From the Archives

A couple of pieces we wrote about incoming rookies that are newly relevant with recent player developments. These both happen to be in the AFC South:

With Zach Mettenberger taking over the starting job in Tennessee, you may want to read vix’s breakdown of his game. In general, Zone Reads had Mettenberger ranked much more highly than his sixth-round draft position.

Telvin Smith was the AFC defensive player of the week. Read some evaluation of Jacksonville’s fifth-round pick. Smith was the #34 ranked prospect overall on our final 2014 draft board.

Week 7 SuperContest Pick Review

Well, that could have gone better.

ATLANTA (+7 at Baltimore)
Result: Baltimore 29, Atlanta 7

What went right: Nothing.
What went wrong: Everything. I learned a valuable lesson in not taking a team I think is significantly worse without an enormous line. “If all goes well, they could be in position to make a backdoor cover” is a reason to stay away from a bet, not to make it.

BUFFALO (-4.5 vs. Minnesota)
Result: Buffalo 17, Minnesota 16

What went right: Buffalo’s defense held Minnesota to 16 points, and Sammy Watkins was every bit as incredible as I hoped, finishing with nine catches for 122 yards and two TDs, including the game winner.
What went wrong: Well, the Bills only scored three other points. They lost the turnover battle 4-2 (including losing all three of their fumbles); they probably could have covered if the turnover margin was even. That said, perhaps I shouldn’t have so much faith in the Buffalo Bills to do things like avoid turnovers.

CAROLINA (+7 at Green Bay)
Result: Green Bay 38, Carolina 17

What went right: See the Atlanta pick.
What went wrong: I should have known this was not a safe bet by virtue of the fact that the line was the same as Carolina’s against Cincinnati. I should have remembered that Green Bay is quite a bit better than Cincinnati, and that stopping an A.J. Green-less offense isn’t the same thing as stopping Aaron Rodgers. I also should have made some adjustments for fatigue, given that the Panthers played five full quarters the week before and were back on the road. I did a poor job estimating the skill difference between teams on these first three bets.

HOUSTON (+3.5 at Pittsburgh)
Result: Pittsburgh 30, Houston 23

What went right: Everything up until 3:06 left in the first half, during which Houston outscored Pittsburgh 13-0 and was winning by taking advantage of the very things I thought they would: Namely, using the running game to move the ball and control the clock, and allowing J.J. Watt to disrupt Pittsburgh’s offense.
What went wrong: The final three minutes of the half were a complete disaster the kind of which is rarely seen at the NFL level. Suddenly down 24-13, the Texans had to start relying on Ryan Fitzpatrick and the passing game. Ryan Fitzpatrick is not a good QB. It did not go well. I’m not sure where I should just chalk this up to a bizarre fluke, or whether I should have some built-in expectation that the Texans will blow games in egregious fashion (I certainly had it built in to my season bet on their win total).

INDIANAPOLIS (-3 vs. Cincinnati)
Result: Indianapolis 27, Cincinnati 0

What went right: Literally everything that possibly could have. Don’t bet against Andrew Luck– in the end, top-flight quarterback play cures a lot of ills and a lot of other roster holes.
What went wrong: Nothing, as far as my bet goes. Even Giovani Bernard, who I thought would be key if the Bengals were going to score an upset, was barely a factor, with only 9 carries for 17 yards.

You know the worst part? I named three picks I considered but passed up (Dallas, Denver, New Orleans), and all three ultimately won. In the future, I may scale my picks a little more toward teams I actually feel are genuinely better than the lines, rather than basing the entirety of my decision on a half-point swing. No more “Well, the line moved from 7 to 6.5 so I have to take the underdog” if I still don’t think the underdog is a reasonable favorite to cover.

Week Results: 1-4
Season Results: 19-16

Week 7 SuperContest Picks

Let’s jump right in.

ATLANTA (+7 at Baltimore)

On Pinnacle, the line has moved down to 6.5. If a line crosses the 3 or 7, or even just moves on or off it, I jump on it. I don’t love Atlanta, but they have the offensive firepower to score a garbage TD to close the line. I don’t really see a blowout happening here, even though Atlanta’s offensive line might get eaten alive.

BUFFALO (-4.5 vs. Minnesota)

This has moved a half-point to -5. More to the point, I’ve learned my lesson from last week’s disastrous Minnesota pick: Don’t take a rookie QB behind a shaky offensive line against a great defensive line. Buffalo is at home, and I’m not sure the Vikings have anyone who can cover Sammy Watkins.

