 of 3 games on the road.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, are 2-1, but they’ve played 3 teams (San Francisco, Tennessee, St. Louis) that are a combined 3-6 and they could have easily lost last week in St. Louis. Their offense looks good, moving the chains at a 78.00% rate, but their opponents are moving the chains at a 76.47% rate. I know that’s actually better than the Saints defense, but it’s only three games in and the Saints are far more talented on that side of the ball so I don’t expect that to be that way at the end of the season and the Cowboys’ offense isn’t close to the Saints’ offense.

The Saints are also in a good spot before a home game against Tampa Bay. Teams are 97-74 ATS since 2008 before being double digit home favorites, which they very well good be next week. At the end of the day, I picked the Saints to win the Super Bowl and the Cowboys to finish 4-12 at the beginning of the season. Those might both end up being wrong, but I don’t see the Saints starting 1-3, while the Cowboys start 3-1 so as long as this line is at 3, I’m comfortable taking New Orleans, even on the road.

New Orleans Saints 34 Dallas Cowboys 27

Pick against spread: New Orleans -3

Confidence: Low

Sep 242014
 

Carolina Panthers (2-1) at Baltimore Ravens (2-1)

Baltimore is usually an auto-bet at home as long as they aren’t big favorites. The Ravens are 42-10 at home since 2008, Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh’s first season with the team. As a result, they are 20-11 ATS as home favorites of less than 7 or home underdog. To make thing worse, the Panthers are missing a lot. After losing essentially their entire secondary and receiving corps in the off-season, as well as their top two offensive linemen, the Panthers have now lost Greg Hardy, arguably their top defensive player, to a team imposed suspension and they may be down to their 4th string running back. Hardy’s absence wasn’t noticeable in a home win over the Lions, but it certainly was when the Steelers moved the ball up and down the field with ease in a 37-19 win.

However, the Panthers are in a better spot here as Baltimore has to go to Indianapolis next week while the Panthers have a home game against the Bears. Teams are 106-69 ATS as non-divisional road underdogs before being non-divisional home favorites since 2008, while non-divisional home favorites are 68-99 ATS before being non-divisional road underdogs since 2008. Combining those, teams are 89-54 ATS as underdogs before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs since 2010, including 90-55 ATS as road underdogs before being home favorites when their opponents will next be road underdogs since 2008 and 54-37 since 2002 when all three games are non-divisional. It’s essentially the reverse of last week for Carolina, when they were going to Baltimore and Pittsburgh had Tampa Bay next, part of the reason why the Panthers looked so bad last week. It’s not enough for me to take the Panthers, but I’m not confident in the Ravens at all.

Baltimore Ravens 17 Carolina Panthers 13

Pick against spread: Baltimore -3

Confidence: None

Sep 232014
 

New York Giants (1-2) at Washington Redskins (1-2)

The Redskins actually lead the league in rate of moving the chains differential by a wide margin at 14.08%, but most of that game in that domination against the terrible Jaguars in which they had a rate of moving the chains differential of 39.09%, best by any team in a single game this season. They were solid against the Texans and the Eagles, posting rate of moving the chains differentials of 4.41% and 3.73% respectively in those 2 games, but they’re not quite as good as that 14.08% number suggests.

They might also not be completely focused for this game because they have a game against the Seahawks up next. Teams are 21-37 ATS as divisional home favorites before being non-divisional hoe underdogs since 1989. The Giants, meanwhile, have the Falcons in New York up next, which isn’t nearly as big of a distraction. The Giants are also 20-12 ATS as divisional underdogs since 2004 (the start of the Eli Manning/Tom Coughlin era), including 15-7 ATS as road divisional underdogs. As long as this line is above 3, I’m grabbing the points.

Washington Redskins 24 New York Giants 23

Pick against spread: NY Giants +3.5

Confidence: Low

Sep 232014
 

Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-2)

Ordinarily, I’d be all over the 49ers here considering how good they’ve been as big favorites and how good they’ve been off of a loss in the Jim Harbaugh era. Since 2011, the 49ers are 7-4-1 ATS off of a loss and 9-3 straight up, outscoring opponents by an average of 10.83 points per game. They’re also 24-14 ATS as 3+ point favorites over that time period. However, the 49ers fell flat as big favorites two weeks ago at home over the Bears and last week they fell flat in Arizona as big favorites off of a loss.

