Saturday, November 26, 2011

Week 12 NFL Predictions: November 27, 2011

For latest odds check out one of my trusted sportsbooks - 5 Dimes, Bodog or Intertops.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Tennessee Titans: TEN -3
It's not very often that I put a team like TEN on my card, but it's also not everyday that they play a team like TB.   I don't really understand why TEN is only a 3 point favorite at home, because I don't see these teams as even on a neutral field.  TB is simply a team that doesn't do very much right.  The running back position has been a sore spot all year and Freeman has taken a big step back in his development.  His play is even more glaring when you consider that his offensive line has done such a good job protecting him this year.  Adding to the problems is the lackluster receiving core he has to throw to.  This is a team that can't drive the ball very well and once they do get in the red zone, they rarely score touchdowns (where they rank dead last in the league).   Granted, TEN's defense isn't much to get excited about either, but that's hardly a worry when TB will do enough to stop themselves.

On the flip side you'd think that TB would have a much stronger pass defense when you consider the names on the back of the uniforms.  Instead, they continue to get torched week and week.   This is great news for a TEN team that doesn't strike fear into many defenses.  While TB is dead last in red zone offense, TEN ranks at the very top of the list.  They don't get inside the 20 very often, but when they do it's usually money.   Roll with the home team and lay the points.  Prediction: Bank TEN -3.

Carolina Panthers vs Indianapolis Colts: CAR -3
You'll have to shop around or buy the hook in order to get CAR at -3, but it would be well worth the effort.  I'm not quite sure why IND is only getting 3 points at home when you consider who they are starting at QB.  What person in their right mind would put their hard earned money on this winless team?   They are almost as horrible against the spread as they are in the win-loss column.  Admittedly, CAR have burned me a couple times this year, but when I see value I'm going to take it regardless of the track record.

To wrap this game up in a nutshell, it's advantage CAR offense, disadvantage everything involving IND.   CAR should be able to do whatever it is the draw up in the playbook this week.  They are one of the worst teams in the NFL when it comes to execution and self-defeating mistakes, but seriously--if you can't get it together vs a team like IND than how bad are you?   IND rank near or at the bottom of almost every meaningful defensive category.   Newton should have a huge game in the air and the ground.  The only hope IND have here is if they can get their running game going.  This is where CAR bleed the most.  Thankfully for them, IND is a horrible rushing team.  I think CAR win this one convincingly.  Prediction: Bank CAR -3. 

Arizona Cardinals vs St Louis Rams: STL -2.5
STL had a huge letdown game last week at home vs SEA, but it's not going to deter me from taking them vs ARI.   I'm not really concerned who plays QB for ARI because STL will have the advantage defending the pass either way.  Say what you want about their record this year, but they can do some things well.  In fact, what's going to be more problematic for ARI is protecting their QB.  They have the worst pass protecting offensive line in the NFL and STL boast one of the better defensive fronts.  Even if Long is out for this one, STL know how to scheme enough blitzes to generate a pass rush.

If ARI do stay in this game, it's going to have to come from Wells, the defense, and special teams. Unfortunately for ARI, there isn't any one area that they can consistently depend on this year.  Their main challenge on defense will be slowing down the STL running attack.  I expect STL to be able to do enough on the ground to put some drives together and walk away with points.  Much like last week, it's going to be an ugly game to watch, but the matchups favor STL and they are at home.  If they can't win this by a field goal then I'll have no choice but to blindly fade them for the rest of the year.  Prediction: Bank STL -2.5.

Friday, November 25, 2011

2011 Week 12 NFL Predictions

Happy Thanksgiving to all the Americans out there.  Yesterday's games went pretty much as expected.  DAL only won by a point giving me a push on the teaser, but it's better than a loss.  I have week 12 predictions up and I'll have some write-ups either later today or early tomorrow.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2011 Week 11 Market Watch

With the PHI win on Sunday night, week 11 ended with an 0-3 mark against the spread.  Not the results you want to see this far into the season.  I'm not going to bitch about how CAR blew a 27-7 lead or how NY lost to Vince "I don't need practice" Young, because this is the 1st time in 40 weeks that I've gone winless ATS.  These weeks happen and you just have to take them on the chin.  In an ironic twist of fate, my teaser hit which is a nice surprise given how those have gone this year.

Since misery loves company, I'll turn to the market watch for a little bit of downward comparison.  The public consensus picks went 0-4 with NE pending while the Hilton picks went 1-3-1 for the day.  One interesting note to keep an eye on is how many favorites win the game without covering the spread.  Most weeks this season the spread hasn't come into play--especially in games with a spread of 6 points or less.  Essentially, if you can pick who will win the game, you'll cover the number.

I'll have week 12 picks up within the next day or two depending line movement/injury news. 


