Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) at Minnesota Vikings (5-2)
As I like to mention every week, the rule of thumb on Thursday Night is to take the home team. Home teams are 68-49 ATS in the history of Thursday Night football. It makes sense. On a short week, all the time to prepare, practice, and rest is incredibly valuable and when you have to travel on a short week, that takes away some of that time and puts you at an obvious disadvantage.
As I often point out, however, this effect is usually nullified when the road team is a favorite. Road favorites generally tend to be more veteran, experienced teams and more veteran, experienced teams also tend to have an advantage in preparation on a short week, for obvious reasons. This effect tends to nullify the effect of having to travel for road favorites. As a result, road favorites are 23-22 ATS in the history of Thursday Night Football. What this does do is give us an even stronger trend with home favorites. Home favorites are 45-26 ATS on Thursday Night.
The one exception to that tends to be divisional home favorites. This also makes some sense. Part of the reason why travelling on a short week hurts you is because it cuts into your time to prepare for the opposing team. Well, if the opposing team is a familiar division foe, this doesn’t have as much of an effect. Divisional home favorites are just 17-16 ATS on Thursdays and divisional road favorites are 8-10 ATS.
This week, we are getting a non-divisional home favorite on Thursday Night, which happens to be the strongest trend of all. You’re the better team. Your opponent has to travel. And your opponent is unfamiliar with you and doesn’t have as much time to prepare for you as you have to prepare for them. Teams in this spot are 28-10 ATS in the history of Thursday Night Football.
However, I’m not as excited to be able to use this trend as I thought it would be. The issue is that Minnesota, while they are home favorites, is also a young team. Both of these teams are young. Given that I believe the advantage favorites have on Thursday Nights stems from them being experienced and veteran and more prepared to deal with a short week, it hurts that Minnesota is a young team. We don’t really know how they’ll react to a short week, even against an equally young opponent.
Minnesota is, in fact, the better team here, so this line of -6.5 is reasonable. Actually, it’s kind of eerie how reasonable it is. I use two methods of determining line value. I use yards per play differential (yards per play minus yards per play allowed) and rate of sustaining drives differential (how often on any given set of downs you achieve a first down or a score minus how often you opponent does so).
I think these two work together well. Yards per play differential overvalues teams that get a lot of big plays, but can’t sustain drives and undervalues methodical offenses (and vice versa for the defense), while the rate of sustaining drives metric overvalues teams that are the exact opposite, methodical, but lack explosion.
Minnesota’s yards per play differential is 0.4, while Tampa Bay’s is -0.2. That translates to a “real” line of -7 (take the difference between the two differentials, divide by .15 and add 3 for homefield). Meanwhile, Minnesota’s rate of sustaining drives differential is 2.8%, while Tampa Bay’s is -2.0%. Take the difference, divide this time by 1.5, and add 3 for homefield, and you get a real line of -6. Average those two and you get -6.5, so there’s not really any line value either way. If there is one way, it’s towards Minnesota slightly, because Tampa Bay is missing arguably their top pass rusher Adrian Clayborn and their top cornerback Aqib Talib, while Minnesota isn’t missing anyone of note.
Two other things work against Tampa Bay. One is how close and down to the wire their game was last week. They didn’t go to overtime with the Saints, but they almost did. Teams are 3-14 ATS on Thursdays after an overtime game. Part of that is being exhausted from playing an extra period and then having to play again in 3 days, but some of that is the mental exhaustion of playing such a close game. The physical exhaustion won’t be as big of an issue this week because it didn’t actually go to overtime, but they could be in a bad spot mentally off such a close loss to a divisional opponent.
The other is just the rate of which underdogs have been covering this year. Dogs are 63-39 ATS on the season. You might think, that’s a reason to take the dog, but eventually that’s going to even out. Dating back over the last decade, dogs or favorites have not finished more than 10 games over .500 over the course of an entire year. It’s smart to ride the correction going forward and take more favorites than dogs, particularly favorites that are not publicly backed because those teams covering would have a double benefit for odds makers. It would allow the dogs/favorites disparity to even out and also they’d make money. In this one, there’s not a significant public lean either way and I think you’d have to be crazy this week to take a public dog (with one possible exception, which I’ll get into later this week).
I tried to pick as many favorites as I could last week. I just didn’t like a lot of them. This week, I do like a lot more, so I’ll pick more favorites this week, starting with this game, even if it isn’t a big play. Last week, favorites were 7-6 ATS, which looks like the start of a correction. It might not look like it totally, but remember, favorites were 12-1 SU. 5 of those covers were backdoor, including two ridiculous ones: Jim Harbaugh’s declining a safety on Thursday Night and the Lions driving for a backdoor cover with 30 seconds left on Monday Night against a 6.5 point spread when they hadn’t scored all night (both went against me on two instances I actually did pick favorites).
I’m afraid to put more than 2 units on Minnesota because they are young, but Minnesota should be the right side. I also, as always, like the under on Thursday Night. Unprepared teams, which teams who play on Thursday Night are, tend to see the negative effects more offensively than defensively. The under is 51-70 on Thursday Night all time. I especially like the under this week because both teams are young.
Public lean: Minnesota (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Tampa Bay covers)
Minnesota Vikings 23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13
Pick against spread: Minnesota -6.5 (-110) 2 units
Total: Under 42.5 (-110) 1 unit