The 49ers are just missing so much that they’re a shell of their former selves. Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Tramaine Brock and Glenn Dorsey are out on the defensive side of the ball and, as a result, this once dominant defense is allowing opponents to move the chains at an 81.91% rate, easily worst in the NFL. The offense has been good despite missing right tackle Anthony Davis, as they’ve moved the chains at a 78.31% rate, 4th in the NFL, but they’re still not playing well as a team, ranking 24th in differential. I’m not sure if I want to bet them heavily in this situation as I normally would as a result. The Eagles are also in a good spot as non-divisional road underdogs before being non-divisional home favorites as teams are 66-48 ATS in that spot since 2010.

I’m still taking the 49ers here and predicting them to bounce back for the 2nd straight week and cover for the 3rd straight week because of those aforementioned team specific trends. The Eagles are missing significant guys too with right tackle Lane Johnson and left guard Evan Mathis out with suspension and injury respectively and now center Jason Kelce also going down. It’s also telling that the Eagles are 5.5 point underdogs here (up from 4.5 point underdogs to start the week) even with the public all over the Eagles. This seems like a trap bet as the Eagles aren’t quite as good as their record. They’re the first 3-0 team in NFL history to overcome a double digit deficit in each of their first 3 games and their rate of moving the chains differential is just 16th at 0.68% (73.83% for their offense, 73.15% for their opponents). I’m going to go the other way of the trap bet and take the 49ers, but I’m not that confident.

San Francisco 49ers 27 Philadelphia Eagles 20

Pick against spread: San Francisco -5

Confidence: Low

Sep 232014
 

Tennessee Titans (1-2) at Indianapolis Colts (1-2)

The Titans were 7 point underdogs in Cincinnati last week and got blown out by the score of 33-7. Now they’re 7.5 point underdogs in Indianapolis. I think this week will go a little differently for several reasons. For one, the Colts aren’t as good as the Bengals, especially at home, where the Bengals have now covered 11 straight regular season games. The Bengals were significantly better last season, with a rate of moving the chains differential of 7.81%, as opposed to 0.70% for Indianapolis, and they’re still better this season, with a differential of 3.39% for Cincinnati as opposed to 3.14% for Indianapolis. The Colts only have 9 wins by more than a touchdown since the start of the Andrew Luck era in 2012. Their other 15 wins have come by a touchdown or less. They’ve beaten the Titans four times, but none of those wins have come by more than 8 points.

The Titans are also in a better spot this week. Last week, they were facing a Bengal team going into a bye last week and big home favorites cover about 75% of the time going into a bye. This week, they’re in a good spot, with an easier, less important game against the Browns up next. Teams are 47-33 ATS as divisional road favorites before being non-divisional home favorites since 2008. They’re going to be very focused for this one.

The Titans are also road underdogs after a road loss. Teams are 103-67 ATS in that situation since 2008, including 88-45 ATS when it’s their 2nd straight road game and they next play a home game. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 172-178 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.10 points per game, as opposed to 239-344 in their 1st of one road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.20 points per game.  I like the Titans’ chances to keep bounce back and keep this one close.

Indianapolis Colts 27 Tennessee Titans 24

Pick against spread: Tennessee +7.5

Confidence: Medium

Sep 232014
 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)

The Buccaneers were blown out in Atlanta last week 56-14. A similar thing should happen this week in Pittsburgh right? Not necessarily. Teams are 45-24 ATS since 2002 coming off of 35+ point losses. Teams tend to be undervalued, overlooked, and embarrassed in that situation and the Buccaneers should be all three this week as a result of last week. It’s also really hard to get blown out in back-to-back weeks. The Buccaneers aren’t as bad as they looked last week. They’re not good, but they don’t deserve to be 7.5 point underdogs here in Pittsburgh so I’m going to fade the public and the overreaction and go with the Buccaneers and the aforementioned trend.

