Last week we passed the halfway point of the season, and now we’re already a week away from Thanksgiving and the home stretch of the season. It feels a little wacky, but it snowed here over the weekend, so it’s that time. Now is when the legit contenders should start to separate themselves, and the mediocre teams will continue to be mediocre. There’s no shame in playing close with or losing to another good team, but barring extenuating circumstances, superior teams should dominate inferior ones. So it may be time to adjust our expectations on big lines and how to lean with them.
After a few solid weeks, last week was, …oof. But we’ve got a lot of work to do this week and seven games to work with, so let’s get to it.
(Standard disclaimer – All opinions are my own and may or may not reflect those of this website. “Analytic Lines” are ELO point spreads from fivethirtyeight.com, and “Vegas Lines” are courtesy of thelines.com, current as of the writing of this article. Predicted Line (“PL”) is my early week estimate of where the Vegas line would be set. Chosen games are those with a multiple point variance between the Vegas and Analytic Lines.)
Brutal week, as ELO and I both, went 2-7 against the number. As successful as ELO has been, a bad week probably means things went fluky haywire, but the purpose of this column is for me to tell you when ELO is wrong, and I certainly didn’t do that. A big-time mea culpa from me. What happened to make Week Ten a disaster? Let’s look…
Game of the Week – New Orleans at Tennessee: There is no overarching theme in this one. A three-point line and a two-point win for the Titans. After Monday Night’s result, the Tennessee win at LA in Week Nine may have said more about the Rams than it did the Titans.
Baltimore at Miami: The week started out well, as the Thursday Night game was the only one ELO and I both hit on. An in-game injury to Jacoby Brissett got the better QB option on the field for Miami, but this was more about Baltimore looking spent playing a short-week road game following an OT comeback win in Week Nine.
Buffalo at New York Jets: Oh, so, there was a reason Mike White was a little-used backup to a struggling rookie QB? Got it. Angry Bills showed up to this one instead of Tired Bills I thought we might see in the second of back-to-back road games. But, really, is a trip from Buffalo to North Jersey even a road trip? It probably takes longer for the Jets players who live in the city to drive there than it did for the Bills to fly there. Should have taken that into consideration.
Detroit at Pittsburgh: My second (of two) correct calls. ELO had no way of knowing Big Ben would get COVID, but, really is that even an excuse? As poorly as Detroit played, any legitimate NFL backup QB could have gotten there with the line in this game. Luckily for me, Mason Rudolph is not a legitimate NFL backup QB. In the game, no one wanted to win; no one did.
Minnesota at LA Chargers: This is the one result that still legitimately stuns me. The Vikes had a few extra days to get over the OT game with Baltimore than the Ravens but still had to make alternate coast road trips. I think this says more about the Chargers, but we shall see.
Carolina at Arizona: Was this more about Colt McCoy crashing back to earth after winning at San Fran, or the Panthers getting a jolt from Cam Newton re-signing? Both? Sure, let’s go with that.
Philadelphia at Denver: See last week’s betting fundamental #6: Whenever possible, avoid games between bad teams. I thought the altitude would hurt Philly. It turns out Teddy Bridgewater was more of a hindrance to Denver.
Seattle at Green Bay: ELO hit on this one. I thought Aaron Rodgers would struggle in his return from COVID, which he did, but @DangeRussWilson was much, much worse in his return from a broken finger.
Upset of the Week – Kansas City at Las Vegas: The week was so bad, my favorite heuristic (“The Chiefs don’t cover”) didn’t even come through.
Last week: My picks, 2-7; Analytics, 2-7
Season: My picks, 32-34-1; Analytics, 37-29-1
Game of the Week
Cincinnati at Las Vegas – Analytic Line: LV (-.5), Vegas Line: LV (+1), PL: LV (-1.5)
They’re both basically Pick ‘Em lines, but technically ELO and Vegas are on opposite sides of who should be favored, so let’s call this the GotW.
Verdict: The Bengals are coming off a bye but still gained ground on the other teams in their division last week. After getting shellacked by the Chiefs Sunday Night, this one feels more important to the Raiders, so I’ll side with ELO and give the slight lean to them.
New England at Atlanta – Analytic Line: ATL (+5), Vegas Line: ATL (+6.5), PL: ATL (+6.5)
Hmm, both teams on opposite ends of blowouts last week, and a home dog in a short week, prime time game. I wonder what the fundamentals would say about this game?
Verdict: Atlanta. The fundamentals say Atlanta.
Detroit at Cleveland – Analytic Line: CLE (-13), Vegas Line: CLE (-11.5), PL: CLE (-7.5)
Before Sunday, Detroit’s had played three games they were legitimately close to getting their first win. In the games following, they were 0-3 and outscored by a combined 71 points.
Verdict: That’s a trend I can get behind. Plus, what’s more Cleveland than blowing out a bad team the week after getting run out of the building by an actual good team?
Houston at Tennessee – Analytic Line: TENN (-15), Vegas Line: TENN (-10.5), PL: TENN (-14.5)
There are a few things in play that might typically make me side with Houston. They have the rest advantage coming off the bye, and this could be a big-time letdown spot for Tennessee.
Verdict: Tennessee has won six straight since losing to the Jets, the last five over other playoff contenders. They’ve got the Vrabel-Belichick Bowl next week in New England. This has “letdown game” written all over it. I just don’t think Houston can take advantage even if the Titans don’t bring their A-game. In their five road losses, Houston’s average margin of defeat is by over 22 points.
Baltimore at Chicago – Analytic Line: CHI (+2.5), Vegas Line: CHI (+6), PL: CHI (+3.5)
A lot of variance on this line, as you can find a number on this game anywhere from 4.5 to 6.
Verdict: Chicago’s coming off the bye, but Baltimore’s coming off the mini-bye after playing last Thursday, so no real rest advantage here. I like the Ravens to bounce back in a big way after their loss in Miami.
Pittsburgh at Los Angeles Chargers – Analytic Line: LAC (-4), Vegas Line: LAC (-5.5), PL: LAC (-3)
Both teams are coming off very disappointing outcomes. Unless and until Detroit actually wins a game, Pittsburgh will have to deal with the dubious distinction of being the only team to not actually beat them.
Verdict: The Chargers, as mentioned above, are not playing well right now, so this lean is more toward COVID continuing to negatively affect the Steelers than it is confidence in LA.
Upset of the Week
New York Giants at Tampa Bay – Analytic Line: TB (-8.5), Vegas Line: TB (-10.5), PL: TB (-7.5)
Yes, Tampa’s probably cheesed at losing two straight sandwiched around their bye, but the Giants are coming off their bye and should get Saquon Barkley back this week.
Verdict: Ultimately, I can’t keep the memory of a bad Giants team coming very close to upsetting Tampa on a Monday Night late in the season last year. This feels like a similar spot. The Giant’s offense is just different with Barkley available. Competent, in a way that they’re not when he’s out. I don’t think the Giants win outright, but I expect they’ll do enough to keep the Bucs from having an easy time of it.