Market Watch

Public Consensus Top 5 Picks

NYG -6
BUF +2
GB -14
DAL -8
NE -15

Record to date: 25-28-1

Hilton Contest Consensus Top 5 Picks

CHI -3.5
BUF +2
STL -3
MIN +1
CIN +7

Record to date: 25-26-4

Friday, November 18, 2011

Week 11 NFL Predictions: November 20, 2011

For latest odds check out one of my trusted sportsbooks - 5 Dimes, Bodog or Intertops.

Carolina Panthers vs Detroit Lions: CAR +7
Two teams that are coming off horrible week 10 performances are squaring off this week.  Both started off the year hot against the spread, but cooled off as of late.  So what are we to make of these teams at the midway point of the season?  Is CAR improving?  Is DET regressing?  I'm not sure anybody has the answer, but what I do know is 7 points is too much to be giving CAR in this spot.

Thus far, DET has been excellent against everybody in the league except the contenders.  They had an impressive win against CHI in prime-time, but laid an enormous egg last week in the rematch.  A lot of that had to do with the play of Stafford, but there are other red flags in their recent play.  Over the last few weeks they rank near the bottom in red zone/third down offense, special teams, turnover differential, and penalties.  These stats are well below their season-long average and could be hints of a regression to the mean. Making matters worse is the fact that Stafford plans to wear a glove for a 2nd straight week.  Maybe people are making a bigger deal out of this than it is, but there's no denying that it's a worthy concern.  Passing is the one advantage that DET should have on CAR's defense because they cannot run the ball if their lives depended on it.  Without a healthy Stafford, that edge is largely muted.  I expect him to play better than he did last week, but not as well as he was in the early part of the season.

This doesn't mean that I think CAR should win this game.  DET should be favored--just not by a touchdown.  CAR's offense is only as good as Cam Newton's level of play, but he put up a dud last week against TEN.  Has he hit a wall?  Is it a normal performance in the peaks and valleys of rookie QB play?  I'm leaning with the latter until I see otherwise.  Smith and Olsen still account for the most targets of any receivers on the team and I like both of those options to challenge a pretty good DET passing defense.  DET ranks high in D-line play and red zone/3rd down defense.  They've continued to be strong in these areas despite their recent speed bumps.  When you add in the fact that CAR underperforms their yardage--the edge definitely goes to DET.  Look for Rivera to mix in more of a balanced attack this week to take advantage of DET's wide-9 scheme and Newton to make a lot of plays with his legs.  Newton will also be relieved that one of the leagues best centers (Ryan Kalil) is slated to start after missing a quarter vs TEN.

It's not going to be pretty, but CAR's offense should be able to do enough to keep this competitive. At the very least, I like CAR to get a backdoor cover if they are trailing in the 4th.  Despite what happened last week, CAR remain one of the top teams with points from long drives in the entire NFL.  Prediction: Bank CAR +7.

Seattle Seahawks vs St Louis Rams: STL -1
In the first half of the season STL was 1-7 ATS.  You could pretty much bet against them blind and come away with a fat profit. I don't think that is the case anymore.  I banked them last week and they still would have covered even if CLE hit on their late field goal attempt.   Part of the reason for their first half struggles was due to bad play, but a lot of it also had to do with injuries and strength of schedule.  What we have now is some favorable lines going forward.  I think STL should be favored by at least a field goal, but having them at anything less is value in my opinion.

Despite how bad their season has been, STL have been pretty solid on their lines--especially their defensive line.  On the flip side SEA has had horrible line play throughout the season.  Both of these trends have continued over the past few weeks as well.  This is always an overlooked aspect of matchups as teams that control the lines usually control the game. This puts SEA at an immediate disadvantage.  Overall, the teams matchup pretty evenly everywhere else.  Across the board there aren't any huge mismatches that leap off the page from any meaningful categories. That is unless you look at their play over the last few weeks.  STL has improved on the ground both offensively and defensively of late. 

Bradford hasn't had the kind of season that most of us expected of him, but he hasn't been horrible either.  STL has led the league in dropped passes all season long and he's been playing from behind in most contests.  Then he suffered a high ankle sprain that only added insult to injury.  He won't be 100% for a while, but he's still able to make all the throws and execute the offense.  The fact that SEA can't rush the passer that effectively will only help.  Lloyd has really given Bradford a go-to receiver and has received double-digits targets in every game he's played thus far.  Throw in home field advantage and I really like STL in this spot.  Even if it's a close game, getting them at less than a field goal is nice value.  Prediction: Bank STL -1.

Philadelphia Eagles vs New York Giants: NYG -4.5
If you've followed my blog for any amount of time you might be surprised at this pick.  I was very high on PHI coming into the season and even when they were struggling I thought they would eventually turn it around.  At the same time the big question mark on this team always revolved around Juan Castillo.  One of the main reasons he was promoted was so he could fix the red zone defense.  PHI ranked dead last in that category last year and were almost as bad the year before that.  10 weeks into the season and PHI rank...yes, you guessed it...last in red zone defense.

