Back in Week 3, I broke down the success rate of teams covering as 16-point favorites or higher, coming to the conclusion that the Bills had a great chance of staying inside the number, but an outright win was too much to ask against the Vikings. You know how that ended.
This week, we’re going to look at another lopsided line involving the NFL’s favorite punching bag. The Patriots are currently 14-point favorites on the road against the Bills in what could be a Monday night bloodbath. If the closing line is at least Patriots -14, it’ll mark the first time since 2013 that a road team has been favored by that many points in a regular season game. Since 1982, we’ve seen this scenario happen 31 times, and the underdog is 17-14 ATS in that span.
However, if you isolate just the last 10 years, the underdog is 6-3 ATS, with all but three of those massive lines coming in 2009. Favorites had been on a five-game streak of not covering in this scenario before the 49ers beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville, 42-10, as 14.5-point favorites in 2013. Colin Kaepernick was just 10-for-16 in the win while rushing for two touchdowns, which Frank Gore matched, though Kendall Hunter led the team in rushing with 84 yards on nine carries. It was a different time.
But the scenario we see this week with the Patriots and Bills is even more rare because it involves divisional opponents. The Pro-Football-Reference database only has 10 instances of a divisional game closing with the road team favored by 14 points, and if it happens here, it’ll be the first time we’ve seen it since … the Patriots were 16-point favorites against the Bills in Week 11 of 2007. The Patriots rolled in that game by a score of 56-10, but we know that Patriots team was on a much different level from this year’s squad.
The massive road favorite has covered in each of the four instances in our subset since 2000, with two coming from those 2007 Patriots. Prior to that, the underdog was 4-2 ATS when getting 14 points or more.
What does this mean for how we bet in Week 8 of 2018? I think the only side you can consider is the Bills, as this year’s Patriots team has won by more than 14 points only one and has been shaky on the road, though they managed to hang on against the Bears in Chicago last week thanks in part to two special teams touchdowns. However, I wouldn’t place hard-earned American dollars on a team quarterbacked by Derek Anderson, either.
If you have to have action on Monday night, might I suggest the Under? The Bills offense has been a trainwreck this season and is a mess at the QB position. The Patriots have no need to win this game by 40, and in cold, potentially wet conditions, it should behoove Bill Belichick to build a comfortable lead in the first half and just drain the clock after halftime. We could see something like 26-3 or 27-6 as the final here.
If you want to know which sides I like this week, you can find that info at the SportsLine link below, where all my rated plays appear during the season along with my five SuperContest picks each week and plenty of great analysis from a fantastic collection of experts. You can also check out where all our CBS Sports staff lands on each game each week right here.
Each week in this space, I’m going to go behind the lines and picks to bring you a bit of a deeper dive into what you should know before locking in your plays. That includes which lines are on the move, which home-field advantages aren’t getting enough credit, which injuries you should be monitoring, my top teaser play of the week and plenty more.
Let’s get to it.
Over at SportsLine, I have some picks posted for Week 8, and I’ll have plenty more by Friday night. Join now and use promo code WHITE for $1 on your first month and you can get mine and every SportsLine expert’s picks throughout the year, as well as my SuperContest picks each Saturday.
However, you can get one free pick with my teaser of the week at the end of this article. Enjoy!
Biggest line moves
Buccaneers at Bengals -4.5
Ravens -2 at Panthers
Colts -3 at Raiders
The Bengals opened as six-point favorites, but they were quickly bet down as sharp bettors hammered the Bucs, apparently expecting a close result. Three of Cincinnati’s four wins have come by double digits, but they also haven’t looked great over the last two weeks. The Bucs have lost by more than five just once this year.
The Ravens opened as a pick ’em in Carolina against the Panthers, but it appears bettors are expecting the road team to bounce back after a shocking loss to the Saints that featured Justin Tucker’s first missed extra point ever. The Panthers are 4-2 and coming off a big comeback win in Philly, but obviously the sharps aren’t impressed.
The three-point move in Colts-Raiders is easy to understand, with the Raiders trading Amari Cooper and signaling that they’re punting on 2018. Still, it’s a little jarring to see a 2-5 team made road favorites.
As far as lookahead lines go, the Cardinals were 2.5-point favorites against the 49ers at home heading into Week 7 but now find themselves home ‘dogs. If you believe the offensive coordinator switch will make a difference in Arizona, you have to love the value this line presents. And the Patriots were just 10-point favorites in Buffalo before Vegas got a chance to see how bad the Bills offense is with Derek Anderson at the helm.
So which teams should you back in Week 8 of the NFL season? And which Super Bowl contender goes down hard? Visit SportsLine now to see which teams are winning more than 50 percent of simulations, all from the model that has outperformed 98 percent of experts tracked by NFLPickWatch.com the past two seasons.
The DVOA edge
Dolphins +7.5 at Texans
Jaguars +3 vs. Eagles
Broncos +10 at Chiefs
Seahawks +3 at Lions
One of the things I like to look for when dissecting matchups is one where the Football Outsiders DVOA doesn’t agree with the betting line. I don’t have a specific formula, but my standard is basically four points of DVOA for every point on the neutral-field line, though once the line gets big enough I think it’s more like five points of DVOA. Rather than use the regular DVOA numbers, for this exercise I first use DAVE (which incorporates preseason projections) and then weighted DVOA, to get a better sense of each team’s value at the point of the season where I need to know it rather than as a whole.