The Buccaneers will have had 10 days to get right before this game, which should help them a lot. Michael Johnson and Gerald McCoy, two of their best defensive players, return to a defensive line that needs them badly. Running back Doug Martin is also expected to return. Meanwhile, on the Steelers’ side, they lost 3 defensive starters Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier, and Ike Taylor last week in the victory over Carolina, which will hurt them this week.

Mike Glennon is also expected to start in the absence of the injured Josh McCown and that could be an upgrade. Glennon looked decent last season, completing 59.4% of his passes for an average of 6.27 YPA, 19 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions, while Josh McCown has been a career journeyman backup for most of his career and has generally proved that this season, completing 63.2% of his passes for an average of 6.18 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. Glennon looked decent in relief of McCown last week, completing 17 of 24 for 121 yards and a touchdown and should be better now with a week and a half of practice with the first team.

There are some trends that go against the Buccaneers, who go to New Orleans next week. They’re likely to be double digit underdogs next week and teams are 39-81 ATS since 2010 before being double digit underdogs. Meanwhile, the Steelers have a much easier game next week against the Jaguars. Teams are 70-46 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ point road favorites. I still like the Buccaneers’ bounce back chances though.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Pick against spread: Tampa Bay +7.5

Confidence: Medium

Sep 232014
 

Green Bay Packers (1-2) at Chicago Bears (2-1)

The Packers fell flat in Detroit last week in a 19-7 loss, but things should be different this week in Chicago for a number of reasons. One, Detroit is a significantly better team than Chicago, an opinion I’ve held since the pre-season. The Bears have exceeded my expectations a little (their win in San Francisco was the most impressive), but there’s no reason for me to change my opinion on Chicago and Detroit. This will be an easier game for the Packers, who are undervalued because people haven’t really caught on to how good the Lions are. There’s no reason the Packers should be underdogs here, even if it’s only as underdogs of one point.

Speaking of the Packers being underdogs, that fact leads into the 2nd reason that this week should go differently for the Packers. They’re in a much better spot this week as they are divisional road underdogs before being divisional home favorites (against Minnesota next week), while the Bears are going to Carolina next week. Teams are 58-41 ATS as divisional road underdogs before being divisional home favorites since 2002. On top of that, teams are 93-54 ATS as underdogs before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs since 2010, including 93-55 ATS as road underdogs before being home favorites when their opponents will next be road underdogs since 2008.

The Packers are also road underdogs after a road loss. Teams are 103-67 ATS in that situation since 2008, including 88-45 ATS when it’s their 2nd straight road game and they next play a home game. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 172-178 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.10 points per game, as opposed to 239-344 in their 1st of one road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.20 points per game.

Even if this line switches to Green Bay favored by a point or two before game time, nullifying all of those trends, I still like the Packers. They’re still in their 2nd straight road game either way and they’re still undervalued and should be able to win by a field goal or more. Other trends help them out, as Rodgers is 18-10 ATS off of a loss in his career. Rodgers is also 10-2 ATS and straight up against the Bears in his career since 2008. This is my Pick of the Week.

Green Bay Packers 27 Chicago Bears 20 Upset Pick +100

Pick against spread: Green Bay +1

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Sep 232014
 

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3) at San Diego Chargers (2-1)

The Jaguars are one of three remaining 0-3 teams. They have the worst point differential in the NFL at -75. The second worst is Tampa Bay at -50 and the majority of that (-42) came last week. The third worst is St. Louis at -29. The Jaguars are also dead last in rate of moving the chains differential at -20.08% and no one else is worse than -9.23% (Buffalo). They’ve been outscored 119-27 over the past 10 quarters after jumping out to a 17-0 lead in Philadelphia week 1. They’re easily the worst team in the NFL.

So why do I like them this week? Well, for one thing, this line is way too high at 13.5. People have caught on to the fact that Jacksonville is terrible and the line seems to be overcompensating for that. The Chargers are a solid team, but they don’t deserve to be favorites of this many points against anyway. This line should be closer to 10. Teams are 40-21 ATS since 2002 after back-to-back losses of 21 or more. Teams tend to be undervalued, overlooked, and embarrassed in that situation and the Jaguars should be all three this week.

