For the record, I am 10-10 with the Big Five Picks for the 2021 season and overall 32-32 against the spread. Week 1 was awful given that I went 4-12 so overall we are doing OK with a 28-20 record since Week 2. In fact, Week 2 was brilliant going 4-1 with the Big Five Picks and 11-5 overall.
So what went right that week? Mixing up favors and dogs as well as home and road teams. Of my 11 correct picks, 5 of them were dogs. 6 of those 11 were on the road. Avoiding too much chalk is wise since it's rare for most of the chalk to cover. When it does, Vegas loses big time and Vegas doesn't lose very often. Sometimes the model will lean too much with the chalk and/or home team. This is when the model needs adjustment or we simply use the model to inform our decisions but not to drive our decisions. So what does the model say for Week 5? Here we go!
The games highlighted in yellow are the ones that will be featured in the Big Five Picks for Week 5. FYI, the column Abs Diff means the absolute value of the difference between the predicted spread and actual spread. For those with some statistics knowledge, that number is called residual and it's the teams with the highest residual that warrants my attention. The Saints have the 2nd highest residual but they have also done us wrong during Weeks 2 and 4 when their residual was double digits. Until they can show some consistency, we will stay away.
With 4 weeks of in-season data, I am giving DVOA (the input for my linear regression model or what we call the explanatory variable) the following weights: 25% 2021 and 75% 2020. I can see why the model still likes New Orleans since the Saints were a legit Super Bowl contender in 2020 but have been mediocre in 2021.
Now that we know we won't be marching on with the Saints, let's breakdown the five games I do like.
- Green Bay -3
Week 1 was an anomaly. The Packers were crushed by the Saints (funny how we just discussed them) but since then they have done nothing but win and cover. On the road or at Lambeau or as a favor or dog, it doesn't matter. It seems that the early season distraction that Rodgers was not happy in Green Bay has dissipated and the team is squarely focused on another run to the Super Bowl. After all, the Packers have been to the NFC Championship game the last two years and consistently contended for the Super Bowl title from 2009 - 2016 which I call the "Aaron Rodgers Era" for Green Bay. Well we are still in the "Aaron Rodgers Era" until he retires or plays for another team. I like the Bengals growth trajectory. Their offense looks dynamic and they should be back to the playoff mix in the next year or two. For now, the team as a whole is still a work in progress. The defense is suspect and the Packers have precisely the weapons on offense to exploit that weakness. Just pick your poison: Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, or even long time Rodgers confidant Randall Cobb. The Packers defense, as it has been for the last 10 years or so, is a bend-don't-break defense so the Bengals will get their points but the Packers will get theirs as well. I expect a 34 - 21 victory and an easy cover.
- Pittsburgh +1.5
I know what you are thinking. This team is 1-3 and the Broncos are 3-1. The Steelers have looked out of sorts since their Week 1 victory in Buffalo (which, by the way, seems very impressive given how strong Buffalo has looked this season) while the Broncos are finally playing up to their potential and feature a formidable defense. The problem is that the Steelers are too good of a team to go to 1-4. The other problem is that the Broncos have injuries to three key offensive players: Bridgewater, Gordon, and Sutton. The game is at Heinz Field and the Steelers are fully healthy. I expect a regression towards the mean (I am loving the technical stats phrases today!). Steelers win this game by a TD in a slug-it-out type of affair. Probably a 21-14 or 17-10 win.
- Chicago +5.5
The Bears are now Justin Fields' team and there is no looking back. It didn't take long for Fields to wrest away the keys to the kingdom from Andy Dalton and one has to wonder where Dalton will land next in his NFL journey. For the last 3 weeks, Fields has won 2 games albeit against perennially weak teams: Bengals and Lions. The Raiders were in the cellar for a long time but have looked much better this season. The game is in Vegas and I sometimes wonder if the temptations of Sin City will be a distraction for visiting teams. However, I think playing in such a high profile city will help the Bears. After all, Chicago has a lot going on (arguably one of my favorite US cities) and I would not be surprised if Bears fans travel for this game. It's a short flight and Bears Nation is very devoted. Also, how often do the Bears play at the Raiders home stadium? Usually once every 8 years given that they play in difference conferences. Fields will feel right at home as he helps his team keep this game close. We should also consider that Khalil Mack will want to exact some revenge on his former team. Mack has made the Bears defense a strong unit and I suspect he will get 2 - 3 sacks and pressure Derek Carr often. The spread of 5.5 is too much and it's simply giving the Raiders too much credit. I say the Raiders win with a late field goal in the final second or in OT, just enough for a Bears cover.
- Cleveland +2.5
Yes, the Chargers look good. Beating the Chiefs in KC was impressive. Handing the Raiders their first loss last week and winning by 2 TDs was huge. The Chargers clearly have taken care of business in their division, as any team should. Here is the problem: the Browns have also looked good. Except for a close loss in Week 1 to KC, the Browns have won by at least 1 TD in the other three games. One big reason I like the Browns to win in LA is the fact that their offense is very similar to the Cowboys. Remember when the Cowboys ran all over the Browns in Week 2? Ezekiel Elliott and and Tony Pollard combined for 29 carries, 178 rushing yards, 2 rushing TDs, 5 receptions, and 57 receiving yards. That type of rushing dominance enabled the Cowboys to win by 3 in LA and I expect the same for the Browns. RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are just as talented as Elliott and Pollard and have a better offensive line. If you feel more comfortable buying a half point or a full point, I won't hold that against you. Lose by a field goal and you cover/push but have faith that the Browns win this game outright. You will thank me later after watching Chubb and Brown rumble for 250 - 300 combined yards en route to a 27 - 23 victory in La La Land.
- Buffalo +3
If the Bills really want to take their game to the next level, meaning a trip to the Super Bowl, where they were denied 4 years in a row from 1990 - 1993, they need to beat the team that stood in their way twice last year. The Bills lost 26-17 at home to the Chiefs during Week 6 and then in the AFC title game 38-24 in KC. That Week 6 loss proved costly since it gave the Chiefs home field advantage in the playoffs. The stage is set perfectly for the Bills to prove they are now the class of the AFC. It's on Sunday Night Football and at Arrowhead Stadium. While winning in KC on national TV is a tall task to accomplish, I firmly believe that Bills QB Josh Allen is ready. After all, the Chiefs defense has looked awful ranking dead last in DVOA (Football Outsiders metric for evaluating team performance). The proof is in the pudding with losses to the Ravens and Chargers (allowing 30+ points to each of them) and giving up 29 and 30 points to the Browns and Eagles, respectively. Of course the public will lean towards the two-time defending champions at home and on national TV but the Chiefs are a vulnerable bunch, especially on defense. Meanwhile the Bills have righted the ship since their Week 1 loss to Buffalo. 35-0 shut out in Miami, 43-21 onslaught against Washington at home, and 40-0 demolition of Houston at home. The Bills are on a mission and they will show the whole country on Sunday Night that it's their turn to control the AFC. I like the Bills to win a 34-30 thriller which should be one of the most entertaining games of the 2021 season and will symbolically make Josh Allen the new golden boy of the NFL.
4 dogs and 1 favor. 3 road teams and 2 home teams. It's a good mix of teams and we avoid heavy chalk. I even like money line for all of the dogs featured in the Big Five Bets. Just do it and we will end the day with a high balance!