Week 5: 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?
No lead in the NFL is safe. The Lions came back from being down 27-3 to the Cowboys, and the 49ers came back from being down 23-3 to the Eagles. The Giants came back from a 10-point deficit with five minutes remaining and the Cincinnati Bengals came back from a margin of 14 points at halftime.
Turnovers and poor executions are reasons for some of these comebacks. Teams’ inability to run the ball is another reason. While teams’ ability to throw the ball has led to numerous come-from-behind victories, the best reason for most of these comebacks is that the better team won the game.
Just because you're ahead early, even if it’s by 20 points, doesn't mean you are the better team. People believe that the team that jumps to a big lead deserves to win. In reality, the team that plays the best overall game deserves to win.
The 49ers are 28th in total offense and 17th in total defense, but are 3-1 and could just as easily be 0-4. The Eagles are number 4 in total offense, but are 1-3. Poor execution in the red zone (23rd overall) has kept them from being 3-1.
The Lions and 49ers trailed by a combined 50-6, and both won. In the span of nine snaps, Tony Romo threw a touchdown pass and two interceptions returned for touchdowns. The Eagles and Raiders both gained more than 500 yards on offense, and both ended up losing.
For people that play in pick-the-winner pools, home teams are 39-25 straight up, home favorites 30-10 straight up, and home dogs 9-15 straight up.
A couple of against-the-spread (ATS) numbers: overs went 10-6 in week 4. That is now 3 of the first 4 weeks with the majority of the totals going over. YTD overs are 39-24-1 (61.9%). Underdogs are 34-27-3 (55.7%) against-the-spread, with 21 of those underdogs who covered, being outright winners. Double digit dogs are 5-2 ATS (71.4%).
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. Year-to-date record is 6-4.
Carolina +6.5: The Panthers are a live dog here and I wouldn’t be surprised if they won this game. The Saints offense just isn’t the same outside of the Superdome. The Saints don’t have a great defense, ranked 15th overall and 19th against the pass. Carolina and their third-ranked passing offense keep it close and get the cover.
Buffalo +2.5: The wrong team is favored in this game. Buffalo had a huge letdown last week at Cincinnati like I predicted, but now return home to face an Eagles team that is in disarray. Last week the Bills struggled offensively against the leagues number one defense. They get a break this week playing the average defense of the Eagles. I am going to take Buffalo at home to beat the Eagles and move to 4-1.
Jacksonville -2: You may look at this and say how can you pick against Cincinnati, they just beat the undefeated Bills? Jacksonville is at home, and has a very good defense. The Jags and Bengals both have weak offenses. I am going with the team that has a better running game and is at home. Jacksonville wins a low scoring battle here.
Denver +4: San Diego has a couple of losses each year that people don’t expect. Every statistic points to an easy Chargers win here, but this is a division game and Denver is at home. I usually take the home dog in division games getting more than a field goal. The line opened at San Diego -6 and now is at -4 with over 80% of the betting tickets written for San Diego. With this reverse line movement and Denver looking so bad last week, I have a feeling that Denver is the right side. I would not be surprised if San Diego made several key mistakes and Denver ended up winning this game.
Atlanta +6: Atlanta has been almost unbeatable at home the last 2 years. Their only loss was last year to the Packers in the playoffs. They have had this game circled since last year. This line is about 2 to 3 points too high, since bettors have to pay a premium when betting Green Bay. The Georgia Dome is going to be an electric atmosphere on Sunday Night and I like the home team getting a touchdown to cover.
Survivor Pool Tip
This is a tough week with not too many options. The New York Giants should have no problem beating the Seahawks this week. Seattle is a bad west coast team going east to play an early game and usually this isn’t a winning combination.