CAROLINA (+7 at Green Bay)

This line has also moved to 6.5. I don’t much care for Carolina’s chance to slow down Green Bay, but even without Greg Hardy, they should have an advantage in the trenches there. More to the point, Cam Newton is healthy enough to run the read option again, and Green Bay’s inability to stop the read option is extremely well documented by now.

HOUSTON (+3.5 at Pittsburgh)

This has moved to 3 on Pinnacle, so you know it was another priority for me. I also like the matchup given that Pittsburgh’s defense is no longer the fearsome unit its reputation carries. I’m pretty sure Arian Foster has a non-zero chance to crack 200 yards. The Rooney’s incredible patience with coaches and GMs is going to bite them in the ass over the next few years, as Mike Tomlin less and less seems like a coach who adds anything to a team’s win probability, and Kevin Colbert keeps spending money on veterans who don’t deserve it.

INDIANAPOLIS (-3 vs. Cincinnati)

I passed a couple of other lines that moved (Dallas, Denver, New Orleans) because I just really think that, all else being equal, Andrew Luck is going to dominate this game. I see something similar to the Colts’ win over Baltimore happening. Without A.J. Green, it’s tough to see Andy Dalton making enough happen to keep up, and as great as the Bengals’ defense can be, they’ve also given up 80 points in their last two games. I think it’s arguable that Indianapolis has a better offense than either New England or Carolina. (Which is not to say I expect 40+ points, just that I think Indianapolis covers, unless the Bengals’ game plan is almost entirely Giovani Bernard-centered and they’re able to dominate the time of possession.)

Week 6 SuperContest Picks Review

Since I have nothing on the game tonight, I figured I’d write this now. I went 3-2 to maintain my 60% winning percentage. Let’s see if I can figure out what I got wrong. If you want to write this all off as arbitrary and variance, feel free to skip the rest.

BUFFALO (+3 vs. New England)
Result: New England 37, Buffalo 22

What went right: My analysis of the trenches matchup when New England had the ball had some merit, as the Bills’ defensive line was to hold the Patriots to 1.9 yards rushing (even if you throw out Tom Brady’s carries, the running backs still had 23 carries for only 47 yards).

What went wrong: Even with the advantage in that matchup, and even though the Bills were able to get to Brady (six hits and two sacks), he still was dynamite through the air, with 361 yards and 4 TDs. All three of the Patriots’ top targets had at least 90 yards receiving; the Bills secondary has some problems.

Also, I completely neglected the matchup of the Bills’ offense vs. the Patriots’ defense. The Bills’ o-line was insufficient to stop the pass rush, Sammy Watkins found himself on Revis Island all day, and that was that.

CAROLINA (+7 vs. Cincinnati)
Result: Carolina 37, Cincinnati 37

What went right: Cam Newton is really good and exploited the Bengals’ weakness at defending the zone read. Cincinnati led by 7 at halftime but never more than that, so this bet was never in any significant danger. Since the extra half-point I got from the closing line was the major reason I chose this bet, I don’t have much in the way of thorough analysis.

What went wrong: Carolina gave up 37 points, which would have been terrible for me if Cam wasn’t the kind of talent who could put a team on his back.

MIAMI (+3.5 vs. Green Bay)
Result: Green Bay 27, Miami 24

What went right: Basically everything, including getting the extra half-point as the game’s final score was exactly the margin where the line settled. I was right that Miami had the advantage in the trenches; I forgot to mention that this was true on the other side of the ball as well, helped by the Dolphins’ ability to run the zone read (and the Packers’ continued inability since the 2013 divisional playoff against San Francisco to stop it).

What went wrong: Joe Philbin continued to build on the case he’s made for himself in the last 12 months as the worst coach in the league with his cowardly “Don’t run plays that have a chance to get first downs, so we can give the ball back to Aaron Rodgers and let him win the game” strategy on the Dolphins’ final drive. At least I didn’t bet the Dolphins to win outright.

MINNESOTA (+2 vs. Detroit)
Result: Detroit 17, Minnesota 3

What went right: The Lions were only winning 10-0 until the fourth quarter, so getting a break or two could have given the Vikings a legit chance to win.

What went wrong: Everything except that absurdly optimistic previous sentence. Even a rookie quarterback as talented as I think Teddy Bridgewater is is going to struggle in his second start ever against possibly the league’s best defense, especially with his offensive line playing poorly. That was the overwhelming factor in this game– Bridgewater was hounded all day, but only one of his interceptions was really a bad decision. I just plain didn’t think this one through.

