All right! 4-1 last week! I knew we would get back on the winning track! Now we are 40-24-1. That would rank 32nd in the Super Contest (out of 1933 entries) hosted by the Westgate Sportsbook and is just 3.5 games behind 1st place. Of course I didn't enter the Super Contest this season but it's fun to compare our performance to the best in the industry. With five more weeks left to the regular season, I firmly believe we can reach the top!
What has worked well this season are two things: (1) the model I built for predicting point differentials and (2) the cover/no cover trend. The model is a simple linear regression equation that uses the DVOA differential between both teams as the input. In case you don't know, DVOA is a metric devised by Football Outsiders to encapsulate a team's overall performance during the season. I find it to be the most comprehensive metric for NFL teams. As for the cover/no cover trend, we simply identify games where one team did not cover last week and happens to play a team who covered. The team that did not cover the previous week usually covers the following week more than 70% of the time this season. Combine that trend with my model and you get close to 80% accuracy.
There are some juicy value plays for Week 14 so take a moment to explore the table below to see what the model and cover/no cover trend are telling us to do with our money this weekend.
Last week was all about the chalk. This week it's all about the dogs. I will gladly take the points since I believe in the model and the trend. Without further ado, here are the Big Five Picks for Week 14.
- Las Vegas +10
I have to admit that this pick makes me uncomfortable. The Chiefs are playing much better football over the last 6 games compared to the first 6 games of this season. They are on a 5 game winning streak while covering the spread in their last 3 games. Meanwhile the Raiders have lost 5 of their last 6 games and not covered the spread in 4 of their last 5 games. Clearly the Raiders and Chiefs are on opposite paths with the Chiefs now playing like a playoff contender and the Raiders in a tailspin. One could say that the turning point of the season for both teams was when the Chiefs beat the Raiders 41-14 in Las Vegas about one month ago.
So why stick with the Raiders? Because divisional rivals still play each other well and getting 10 points is too good to pass up. Also, we should consider the fact that the Chiefs offense is not the same as it was from 2018 - 2020. In 2018, the Chiefs scored 30+ points 14 times, playoffs included. That number dropped to 10 in 2019 and then 9 in 2018. Of course scoring 30 or more points in more than half your games is impressive so I am not concerned about that decrease in frequency of 30+ point games since it's hard to sustain a high scoring offense every week. The Chiefs offense was still clicking on all cylinders for the first six weeks of this season surpassing 30 points 4 times. However, the Chiefs have not come close to 30 points in five of their last 6 games with the last time happening against the Raiders. That means that the Chiefs have been winning games recently with their defense which is so strange since their defense looked awful earlier this season. I would consider the Raiders offense and defense as mediocre. Not great but not terrible. Will they win in KC? No. Can they keep the game close enough and not lose by double digits? Yes. Prediction: Chiefs 28 - Raiders 21 which is in-line with the model and cover/no cover trend.
Here we have another divisional matchup. It is not easy eating the chalk with a road favorite when two divisional foes are going at it but the chalk is not much. Also, the Cowboys are now a beacon of health while the Washington Football Team (WFT) have injuries at several key positions. The only injury concern for Dallas is RB Tony Pollard who is questionable. For WFT, they just lost TE Logan Thomas for the season and change of pace RB JD McKissic may not get out of the concussion protocol for a 2nd week in a row. The Redskins offensive line has also been battered all season long. Another thing to consider is that Dallas has done a great job of covering the spread this season going 7-0 against the spread (ATS) to start the season and having a 9-3 record ATS. The game against New Orleans on Thursday Night Football for Week 13 was the "get right" game Dallas needed after losing two in a row to KC and Las Vegas. Now the Cowboys are well rested with an extra 3 days of rest compared to the WFT. Finally, here is the kicker: the WFT pass defense is 3rd worst based on DVOA while the Cowboys pass offense is 8th best using the same metric. Dallas's strength is the WFT's team weakness. I fully expect Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, and the rest of the Cowboys aerial attack to slice and dice the WFT porous defense. Cowboys win this one quite convincingly with a 31-17 finish in our nation's capital.
