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.