For those of you not familiar with the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, it’s a… contest (note to self: buy a thesaurus) where entrants plunk down $5,000 at the beginning of the NFL season to join a pool to pick games against the spread. Each week, participants pick five games against point spreads published on Wednesday. Weekly winners get a small percentage of the prize pool; at the end of the season, the leaders get a substantially bigger portion.
Just to clear things up, I did not enter the LVH SuperContest. I don’t have $5,000 to tie up for four months in a gambling venture where I do not have any significant statistical edge and in fact am far likelier to be a fish among the professional sports bettors who make a up a decent size of the entry pool. However, an old college friend of mine started running an equivalent pool with a $100 buyin, a level of risk and competition I was much more comfortable with. So I entered, and after two finishes just out of the money (each year I finished one spot behind the people who tied for the last paid spot), I decided that this year, I was going to write up my picks each week and my thought process behind them so I could double-check my logic and analyze my picks afterward to see where and why I went right or wrong. And seven weeks into the season, I finally got around to doing that.
Here are my week seven picks with my reasoning for each:
Arizona +6.5 vs Seattle
Whoops. Not the way I wanted to start this week. Anyway, my decision on this pick came from a number of factors: I thought the combination of strong defenses would keep the game low-scoring and thus fairly close; I thought Arizona’s special teams would give them enough edge in field position to get an extra score they wouldn’t have otherwise; I still wasn’t sold on the effectiveness of Seattle’s offense. Well, Arizona’s defense put up a fight and a got a couple of turnovers, but their offense performed even more poorly than I expected: Their only touchdown before garbage time was on a 3-yard drive following a turnover. Seattle’s offense played well enough that the game was never in doubt.
Houston +6.5 at Kansas City
I have a theory that one of the most important things you can do in sports betting is not immediately overreact to events. This is a peculiar finesse of that theory: Despite the Chiefs’ 6-0 record, I still believe they’re lacking the offensive capabilities necessary to be a top team in the league. Their defense has been dominant, but their schedule has been weak, and they haven’t really crushed any decent opponents: One point at home over Dallas suggests those teams are roughly even. The Texans have imploded the past two weeks, and people will expect that implosion to continue. I expect it to regress somewhat, and the narrative of their improved performance will probably go that the team rallied behind Case Keenum (and Wade Phillips, with the passing of his father “Bum” Phillips over the weekend). I think the defense can keep the game close assuming the key players (mainly Watt and Cushing) are healthy, and Keenum’s mobility and the lack of NFL tape on him might give him enough of an edge to allow him to manage the game effectively. I wouldn’t bet on Houston to win, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.
Tampa Bay +7 at Atlanta
Atlanta has an advantage coming from a bye week, but I think Gerald McCoy is going to cause the same sort of problems for Atlanta’s interior line that Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson did two weeks ago. And this time, Matt Ryan doesn’t have Julio Jones or Roddy White to bail him out. Tony Gonzalez might have a big game, but I feel like Tampa Bay also has the personnel to defend him as well as about anyone can (Lavonte David plus one of the safeties).
Combine that with how closely Tampa Bay has played most of its opponents this year, and this spread is strikingly large. Atlanta’s defense is shaky; I wouldn’t count on a big game from Mike Glennon or anything, but I don’t think he’ll have to do much, as Tampa’s defense will be able to keep this game close. This could certainly end up being one of those 16-13 type contests. Alternately, Matt Ryan manages to make the offense work despite the loss of his wide receivers, and the worst coach in the NFL screws up something in a way that makes me wonder how I ever put money on him.
Carolina -6 vs. St. Louis
Carolina’s biggest weakness is its secondary, but they make up for it with a powerful front seven– a defensive line whose first four might be the best in the league, and a middle linebacker who’s already in the conversation for the best in the league at his position, at age 22. St. Louis’ offense is run by a coordinator who could charitably be described as “uncreative” and a quarterback afraid to throw deep. Carolina matches up perfectly with them. If Ron Rivera really does stick with his plan to continue going for it regularly on 4th-and-short, the offense should successfully move the ball, and I don’t see how St. Louis realistically has much of a chance in this game, given their performance level to date (despite their 3-3 record). They won’t get a repeat of last week’s turnover luck.
I struck this next game from my picks after coming up with one I liked better, but since I wrote the writeup before I did that, I might as well let you read it:
Jacksonville +7.5 vs San Diego
Home underdogs typically perform better against the spread. San Diego is on a short week and has to travel cross-country for an early game. Jacksonville with Chad Henne at quarterback is much closer to run-of-the-mill bad team than the abyss of despair that was the Blaine Gabbert Jaguars. San Diego doesn’t have a defense, so Justin Blackmon can probably move the ball indefinitely against them. I think this game will end up being what San Diego fans will call “alarmingly close”.
Instead, I’m going with…
Buffalo +8.5 at Miami
Just seems way too large, an observation confirmed by 5Dimes listing Buffalo +8.5 at -145. Buffalo’s quarterback situation is certainly iffy, but if Thad Lewis is starting, he might be able to keep the game close. Miami’s offensive line is really going to struggle with Buffalo’s front four (or at least, with three of them). Buffalo is 4-2 against the spread this year and has played nearly every game close, the exception being the Thursday night loss to Cleveland where E.J. Manuel was knocked out of the game and Jeff Tuel had to step in.
I’ll check back in Monday or Tuesday and see how I did and why. I want to analyze what went right (or wrong), if it was predictable or not, and if I had properly weighed and considered the evidence at hand.