Now we have Week 1 of the NFL season under our belt, what did we learn? We learned that the NFL is an awfully hard sport to predict so early in the season so don't blow your wad too quickly! The Big Five picks last week were not so great: 2-3. However, the 49ers should have covered in Detroit. The back door cover by the Lions truly came out of nowhere considering that the 49ers were up 31-10 at halftime and 41-17 with 2 minutes left in the game. The 49ers dominated the Lions for 50+ minutes and sadly Kyle Shanahan somehow allows his players to let the foot off the pedal late in games. He was notorious for that in Super Bowl LI while he was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons and then 3 years later in Super Bowl LIV when the 49ers lost to the Chiefs. I am still perplexed why Shanahan lets his opponents back into games when he does such a great job of helping his players play to their strengths. Perhaps he lacks a killer instinct.
Clearly I was way off with the Jaguars and Colts. I should have not listened to the public who was way too high on Jacksonville. No way should we bet on a rookie QB in his first ever NFL start and on the road. True, Houston looked like a team in disarray during the offseason but Texans QB Tyrod Taylor is a very good signal caller who oddly has become a journeyman QB whereas a mediocre QB like Kirk Cousins has been with Minnesota for a few seasons. More on that later. Going against Seattle was a bad choice. Actually going against anyone in the NFC West is never a good decision. The entire division is undefeated and each team put up at least 28 points in Week 1. Carson Wentz was pretty much a bum right before he left Philadelphia and we shall see if his bum status continues in the midwest with the Colts.
Of course I was correct with the Rams which was my favorite play of the week. Feasting on the Bears on Sunday Night Football at home was too easy, regardless of the spread getting close to double digits. I am not surprised they won by 20. The Raiders at home on Monday Night Football was another easy choice. Keep in mind that the Ravens are not the same Ravens as before. This team has been struck by the injury bug like no other team I have seen prior to the start of the regular season. Plus I think teams traveling to Vegas will struggle now that Sin City is wide open for business after a year of lock downs during the Raiders' inaugural season at Allegiant Stadium. The temptation of the strip is too much to resist for these young athletes, some who may have never been to Vegas.
OK, now I have Week 1 off my chest, let's get down to business with Week 2. I am leaning on my model for making my Big Five picks for this week. Here is an explanation of my methodology.
- Scrap the DVOA rankings from Football Outsiders. If you don't know DVOA, read about it on the Football Outsiders site. It is an advanced metric that does a great job of capturing an overall team's performance.
- When the season is very young, go with a weighted average of 2020 and 2021 DVOA. After Week 1, I prefer 15/16 for 2020 DVOA and 1/16 for 2021 DVOA. As the season wears on, I will place more weight towards 2021 DVOA and I will always share how the weight is distributed for each of my weekly articles.
- Take the difference in DVOA between the road and home teams for each game and feed that difference into a simple linear regression model I built in 2016 using data from the prior 2 seasons. The model was refined last year using even more historical data.
- The only input for the model is DVOA differential with the output as predicted point differential. When that prediction deviates drastically from the published point spread, bet on the team the model favors.
How did the model do last year? From Weeks 10 - 14, the model was correct against the point spread 68% of the time. No joke. Here is a breakdown for each of those weeks.
Week 10: 10-3-1
Week 11: 10-4
Week 12: 11-5
Week 13: 10-5
Week 14: 10-6
That is remarkable consistency. I firmly believe that once a better has enough in-season data, that he has a huge edge against the books if he knows how to leverage the data using proper analytical skills/tools. Or having someone like me to help! Late in the season, the model can be off since some teams will start packing it in by playing more of the reserves. Likewise with teams who already punched a ticket to the postseason and will rest their starters to avoid injury to them.
Even though we don't have much in-season data right now, I still think the model can guide us if we are judicious about the teams the model favors. So who does the model like this week using the Westgate Supercontest spreads for Week 2? Here we go!
- San Francisco 49ers -3
The model likes the 49ers to win by at least 8 points in Philly and why shouldn't they win by close to 10 points? This 49ers team is a well rounded group with a stable of talented young RBs, solid players on both lines, and playmakers everywhere else. Even though Philly looked impressive last week on the road in Atlanta, I would say that was more due to Atlanta just playing awful football. Eagles QB Jalen Hurts will have a tougher time moving the football against a legit defense like the 49ers, assuming the 49ers learned their lesson last week that you must play 60 minutes of football, not 55 - 56 minutes. Plus the Eagles defense could not stop anyone last year. Whether the 49ers stick with Jimmy G or unleash Trey Lance, the Eagles will be hard pressed to stop the combination of Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle. That is a terrific trio of receiving weapons that blends power and speed better than any other NFL team with maybe an exception to the Chiefs. 49ers will return to the Bay Area next week for their home opener as a 2-0 team after another dominant performance on the road.