The Dolphins actually have a better rating than the Texans, but part of that can be chalked up to their performance with Ryan Tannehill. With the backup QB in the lineup and on the road with a short week to prepare, I’m not sure I’m rushing to the counter to get my money on the Dolphins.
The Jaguars and Eagles are neck in neck in DVOA, though the Eagles are obviously considered three points better on a neutral field. DVOA also thinks the Broncos-Chiefs line should be about three points lower. And while the line in the Seahawks-Lions game implies the teams are dead even, DVOA paints a far rosier picture for the road team, with about 22 points of difference in DVOA between the two. That would imply a neutral field line of Seahawks -5.5, which would be Seahawks -2.5 in Detroit.
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Fading the public
Eagles -3 vs. Jaguars
Bears -7 vs. Jets
Redskins -1 at Giants
Colts -3 at Raiders
49ers PK at Cardinals
If 80 percent of the action or more is on one side of a line, you want to be thinking about taking the other side, a practice commonly known as fading the public. If the consensus thinks it has a game figured out, that should be flashing warning signs for you. (All betting trends data from BetOnline via Vegas Insider, and you can find the latest numbers here.)
The Eagles are getting 84 percent of the tickets as of Wednesday night, another indicator that the Jaguars might be the better play in this matchup. It’s not hard to see why the public is lining up to fade a Jaguars offense that has looked completely broken over the last few weeks and even benched starting quarterback Blake Bortles during the loss to the Texans. Bortles has been announced as the starter in this one, however.
The public isn’t buying the Jets going on the road and hanging with the Bears, a team that’s getting 86 percent of the tickets in this matchup. I can’t give you any reason to play the Jets either, other than the concept of fading the public.
The Redskins are your poster child for fading the public, as they’re drawing an incredible 95 percent of the tickets as of Wednesday night. The Giants made two trades early in the week as they blow up their roster and begin a long-awaited rebuild, and it’s clear the public thinks they’ll be a no-show on the field this week. That same concept is dogging the Raiders, as 92 percent of the tickets have come in on the Colts.
The 49ers are 83 percent of the tickets against the Cardinals, and that could be a dangerous play for the public considering the 49ers are a 1-6 team on the road getting massive public support. We should also expect to see changes in the offensive play-calling with Byron Leftwich taking the reins at offensive coordinator.
The Packers aren’t quite at the 80 percent threshold as of this writing, but enough of the tickets are on them at +9.5 against the Rams that they could wind up a “fade the public” play as well.
Biggest line moves I’d make
Browns at Steelers -8 (PIT -5.5)
Redskins -1 at Giants (WAS -2.5)
Ravens -2 at Panthers (PK)
Colts -3 at Raiders (PK)
49ers -1 at Cardinals (ARI -3)
Saints at Vikings PK (MIN -3)
If my power ratings and weighted home-field advantage numbers say a line is more than a point off, you’d be 26-18-1 by blindly playing the side where there’s value. There’s obviously more that comes into play, as Friday injury reports, weather and other factors will determine whether I’m comfortable playing one of these value sides, but it’s a good place to start. These are the lines that I have at least two points off this week.
I’m not as high on the Steelers or as low on the Browns as conventional wisdom would say, and I only have a three-point gap between the teams on a neutral field. With the Steelers not getting the full three for home field, that makes this line Steelers -5.5 for me. I seem to be on the Browns every week, but it’s been working, as they’re 5-2 ATS this season.
The Redskins should be a bigger favorite considering what we’ve seen from the Giants, but this is one line I’m not looking to jump on despite how much I think it’s off. Something’s telling me the Giants manage to win this week, for whatever reason.
My numbers say the Ravens-Panthers and Colts-Raiders games should be pick ’ems, but Vegas has taken a clear position on the road team in each case. I might like the Ravens anyway despite the poor line value, but there’s no way you can get me to lay three points with the Colts on the road against anyone.
The 49ers-Cardinals game is the biggest head-scratcher. My numbers have the Cardinals as the better team, as I trust their defense more than any unit in this game and think the switch at offensive coordinator is going to make a noticeable difference. My ratings have this as Cardinals -3.5, but I think hanging a three in this matchup is more than reasonable.
I’d also hang the three in Saints-Vikings, because even though I have the Saints as a point better on a neutral field, the Vikings have one of the best home-field advantages in the league and get four points in my ratings when they play at home. That works out to a line of Vikings -3, which makes more sense to me than seeing it as a pick ’em.
Teaser of the Week
Bears -1 vs. Jets
Buccaneers +10.5 at Bengals
I expect the Bears to roll against a Jets team banged up at receiver and cornerback with a quarterback who didn’t look so hot in his first exposure to cold temperatures last week. This will also somehow be the Jets’ first road game in October this year thanks to playing three straight at home. I don’t envy them going to Chicago in this matchup.
The Bengals are dealing with a lot of injuries as well, with 10 players missing practice on Wednesday. They may have managed back-to-back 11-point wins to open the year, but one was as a home team on a short week and the other needed a last minute scoop-and-score to win by double digits. The Buccaneers offense should be able to keep pace here.
Other potential teaser plays include: Steelers -2, though I wouldn’t play them laying more than a touchdown; Chiefs -4, though I typically like going through three in teasers; Vikings +6, as I can’t see them getting rolled at home.
The teaser of the week is 4-3 after the Dolphins let me down; the obvious play should have been to bring the Chiefs down to a pick ’em against the Bengals.
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