Week 4: 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?
Are any of these teams Super Bowl contenders? Since the current post season format was adopted in 1990, teams that start 3-0 in the NFL have made the playoffs 75% of the time. Only three teams have done that this year, Green Bay, Detroit, and Buffalo. Neither the Bills nor the Lions have been in the playoffs since 1999 or have won a Super Bowl in team history. Buffalo has trailed 21-3 and 21-0 in its last two games only to come roaring back to win. Detroit trailed 20-0 on the road to Minnesota and came back to win 26-23 in overtime. Can both of these teams finally make the playoffs or win a Super Bowl? We shall see.
The Houston Texans still struggle to put away good teams on the road, blowing a 26-17 4th quarter lead to the Saints. The Texans’ number-one ranked defense got lit up for 40 points and 454 yards. If the Texans are ever going to become a true Super Bowl contender, they need to show the ability to close out road games.
The Patriots’ defense is awful. They are now dead last in yards allowed per game (468) and yards allowed per play (7.1). Even though New England leads the league in total offense, they will not be a viable Super Bowl contender until they fix their defense.
San Diego continues to win games despite themselves, barely holding off the lowly Kansas City Chiefs as 14 point favorites in a game they dominated statistically. San Diego once again is top 5 in total offense and top 10 in total defense. They were my pre-season pick to win the Super Bowl, but I am worried they will never overcome their lack of execution until they fire Norv.
Surprising Early-Season Stats
Dallas is number 4 in total offense, but only 13th in scoring offense, and 30th in red zone offense.
Cincinnati is number 3 in total defense. That will be tested this week when the number 3 total offense, Buffalo, visits them.
In the past two weeks, Buffalo has been behind at halftime by a combined 42-10. However, they won both games. In the past two weeks, Minnesota has been ahead at halftime by a combined 37-0, but lost both games.
For people that play in pick-the-winner pools, home teams are 31-17 straight up, home favorites 34-14 straight up, and home dogs 7-10 straight up.
A couple of against the spread (ATS) numbers: unders went 9-6-1 in week 3 after two weeks of the majority of the total going over. YTD overs are 29-18-1 (61.7%). Underdogs are 26-20-2(55.6%) ATS, with 16 of those underdogs who covered being outright winners. Home dogs are now 11-6-2 ATS ( 64.7%)
So far this season, the winning team has covered the spread 78.3% of the time.
Picking Unpopular Winners
For pick’em, against the spread type pools (Office Football Pool, Pick 5 formats, etc.), a key to winning is often 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 +3: This is the best upset pick of the weekend. Buffalo is in a huge let down spot here after a come-from-behind victory against a division rival. Buffalo is in the top 5 in total offense but that has come against 3 of the 5 worst defenses in the NFL. Cincinnati has one of the league’s better defenses and will slow the Bills’ offense. The Bills have one of the league’s worst defenses and I think Cincinnati will score enough points to not only cover the spread but win this game.
Dallas -1: Dallas looked horrible on Monday and is usually a very public team, but around 80% of the betting tickets have been written for Detroit. The public is in love with Detroit since they have won 7 straight dating back to last year. Dallas has had no problem moving the ball this year, just cashing in once they get in the red zone. I am going to go against the public here and take Dallas to end the Lions’ winning streak.
Arizona +1: Another play that the public has had a huge overreaction to from the previous week’s results. The line opened at Arizona +3 and has moved to Arizona +1 this coming with over 80% of the bets on the Giants. Arizona plays much better at home and I think Kevin Kolb plays much better this week. I always like to back Arizona as a home dog and with the reverse line movement I think they are the right side.
Denver +13: This is a good spot for Denver, whose first three games have been decided by 3points or less. Around 85% of the bets are currently on Green Bay. Green Bay has a Sunday night game at Atlanta on deck and will just try to get out of this one with the win. Denver keeps it within the 13 points.
Seattle +4.5: Going to back the Seahawks again at home. Atlanta is not the same team offensively outdoors or on grass. The Falcons have scored one touchdown in two road games this year. Atlanta is in a look-ahead spot with Green Bay coming to town next Sunday. I think Seattle uses this and their extreme home field advantage to keep it inside the 4.5 points.
Survivor Pool Tip
This is a good week use to Tampa Bay and save Green Bay and New Orleans until later weeks. I don’t see the Colts winning a road game all year.