The Jaguars looked decent in the 2nd half against Indianapolis last week after 3rd overall pick Blake Bortles took over at halftime. They actually outscored the Colts 17-14 in the 2nd half. Obviously, they were playing against a Colts team that didn’t really care anymore after jumping out to a 30-0 point lead in the first half and the Jaguars’ problems are way deeper than just the quarterback situation. Bortles is a rookie quarterback and not their savior. However, he looked a lot better than Chad Henne, completing 14 of 24 for 223 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. With him under center, I don’t feel uncomfortable picking the Jaguars here as 13.5 point underdogs in a good spot.

This would be a bigger play, but there are two things holding me back. One is that the Jaguars are just so bad. I expect them to give 110% out of embarrassment and for the Chargers to overlook them, but they could still get blown out considering they have 14 double digit losses in their last 20 games. Two, the Jaguars will probably be 3+ point home underdogs next week against Pittsburgh. Teams are 36-77 ATS before being 5+ point home underdogs since 2010 because apparently bad teams don’t usually cover the spread. The Chargers are my survivor pick this week, but I like the Jaguars against the spread.

San Diego Chargers 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 17 Survivor Pick

Pick against spread: Jacksonville +13.5

Confidence: Medium

Sep 232014
 

What is this? This is rate of moving the chains, which is my primary statistic for handicapping games. It holds the assumption that the goal of any team on any given 1st and 10 (or 1st and goal) is to move the chains (or score). In order to figure out how often teams meet that goal, I take first downs plus touchdowns and divide it by first downs plus touchdowns plus failures to move the chains (successes divided by attempts). Failures to move the chains include punts, turnovers, failed 4th downs, and field goal attempts (being forced to kick a field goal is a failure). I have this sorted by percent for (to evaluate offenses), percent against (to evaluate defenses), and differentials (to evaluate teams).

Offense

First Downs Touchdowns Field Goals Punts Turnovers Failed 4ths Safeties
1 NO 83 10 3 11 4 0 0 83.78%
2 WAS 79 10 5 12 3 3 0 79.46%
3 IND 76 10 6 10 4 3 0 78.90%
4 SF 58 7 4 9 4 1 0 78.31%
5 DAL 71 7 7 8 7 0 0 78.00%
6 BAL 74 6 9 9 3 2 0 77.67%
7 ARZ 67 5 9 9 3 0 0 77.42%
8 DEN 63 9 3 16 2 0 0 77.42%
9 SEA 65 10 5 12 3 1 1 77.32%
10 ATL 73 11 5 11 8 1 0 77.06%
11 CHI 65 8 4 14 4 0 0 76.84%
12 CLE 65 8 6 16 0 0 0 76.84%
13 KC 66 8 4 12 5 2 0 76.29%
14 SD 62 7 6 15 1 1 0 75.00%
15 DET 62 6 7 9 6 1 0 74.73%
16 PIT 65 6 8 13 4 0 0 73.96%
17 PHI 70 9 9 14 5 0 0 73.83%
18 NYG 66 7 3 13 7 3 0 73.74%
19 CIN 62 8 11 12 1 1 0 73.68%
20 STL 61 4 8 9 6 1 0 73.03%
21 HOU 56 6 6 12 4 1 0 72.94%
22 GB 58 6 4 13 3 2 2 72.73%
23 CAR 59 6 8 16 2 0 0 71.43%
24 NYJ 60 6 7 13 6 2 0 70.21%
25 MIA 66 5 8 14 5 5 0 68.93%
26 TEN 59 4 7 15 4 2 1 68.48%
27 NE 57 5 8 15 2 4 0 68.13%
28 TB 45 5 2 13 9 0 0 67.57%
29 MIN 48 4 6 14 4 1 0 67.53%
30 OAK 47 4 3 17 5 0 0 67.11%
31 BUF 46 4 10 14 1 2 1 64.10%
32 JAX 44 5 5 21 5 2 0 59.76%

 

