Picking Winners, Thinking Outside the Box

Tony is a former retail manager turned full-time sports investor. This is a new column at 4for4 designed to help those of you in weekly pickem and survivor pools gain an edge on the competition. Tony is glad to field questions on Twitter or through email.


What Have We Learned?

Passing yards and overall scoring are way up. Five quarterbacks are on pace to throw for over 5,500 yards with Tom Brady on pace for 7520. (The record is 5084 in a single season, set by Dan Marino in 1984.) The last two weeks have set records as the top two weeks in NFL history for total passing yards. Total points per game is 46.9, up 7.9 from last year.

Most sharp NFL pickers play the under in the early weeks of the season. Normally early in the season defenses are ahead of offenses. If you did that this year you would most likely be losing. Totals have been flying over the closing number at a 23-8-1 clip.

The cause? One reason is probably rule changes on violent hits. Receivers simply aren’t scared going across the middle.

Another reason is the amount of near-elite to elite quarterback we currently have in the NFL, as well as more pass-catching tight ends. Has the NFL ever had a top-of-the-tier crop of quarterbacks like we currently have? The days of great game managers being enough to get a team to the Super Bowl are gone. You need a quarterback that will stand up in the pocket and take chances through the air to win in this league.

The biggest reason, however, is the lack of training camp time for defenses to get their nickel and dime packages clicking. If you've watched a lot of games over the last two weekends you have seen many receivers wide open on long touchdown catches due to blown coverage. Scoring and passing yards should come back down to earth over the next few weeks as defenses have time to fix these problems.


Surprising Early-Season Stats

The Houston Texans defense is number 1 in total yards allowed per game. The Carolina Panthers offense is number 2 in total yards per game. The Detroit Lions lead the league in average margin of victory at 26.0 points, while the Kansas City Chiefs are being outscored by an average of 39.5 points.

For people that play in pick-the-winner pools, home teams are 21-11 straight up, home favorites 23-9 straight up, and home dogs 4-6 straight up.

A couple of against the spread (ATS) numbers: favorites are 16-15-1 overall after 2 weeks, and home dogs are 5-4-1 ATS. So people that tell you that you won’t lose if you just play dogs or home dogs in the NFL are wrong.

There are six home underdogs this week in the NFL. I can’t remember the last time we had that many. Detroit is a road favorite and Indy is a home underdog. I wonder if that has ever happened before?


Picking Unpopular Winners

For pickem, against the spread type pools (Office Football Pool, Pick 5 formats, etc.), a key to winning is often-times finding the unpopular public plays and going against the grain. Here are some unpopular plays I like this week that may help you win your pool.


Cincinnati -2.5: This is more a play against San Francisco than a play on Cincinnati. San Francisco is playing their first road game of the season. They are also traveling from the western time zone to the eastern time zone. Over the years, fading teams in this situation has been a winning proposition.

Buffalo +9: I think New England is the most overrated team in the NFL. They can’t run the ball and have zero pass rush. Brady slinging passes all over the field works for the first 2 months, but when we get to the colder months their two major flaws are exposed. The Buffalo defense is very familiar with New England and has given them problems before. If you pick New England, you are paying a premium. This line should be around six. I will gladly take Buffalo and the extra points.

Seattle +3: Seattle is playing their first home game of the year in the toughest environment for road teams in the NFL. I simply refuse to back Arizona as a road favorite until they prove they can consistently win road games. I will take the three points, but I also think Seattle wins this game outright.

Tampa Bay -1: Atlanta should be 0-2 but got lucky Sunday night when Vick went down. The Bucs have been physically dominated in their first two games, but finally got things going in the second half last week. I think they can build on that. I also like picking against dome teams playing outdoors. It will be hot in Tampa on Sunday and this will help Tampa Bay get the win.

Indianapolis +10.5: We all know how bad Indianapolis is this year. No matter how bad their defense played you could always depend on Peyton Manning to pull out the W. He has been at practice this week, and that has to help lift the spirits and attitude of the Colts. Just having him on the sidelines should help out the offense. On the other side of the field we have a hurting Big Ben. He took a hell of a hit last week and Charlie Batch had to spell him. Ben did come back in the game, because he is one tough player who can play in pain. The Colts moved the ball last week but had to settle for four field goals. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh butchered Seattle and everyone expects more of the same this week. I will take the home team getting this many points in a Sunday night game.


Survivor Pool Tip

If you are still alive in a survivor pool, take San Diego this week. Even if they play terribly, which they sometimes do under Norv Turner, I don’t see any way Kansas City beats them.


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