Since we use fivethirtyeight.com’s ELO ratings as the analytic reference point to compare the NFL Week 4 Betting Lines, I thought I would take this chance to describe what an ELO rating actually is. While the actual calculations and algorithms 538 uses to create its game lines are proprietary, ELO ratings themselves have applications in multiple competitions, and the theory behind them is universal.
ELO ratings are used to determine the *relative* skill level difference between competitors in zero-sum (i.e., one winner, one loser) games or competitions. Each competitor starts with an arbitrary, predefined rating in a pure ELO system. Each game then results in an equal transfer of points from the loser to the winner. If the lower-rated competitor wins, a large number of points are transferred from the higher-rated competitor to them, and the new respective ratings will reflect that result. If the higher-rated competitor wins, a smaller amount of rating points are transferred. In the case of a tie, the lower rated player/team gains a small number of points from the higher ranked.
ELO rankings are used in all kinds of competitions. It was originally developed by Hungarian-American physics professor and chess master Arpad Elo (hence the name) to determine chess player rankings. It is still used by multiple chess federations. It’s also used in various other endeavors, including football (both American & rest-of-world), baseball, basketball, Scrabble, and video games.
And I thought last week was ugly. Yikes. ELO and I both get obliterated at 2 – 8. Luckily, I decided to include some Best Bets, which broke even. I think I’ll keep doing that…
Last week: My picks, 2 – 8; Analytics, 2 – 8
Las Vegas at Tennessee – “I’m on record as being all out on the Titans, and they’re on a short week after the Monday Night bludgeoning in Buffalo in which they lost their best offensive lineman.”
Desperation game for Tennessee, or are the Raiders just that bad? Both can be true, I suppose.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland – “This should be a three-point line, so I’ll take the points.”
I was surprised both by Jacoby Brissett’s adequacy and the Pittsburgh offense’s complete inadequacy.
Green Bay at Tampa Bay – “Don’t bet on northern teams playing in Florida in September.”
Give Green Bay credit for getting through this one in the heat. Buffalo could not. Hit the Best Bet on the under.
Los Angeles Rams at Arizona – “The Rams are 0-2 against the spread on the season and laying 3.5 on the road.”
Arizona looks like a “get right” opponent–for everyone but the Raiders.
Dallas at New York Giants – “I didn’t want to back Cooper Rush last week. So I’m certainly not taking him on the road in primetime.”
Fine, I was wrong. Cooper Rush is adequate. He’s a perfectly cromulent quarterback. The Best Bet under 39 pushed.
Baltimore at New England – “New England has scored 24 points in their two games. Baltimore should have that many by halftime, and … keep their collective feet on the pedal all day long.”
The Ravens had 14 at halftime, then put up 23 in the second half. Other than getting the half wrong, I had this one called all around. Victory lapping where I can.
Cincinnati at New York Jets – “I still don’t like laying half-a-dozen on them.”
I let the Jets’ Week 2 comeback sway me into thinking they were good enough to hang at home. They were not.
Buffalo at Miami – “stay away from north teams in the Florida heat.”
Unlike Green Bay, Buffalo could not hang. Called the game right but missed the Best Bet on the Over, even with Buffalo missing pretty much their entire secondary.
Philadelphia at Washington – “Philly’s on the road following a Monday Night game. Laying a touchdown feels steep.”
Remember back in Week 2 when I asked if Washington was actually good? Neither do I.
Atlanta at Seattle – “Neutral field, I’m taking Atlanta all day, but this is back-to-back cross-country trips for the Falcons.”
Seattle sliding back into its rightful place as a doormat after the Week 1 surprise.
Season: My picks, 10 – 18; Analytics 11 – 17
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NFL Lines Week 4
(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.)
Game of the Week
Editor’s Note: We were unable to publish this before last night’s game, but Joel crushed this pick.
Miami at Cincinnati – Analytic Line: CIN (+0.5), Vegas Line: CIN (-3.5), PL: CIN (-4.5)
The biggest gap between the books and ELO this week is also my Lock of the Week. After playing over 90 snaps on defense against a division rival in the sweltering heat, Miami has to go on the road for a Thursday Night game. This one has everything going for it: letdown game, short week travel game. You can’t make this line high enough to get me to take the Fish. I usually don’t like laying minus money for favorite money lines, but this one should be way over -200 for the Bengals.
Pick: Cincinnati (-3.5); Best Bet: Cincinnati Money Line (-175)
New York Jets at Pittsburgh – Analytic Line: PIT (-6), Vegas Line: PIT (-3), PL: PIT (-3.5)
What does the return of Zach Wilson mean to the Jets? Pittsburgh gets the benefit of extra time off to try and figure out their offensive struggles. I’m going to guess that’s enough to take care of the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets.
Pick: Pittsburgh (-3)
Make It A Parlay
Denver at Las Vegas – Analytic Line: LV (+0.5), Vegas Line: LV (-2.5), PL: LV (-1.5)
The only constant between these two teams has been Denver’s defense. As conflicted as I am on who actually wins this game, I can’t imagine laying points on the Raiders right now.
Pick: Denver (+2.5); Best Bet: Under 45.5
New England at Green Bay – Analytic Line: GB (-7), Vegas Line: GB (-9), PL: GB (-10.5)
Green Bay’s defense has allowed 28 points in the last 10 quarters and now gets Brian Hoyer at Lambeau. Unless you think the Packers can put up 35+ against the Pats D like Baltimore did last week, jump on the under.
Pick: Green Bay (-9); Best Bet: Under 40.5
Buffalo at Baltimore – Analytic Line: BAL (+1), Vegas Line: BAL (+3), PL: BAL (-1)
This is the Miami situation without the short rest but with a tougher opponent. I sure wouldn’t want to have to chase Lamar Jackson after spending the week prior chasing Tyreek Hill & Jaylen Waddle in the Miami heat.
Pick: Baltimore (+3); Best Bet: Baltimore Money Line (+130)
Los Angeles Chargers at Houston – Analytic Line: HOU (+3.5), Vegas Line: HOU (+5), PL: HOU (+3.5)
Getting flashbacks to the end of last year when Houston stunned the Chargers and ended up costing them a playoff spot. Who’s the only winless team that hasn’t lost against the spread (2-0-1)? Houston.
Pick: Houston (+5)
Arizona at Carolina – Analytic Line: CAR (+0.5), Vegas Line: CAR (-1.5), PL: CAR (-1)
Arizona has to travel east for the odd 4:05 EDT east coast game. That has to mess with your body clock. This game is a Bad Coach-Off if there ever was one, I’ll take the home team.
Pick: Carolina (-1.5)
Other Best Bets:
Minnesota vs New Orleans Under 43 – London games are always a slog, plus there’s the specter of Andy Dalton running the Saints offense.
Cleveland at Atlanta Over 47.5 – These two teams are a combined 5-1 to the over so far and playing in a dome.
Are you looking for some more fantasy content? Then, check out our Week 4 rankings!