Defense

First Downs Touchdowns Field Goals Punts Turnovers Failed 4ths Safeties
1 WAS 46 5 5 18 3 1 0 65.38%
2 NE 56 4 8 12 8 1 0 67.42%
3 CHI 55 5 9 9 8 2 0 68.18%
4 DET 50 5 3 16 3 2 1 68.75%
5 BAL 52 4 10 12 3 0 0 69.14%
6 MIA 56 8 8 14 4 2 0 69.57%
7 CIN 67 4 5 14 7 3 1 70.30%
8 NYJ 53 7 5 18 2 0 0 70.59%
9 KC 61 6 8 16 0 2 0 72.04%
10 SD 54 6 3 13 3 3 1 72.29%
11 MIN 58 5 6 15 2 1 0 72.41%
12 ATL 61 8 6 13 7 0 0 72.63%
13 TEN 66 7 7 13 5 2 0 73.00%
14 CAR 62 6 5 13 6 1 0 73.12%
15 PHI 70 9 8 15 4 2 0 73.15%
16 BUF 72 5 5 15 5 3 0 73.33%
17 OAK 61 6 9 12 2 1 0 73.63%
18 ARZ 60 6 2 14 5 2 0 74.16%
19 SEA 65 7 5 15 3 1 1 74.23%
20 HOU 68 6 3 12 7 2 0 75.51%
21 NYG 61 7 8 10 3 1 0 75.56%
22 CLE 73 8 7 14 4 1 0 75.70%
23 IND 66 9 6 14 4 0 0 75.76%
24 TB 65 9 8 10 5 0 0 76.29%
25 DAL 58 7 3 10 5 2 0 76.47%
26 PIT 68 7 8 13 2 0 0 76.53%
27 NO 64 6 8 12 1 0 0 76.92%
28 DEN 78 8 6 12 3 3 1 77.48%
29 GB 65 8 5 9 5 1 0 78.49%
30 STL 55 8 6 8 3 0 0 78.75%
31 JAX 83 12 7 12 3 2 0 79.83%
32 SF 69 8 4 8 5 0 0 81.91%

 

Overall

1 WAS 14.08%
2 CHI 8.66%
3 BAL 8.53%
4 NO 6.86%
5 DET 5.98%
6 ATL 4.43%
7 KC 4.25%
8 CIN 3.39%
9 ARZ 3.26%
10 IND 3.14%
11 SEA 3.09%
12 SD 2.71%
13 DAL 1.53%
14 CLE 1.14%
15 NE 0.72%
16 PHI 0.68%
17 DEN -0.06%
18 NYJ -0.38%
19 MIA -0.63%
20 CAR -1.69%
21 NYG -1.82%
22 HOU -2.57%
23 PIT -2.57%
24 SF -3.60%
25 TEN -4.52%
26 MIN -4.88%
27 STL -5.72%
28 GB -5.77%
29 OAK -6.52%
30 TB -8.72%
31 BUF -9.23%
32 JAX -20.08%
Sep 232014
 

Against the Spread: 11-5

Straight Up: 10-6

Pick of the Week: 1-0

High Confidence: 1-0

Medium Confidence: 4-1

Low Confidence: 2-2

No Confidence: 3-2

Upset Picks: 1-1

Against the Spread: 31-17

Straight Up: 27-21

Pick of the Week: 2-1

High Confidence: 1-3

Medium Confidence: 13-2

Low Confidence: 6-5

No Confidence: 9-6

Upset Picks: 3-4

Survivor Picks: 3-0 (PHI, GB, NO)

Sep 202014
 

Houston Texans (2-0) at New York Giants (0-2)

The Texans are one of three 2-0 teams that I think are fraudulent, along with the Bills and the Cardinals. The Bills are 30th in rate of moving the chains differential. The Cardinals barely beat the Chargers and then won here against the Giants. The Texans, meanwhile, have played the Redskins and the Raiders, which isn’t that impressive of a schedule. However, there’s a good chance they can continue that into week 3 and improve to 3-0 here against the Giants. I’m not that confident, but I like their chances of winning by a field goal or more.