- Chicago Bears -2.5
OK, this is a bit of a head scratcher. The model has the Bears winning by close to 7 points after looking awful last week. However, this game will be at home against an AFC North doormat like the Bengals. I really do like the Bengals. The offense will be dynamic all year with Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase reliving their fun times at LSU and having Joe Mixon in the mix. It's the defense for Cincinnati that I don't like. Nothing was really done to shore up one of the worst defensive units last year so this serves as a "get right" game for Chicago. Also, I am sure Andy Dalton will want to prove to his former team of 9 seasons that they made a mistake by letting him go. I am not a Dalton fan but this is a winnable game for him and, as I already mentioned, he will be plenty motivated in this revenge matchup. There are weapons on Chicago who can exploit the Bengals leaky defense. Allen Robinson is a Pro Bowl quality WR and don't underestimate Bears RB David Montgomery and Bears TE Cole Kmet. On the other side of the ball, the Bears defense has consistently ranked in the top 10 in DVOA since Khalil Mack was shipped to the Windy City in 2018. In fact, the Bears were the #1 DVOA ranked defense in 2018, #10 in 2019, and #8 in 2020. The Bears simply played a very good team last week that could make a run to the Super Bowl. The Bears will do better this week at home against a young and inexperienced team like the Bengals.
- Houston Texans +12.5
Another head scratcher here. I was very anti-Houston during the offseason, especially with how greedy the Texans were with their asking price for DeShaun Watson. However, I completely underestimated Tyrod Taylor. His career record is solid: 25-21-1. It's just unfortunate that every team he has played for decided to invest a 1st round pick in a QB right before his release. Check out the list below which displays the teams Taylor has played for as well as the QB they drafted right before Taylor's release.
2015 - 2017: Buffalo (Josh Allen drafted 7th overall in 2018)
2018: Cleveland (Baker Mayfield drafted 1st overall in 2018)
2019 - 2020: LA Chargers (Justin Herbert drafted 6th overall in 2018)
The Ravens took a chance on Taylor in 2011 and while Taylor did not play much during his 4 seasons in Baltimore, he learned a lot from being on a perennial championship contender. While he played well and won games for the other teams he started for after leaving Baltimore, those teams decided to use Taylor as a place holder before their rookie signal caller was ready to take over. I won't argue that Taylor is on par with Allen and Herbert since those two QBs are now the future of the AFC with Peyton Manning long retired and Tom Brady in the NFC. However, Taylor is right there with Mayfield in terms of skill set. It's funny how we get yet another revenge game here and I am sure Taylor is eager to let Cleveland know that they should have stuck with him. Plus after Houston's impressive home win last week, being a double digit dog is a slap in the face, especially when the Browns defense could not protect a 12 point halftime lead. I know, it was against the Chiefs on the road but don't give the Browns defense that much credit. After all, a truly good defense like Tampa Bay proved that you can figure out the Chiefs. The Browns are not that defense and Taylor should at least keep this game competitive with the model liking the Browns winning by just 2 points. The current spread is way off.
- New Orleans Saints -3
No head scratcher this time. I love the Saints! My model has the Saints winning by 15 points so I am perplexed that the spread is so low. Maybe it's no respect for Saints QB Jameis Winston. All I know is that Winston won a Heisman and national title at FSU, was drafted 1st overall by Tampa Bay, and is one of only 8 QBs to surpass 5,000 passing yards in one season, something Winston accomplished recently just 2 years ago. One of those 8 QBs achieved that feat 5 times: Drew Brees. I am certain Brees and Saints head coach Sean Payton both discussed in private who should be Brees' heir apparent before Brees decided to retire a few months ago. There are not many QBs who can keep the Saints offensive machine humming and Winston is one of those QBs. After all, the Saints did not miss a beat last week by dismantling the Packers 38-3. Keep in mind that the Packers were in the NFC title game last year and the year before. I know this is a road game against a divisional opponent with a very healthy offensive star like Christian McCaffrey on the other side. Who cares? The Saints defense is championship quality (#2 DVOA in 2020, #8 DVOA in 2019, #8 DVOA in 2018, and #6 DVOA in 2017) and don't tell me that a scrub like Sam Darnold is going to keep this game competitive. Like all other USC QBs, Darnold is trash and the Saints top notch defense will pulverize him. Definitely this spread is off and the Saints are easily my favorite team of the week, much like the Rams last week.
- Dallas Cowboys +3
If we have a great NFL morning by going 4-0, let's press our winnings on America's Favorite Team. Again, I am not sure why the public is not liking Dak Prescott. I will just say it but it seems that the NFL viewership and analysts still have an aversion towards black QBs. Seriously. Even after he BLM movement, why is Colin Kaepernick still out of work? He is only 33 years old and fan bases won't turn on a team for taking a chance on him after how 2020 went down. Going back to this game (politics can be discussed another time), Prescott, much like other black QBs like Taylor and Winston, is a solid QB who can keep games close. He nearly beat the defending champions on their turf for the season opener last week and after 3 extra days of rest, gets an inferior opponent in the Chargers. One thing people should know is that people in LA love the Cowboys. LA was without any NFL team for a very long time so they gravitated towards the Cowboys in the 90s after the Rams and Raiders left. Even though the Cowboys are the road team, it will feel like a home game. After all, the Cowboys used to have their training camp in Oxnard, California and had done so for a long time. Besides for this game having a "home field" feel for Dallas, they have the playmakers to exploit a mediocre team like the Chargers. LA barely scraped out a win against Washington and now plays a much more talented team. My model has the Cowboys not just covering as a dog but winning this game outright. The money line for Dallas is +140 which is tremendous value.
There you have it. SF, CHI, HOU, NO, and DAL. Parlay all five and feel free to send donations my way when we go 5-0! Good luck and enjoy the games this weekend!