Washington Redskins at Atlanta Falcons: 2013 Week 15 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (3-10) at Atlanta Falcons (3-10)

What’s reportedly happening in Washington between Head Coach Mike Shanahan and Owner Dan Snyder is one of the most dysfunctional things that has happened between a head coach and Owner in a long while. Shanahan has benched Robert Griffin and will be shutting him down for the season, leaving the team with Kirk Cousins as the starter and Rex Grossman as the backup going forward. That much is known. What’s also being reported is that the reason Shanahan is doing this is out of spite to owner Dan Snyder in an attempt to get fired.

Snyder wants Shanahan to quit so he wouldn’t have to pay him his $7 million dollar salary for 2014, but Shanahan wants that money (possibly knowing this is the end of his career as an NFL head coach) so he is standing his ground and trying to get himself fired. This is despite the fact that he reportedly thought about quitting last season because his relationship with Snyder had broken down and only didn’t because Griffin got hurt. Ironically, the guys at ESPN floated around the idea of benching Robert Griffin for Kirk Cousins as a legitimate idea a few weeks ago and now Shanahan is doing exactly that out of sabotage. Great job guys.

If it’s true, it’s obviously a very dysfunctional situation, but even if it’s not true, Kirk Cousins is going to start this one here. Cousins is a downgrade over Griffin, who wasn’t having that bad of a season. He wasn’t playing at the level he was at last year because of an ACL injury, an off-season for the league to adjust, and an unsustainable interception rate and rate of fumbles recovered. However, he was still completing 60.1% of his passes for an average of 7.02 yards per attempt, 16 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, with 489 rushing yards on 86 carries. The Redskins offense, moving the chains at a solid 71.73% rate, has been the strength of the team. Their defense is just allowing opponents to move the chains at a 76.60% rate.

Cousins could have a good game though. He’s definitely flashed in limited action in relief of Griffin thus far in his two year career, but overall his numbers have left something to be desired, as he’s completing 61.6% of his passes for 7.89 yards per attempt, 4 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. He hasn’t done enough to prove the league wrong for letting him fall to the 4th round yet. However, Atlanta’s defense is almost as bad as Washington’s, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 75.87% rate, so Cousins could have some success. He’ll also be able to lean on Alfred Morris against the Falcons’ putrid run defense.

Given that, this line seems too high. This line has actually shifted a ridiculous 4.5 points from this week to last week, as the early line had Atlanta favored by 2.5, but now they are favored by 7 points and the public is still all over them. That’s significant as it passed the key numbers of 3, 4, and 6 all the way to the key number of 7. On average, about 25% of games are decided by 3-7 points, so that line movement is much more significant than the public seems to realize. A line will only shift that much if a top level quarterback gets injured. I don’t think that line movement is valid.

Yes, I guess Griffin is “injured,” but I don’t think the downgrade from him to Cousins is significant enough for the line to shift that much. The dysfunction surrounding the franchise is also a factor, but, at the end of the day, the individual players care more about proving themselves on the field for the new coaching staff and maybe for new teams in 2014 than they do about bickering between the owner and the head coach.

I think the main factor for the line movement was Washington’s blowout loss at home to Kansas City last week, as they lost 45-10. However, it wasn’t as bad as that would suggest as the Chiefs scored 2 touchdowns on returns. That’s inconsistent and the Redskins were actually much more competitive in terms of first downs (20 to 13 Kansas City) and yards (346 to 257 Washington), than the final score would suggest.

Actually, the fact that they got blown out last week makes it more likely that they’ll cover the spread this week. Teams are 44-23 ATS off of a loss by 35 or more since 2002. It might seem counterintuitive, but teams tend to be undervalued, overlooked, and embarrassed in that situation and I think all three are definitely going to be true this week.

Starting with undervalued, I already mentioned the huge line movement, but the fact that the Redskins are underdogs of 6 or more here is very relevant. One of the most powerful trends in betting is known as the six and six trend, meaning teams who finish with 6 wins or fewer are 25-69 ATS as favorites of 6 or more since 2002. There are two issues with this trend. One, it’s very rare (it only happened 7 times all last season, going 2-5 ATS). Two, it’s even rarer that a situation will come up in which you can confidently use the trend. The Eagles were 8.5 point favorites in Cleveland last year week 1 (they didn’t cover), but at the time there was no way to know that the Eagles would finish 6-10 or worse.

The Falcons, however, sit at 3-10 and cannot possibly finish better than 6-10. In spite of that, they are still favored by a touchdown. For what it’s worth, the Falcons are the first 3-10 teams favored by more than 6 points as far back as my data goes (1989). On top of that, the Falcons have just three home victories of more than a touchdown over the past two seasons combined and that includes last season when they went 13-3. Of those three wins, only two came by more than a touchdown and they haven’t won all season by more than 8 points.

Now going onto overlooked, it definitely makes sense that the Falcons would overlook a dysfunctional team like the Redskins this week, especially with a trip to San Francisco and a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship game on the schedule next week. The Falcons will almost definitely be underdogs of 10 or more in San Francisco next week and teams tend to be distracted and struggle to cover the spread before being double digit underdogs.

Teams are 36-71 ATS before being double digit underdogs since 2010. Going off of that, teams are 9-26 ATS since 1989 as favorites of 7 or more before being double digit underdogs. Atlanta has proven they’ll get up for big games even in the midst of their disappointing season, almost knocking off New Orleans a few weeks ago. However, they also don’t seem to put up a ton of effort for lesser opponents, getting blown out by Tampa Bay, losing in Green Bay to Matt Flynn, and barely beating the Bills on essentially a neutral field, to go with that New Orleans game in their last 4 game stretch. With the biggest game remaining on their schedule coming up next week, I’d be shocked if they brought their “A game” for Washington this week.

Finally, going onto embarrassed, I think this one is pretty self-explanatory and I think the Redskins’ level of embarrassment right now as professional football players will allow them to play as well as they can, despite what’s going on between Shanahan and Snyder. Their “A game” isn’t very good anymore, but it’s still good enough for them to keep it close with a mediocre at best Atlanta team that almost definitely won’t have their A game. This would be my Pick of the Week if Griffin were playing or if I trusted Cousins more, but there’s too much stuff going on in Washington’s favor this week for me to not make them a high confidence pick at the very least.

Atlanta Falcons 26 Washington Redskins 24

Pick against spread: Washington +7

Confidence: High

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