PHILADELPHIA (-2.5 vs. New York Giants)
Result: Philadelphia 27, New York Giants 0

What went right: “I don’t think the Giants are objectively better than the Eagles” – check. “I think the Giants are mistake-prone and have a crummy defense” – check. “I think Andre Williams is overrated and will prove a liability in the passing game” – check. (The Giants had to use Peyton Hillis when they wanted to pass, which surely helped tip off the Eagles.) When it comes down to it, I think these teams are still closer to their 2013 level than the spread indicated. I also think that while Tom Coughlin is a solid coach, he’s just not Chip Kelly.

That said, I’d be lying if I said I expected the game to be this thorough a domination.

What went wrong: The half-point was not important. Also, poor Victor Cruz. Hopefully Odell Beckham Jr. will step up and validate our faith in him.

SuperContest Week 6 picks

I haven’t been able to write on football lately for personal reasons, which has been a disappointment, but occasionally real life intervenes with our non-paying hobbies. Our other writers have been doing early work on the 2015 prospects, so look for some articles on them soon.

In the meantime, now that I have time, I’m going to try to keep up content here by writing some weekly features. One of those will be about my weekly picks. I’m not in the actual Las Vegas Hilton Supercontest, but rather an old college friend of mine has a similar pool going where the rules are the same: The lines are released late on Tuesday or on Wednesday, and each week we have to pick exactly five games against the spread. No exceptions. Payouts are made to weekly winners and to the overall leaders at the end of the season.

Our picks are locked in Saturday at noon, so sometime after that I’ll try to have a column up with my picks and details on my reasoning. I do this both for your entertainment and also to figure out if I can learn anything about NFL betting, which is a very difficult subject to master.

So far this year I’m sitting at 15-10. My five picks this week are below.

BUFFALO (+3 vs. New England)

E.J. Manuel was so badly inaccurate that Kyle Orton is a significant improvement, and I have minimal optimism for Kyle Orton’s performance abilities. I still think he’s accurate enough to get Sammy Watkins the ball on a regular basis, as he showed last week against Detroit (when Watkins collected 7 receptions on 12 targets for 87 yards).

New England isn’t as bad as they looked against the Chiefs or as good as they looked against the Bengals. I think Buffalo’s defensive line is going to win the battle at the line of scrimmage, though, and that’s going to give the Patriots trouble. The obvious mismatch is Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams against rookie center Bryan Stork and current pair of guards Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly, but the Patriot tackles have struggled this year, too, and Mario Williams in particular is a difficult matchup.

Plus, home underdogs have historically out-performed the spread, so when in doubt (which is often) I lean toward trends like that.

CAROLINA (+7 at Cincinnati)

A.J. Green’s absence will hurt the Bengals passing game, although they can probably still run Giovani Bernard all day. I don’t particularly care for the Panthers’ matchup here, but at most books the line has moved to 6.5. Since 3 and 7 are the key points, I take a half-point when the “true” line is sitting on one of those numbers to be a very significant advantage.

MIAMI (+3.5 vs. Green Bay)

See previous writeups on “home dogs” and “half-point advantages,” respectively. Miami has a pretty good pass defense (and an underrated defensive line) and the line has moved to 3 since ours were published.

MINNESOTA (+2 vs. Detroit)

Another home underdog. Calvin Johnson may not play, which will hurt the Lions, although not as much as the casual observer might believe. I’m a big Teddy Bridgewater believer, though, as I’ve made clear over the last year, and I think he stands as good a chance as anyone of outperforming Vegas’ expectations of him. I do worry about Minnesota’s offensive line vs. Detroit’s defensive line.

PHILADELPHIA (-2.5 vs. New York Giants)

The Eagles have been shockingly ineffective this year everywhere except special teams. I’m not crazy about this pick. On the other hand, I think the Giants are mistake-prone and have a crummy defense, and I think Andre Williams is overrated and will prove a liability in the passing game. I don’t think the Giants are objectively better than the Eagles, and that half-point will be important.

As you can see, I’m not terribly confident in any of those picks. That’s the thing about NFL betting, though: The lines are so good it’s hard to ever find significant advantages. So much of the time, I’ll just take the systemic advantage built in to having stale lines. Otherwise, I’ll try to find matchups or other reasons that I think indicate a team is over- or under-valued. I’m not a professional, so I don’t have any statistical models or data I’m not revealing to the public. I’m just doing this to see if I have any idea what I’m talking about; even then, it’s so easy for luck to change a game so significantly one way or the other that it’s hard to say.