NY Giants +9.5
Back to the dogs! I am not a fan of the Giants or their backup QB Mike Glennon. He is awful and the Giants offense will continue to have trouble putting points on the board. The long travel can't be good for NY either since they had to fly south to Miami last week and now cross country to LA. Kind of sounds like a fun vacation escaping the cold December weather in New York! All joking aside, my issue with the Chargers is that they should not be a double digit favorite. Yes, the Chargers had an impressive win in Cincinnati last week and the Giants offense can barely crack 10 points. However, the Chargers are 1-5 ATS this season when favored by 3 or more points. Also, the Chargers have won by double digits just twice this season. The Giants are used to the underdog role and have covered the spread 6 out of out 11 times this season when getting points. Yes, there have been times when the Giants have been dominated with 20+ point losses to the Cowboys, Rams, and Bucs. However those are teams that poised to make the postseason, boast a strong positive point differential for the season, and have incredible star power on their offensive units. The Chargers are barely above 0.500, have a -1 point differential, and will be without the services of star WR Keenan Allen due to COVID. The Giants won't win but won't lost by too much either. A 24-16 loss to the Chargers sounds about right.
- Buffalo +3.5
This dog is a rare one. The Bills have struggled lately but they are still a very talented team that can easily flip the switch. That was a tough loss on Monday Night Football to New England. If Josh Allen had just thrown it to Cole Beasley at the of the game instead of trying to throw it into the end zone when facing the only blitz from Bill Belichick's defense, perhaps the Bills would be at the top of the AFC East. Or maybe if Dawson Knox did not have such an awful game with the dropped passes and penalties, then the Bills could have won by nearly double digits. They are several hypotheticals but now the Bills have to just move on from their heartbreaking losses this season if they wish to get to the postseason. For only the 2nd time this season, the Bills are an underdog. The last time was an excellent result for Buffalo: a 38-20 dominant win in Kansas City on Sunday Night Football. The Bucs are no joke and could repeat as Super Bowl champions. Since their 10 point loss to Washington last month, the Bucs have won 3 in a row scoring at least 30 points in each of those games. However, the Bucs tend to feast on weak teams and barely win or just outright lose to good teams. The Bucs best competition this season has been against Dallas in Week 1, LA Rams in Week 3, and New England in Week 4. They didn't cover the spread in any of those 3 games. Yes, the Bills are 7-5 while those three teams have better records but let's consider overall DVOA. The Bucs are 1st with that metric while New England, Dallas, and LA are 2nd, 4th, and 6th respectively. The Bills are right up there with those teams with the 3rd best overall DVOA. Maybe the Bills lose another close one but I feel they can cover 3.5 points. I can see the Bills up by 6 points with 2 minute left in the game and then Tom Brady pulling off one of his many miraculous final TD drives to win the game. A 25-24 Bucs win to cap off an exciting afternoon of football is what we could see.
- Chicago +12.5
We end our Big Five Picks with one more big underdog and another divisional matchup. The Packers are a strong team and maybe they finally win the NFC title game to give Aaron Rodgers one last shot at a 2nd Super Bowl title to cap his illustrious NFL career. The Bears have a major identity crisis with QB instability and a non-existent pass rush with Khalil Mack out since the end of October when the Bears were pulverized by the Bucs 38-3. However, since that embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay the Bears have not lost a game by more than 11 points. Getting 12.5 points against a divisional rival is amazing value. Can the Packers win by 2 TDs or more? Sure. However, when the game is played under the lights, all bets are off. Both teams will do their best to bring their A game and this game could feel like a "Super Bowl" for Chicago with not much else to look forward to this season besides a Sunday Night Football clash between two of the oldest NFL rivals. One more stat to consider: the Packers tend to play close games against the Bears. Only 9 times in the last 25 games between these two teams have the Packers won by 13 or more points. Packers win but not by 2 TDs. I will predict a 30-20 Packers win as they march towards the postseason while the Bears still try to figure out who they are.
There we have it! One favor and four underdogs. This definitely has a different feel than other weeks with very little chalk. If you are feeling lucky, you might want to consider some money line bets on Las Vegas, NY Giants, and Buffalo. Risky but why not roll the dice!