Houston Texans 13 New York Giants 9

Pick against spread: Houston -1

Confidence: None

Sep 202014
 

Baltimore Ravens (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1)

The Ravens are generally not as good on the road as at home, going 42-10 at home since the start of the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era, outscoring opponents by an average of 9.96 points per game, as opposed to 30-29 on the road, outscoring opponents by an average of just 0.97 points per game. However, they’re 6-3 ATS as divisional road favorites, including 4-1 ATS against the Browns as divisional road favorites. They’re also in a good spot because this is their first road game. Teams are 39-24 ATS since 1989 when playing their first road game in week 3.  I’m not confident in the Ravens, but they are the pick.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against spread: Baltimore -1.5

Confidence: None

Sep 202014
 

Chicago Bears (1-1) at New York Jets (1-1)

The Jets are 2.5 point favorites here, but the public is still all over the Bears, suggesting that most people think the Bears are going to pull the upset. Usually when the majority of people think there will be an upset, it doesn’t happen. There’s a reason why the Jets are favorites here. I don’t think they’re a very good team, but the Bears aren’t much better. The Jets went 8-8 last season, but that was not indicative of how bad of a team they were. They went 5-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less and had a points differential of -97 (7th worst in the NFL) and 5.4 Pythagorean wins. They finished the season 25th in rate of moving the chains differential and 24th in DVOA. They were essentially a 5-11 team that managed to win 8 games.

The Bears also won 8 games last season and were also one of my picks to regress.  The Bears had a great offense last season, but they also had a defense that was worse than their offense was good. This season, I expected their offense to be worse without their defense being much better. The Bears moved the chains at a 75.68% rate last season, 4th in the NFL, but they were only in the mid 73s in games that Jay Cutler started as a lot of their offensive dominance game in games started by Josh McCown. I still think they’ll be a good offense, but they’ll finish somewhere in the 8-12 range rather than 4th.

I don’t expect this team to move the chains at a 75.68% rate again or even close within 2% points of that, even if Jay Cutler plays all 16 games. And if he doesn’t, they’re going to be in a lot of trouble because McCown is gone, now starting in Tampa Bay. On top of that, they should have more injuries on offense than last season as the games Cutler missed, which actually made them better, were their only real games lost to injuries offensively. They have minimal depth and now starting offensive linemen Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson are going to miss time with injury. Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, meanwhile, are significantly less than 100%. I think this line should be at 3, suggesting these two teams are even, so we’re getting a small amount of line value by fading the public. I’m not confident though.

New York Jets 19 Chicago Bears 16

Pick against spread: NY Jets -2.5

Confidence: None

Sep 202014
 

Kansas City Chiefs (0-2) at Miami Dolphins (1-1)

One of my favorites trends involves road underdogs off of a road loss. Teams are 101-67 ATS in that situation since 2008, including 86-45 ATS when it’s their 2nd straight road game and they next play a home game. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 168-177 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.20 points per game, as opposed to 236-339 in their 1st of one road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.26 points per game.

People are really down on the Chiefs because they’re 0-2 and lost last week in Denver, but they put up a decent fight. 0-2 teams the year after making the playoffs tend to cover the spread. I like their chances this week in Miami as 4 point underdogs. The only reason the Chiefs aren’t a bigger play is because they have to play the Patriots in Kansas City next week and the Dolphins only have to deal with the Raiders in London next week. Teams are 43-71 ATS before being 3+ point home underdogs since 2012. I still like the Chiefs, but not a ton.

Miami Dolphins 20 Kansas City Chiefs 19

Pick against spread: Kansas City +4

Confidence: Low

Sep 202014
 

St. Louis Rams (1-1) at Dallas Cowboys (1-1)

This game is relatively meaningless for the Cowboys as compared to next week’s game against the Saints in Dallas. Teams are 74-117 ATS as road favorites before being home underdogs since 1989, including 20-39 ATS when both games are non-divisional. They could easily overlook the Rams. They can’t really afford to do that. The Cowboys get Orlando Scandrick back from suspension this week, but this is still one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

They were the worst defense in the NFL last season and then they lost Sean Lee, DeMarcus Ware, and Jason Hatcher, while only gaining Henry Melton, who still doesn’t look 100% coming off of an ACL tear. Austin Davis looked reasonable in Tampa Bay last week in his first career start, completing 22 of 29 for 235 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions. These two teams are more even this line (1.5 points in favor of Dallas) suggests and the Cowboys are in a bad spot. I like the Rams’ chances of winning this game.

St. Louis Rams 24 Dallas Cowboys 20 Upset Pick +100

Pick against spread: St. Louis +1.5

Confidence: Low