It turns out that their performance against DAL was an anomaly--the perfect storm of execution and luck.  In reality, this is a team that can't get out of it's own way.  Vick can never stay healthy and he's doubtful for this matchup as well.  Add an injured Maclin and a disgruntled D-Jax to the mix and you have a dreadful cocktail.  Some think that PHI is a powder keg waiting to explode.  Personally, I don't think Reid's job is in jeopardy, but Castillo is undoubtedly on his way out of town.  You simply can't screw up this much talent any worse than he has.

A closer look at this matchup suggests that PHI should have a monumental advantage on the ground...both offensively and defensively.  However, a lot of their running success is contingent upon Vick's ability to gain yards and keep defenses honest.  Without him in the lineup, that threat disappears.  Now Vince Young isn't a slouch when it comes to running either, but he doesn't have the same ability in the air and NY isn't going to respect his grasp on the offense.  NY should be able to contain McCoy enough to put the game in Young's hands.  That's asking a lot for a guy who hasn't looked good in any of his appearances this season.

NY have been pretty good with their own red zone defense this year, but over the last few weeks they've struggled in the red zone on both sides of the ball.  Otherwise they've remained fairly solid in most areas and matchup pretty well with PHI.  It's amazing to see what they've been able to do given all their injuries, but Manningham is expected to play this Sunday and that will be a nice boost for Eli in the passing game.  This is one area I expect NY to attack PHI--especially with DRC out.  Last week on the go-ahead scoring drive, Castillo put Joselio Hanson on Larry Fitzgerald.  You can guess what happened in that matchup.  Simply put, it's impossible to trust Castillo to coach a defense in crunch time.  PHI have blown 5 fourth quarter leads this year.  I won't say this will be a blowout, but I expect NY to win this one by at least a touchdown.  There is already line movement heading in that direction.  Prediction: Bank NYG -4.5.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

2011 Week 11 NFL Predictions

Week 10 had some ups and downs.  My ATS picks went 3-2, but I'm a little surprised CAR and BUF lost so badly.  I knew BUF was outmatched on defense, but I expected them to keep it closer than that.  I'm guessing CAR just wasn't ready to play coming out of the bye, because they should have been able to do much better than they did. On the downside, my teasers continue to lose.  I still have time to turn those around, but the clock is ticking.



Week 11 Predictions

2011 Week 10 Market Watch

Interesting that the public and the pros were both heavy on PIT this week.  I thought CIN had a real chance to win that game and if AJ Green didn't go down with an injury I'm not sure they wouldn't have won.  HOU was the unanimous choice across the board and I'm still in shock that they were only 3 point favorites against a paper-tiger TB team.

In the end the public went 3-2 and the sharp picks went 2-3.  Neither group is doing that bad this year, but they aren't doing great either.  It will be interesting to see if there is any separation down the stretch.

Market Watch

Public Consensus Top 5 Picks

PIT -3
JAX -3
HOU -3
BAL -7
SD -7

Record to date: 25-24-1

Hilton Contest Consensus Top 5 Picks

PIT -3
HOU -3
BUF +5.5
NYG +3.5
ATL pick

Record to date: 24-23-3

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Week 10 NFL Predictions: Teasers of the Week

As a rule of thumb it's best to only include teams in teasers that cross the critical numbers and limit them to 2 teams per.  There are always exceptions to the norm, but this method provides the most value. 

Check out the Sportsbook Review Football Teaser Odds Chart to find out what book will offer you the best value.

Since there are a nice collection of teaser options this week, I'm going to give a quick summary of each game and let you ultimately decide which choices you like best.

Oakland Raiders vs San Diego Chargers: Despite making an epic fall in my power rankings I think teasing SD down to what essentially equates to a pick 'em vs OAK is a solid bet.  The biggest advantage they have in this game in through the air on both sides of the ball.  Carson Palmer made a couple nice passes last week vs DEN, but he also looked a lot like the washed up Palmer that CIN had to suffer through last season.  Expecting him to pull out a victory on the road on a short week without a whole lot of practice/playing time is asking a lot.  Even elite athletes have a difficult time coming into this league cold, let alone an out of shape veteran in a new system with sub-par receivers.   OAK also give up the most points from long drives in the entire NFL and this is an area that SD's offense haven't had a problem with.  The other area OAK struggle in is penalties. They rank dead last in the league once again. McFadden is out, but Bush can carry the load.  More of a concern is who they are starting in the secondary.  Rivers will take advantage of that situation.  Do SD have issues?  Absolutely.  If they didn't I would be taking them straight on the point spread.  However, I think they caught a break here and should be able to pull out a win. UPDATE: As we all saw, SD obviously puked all over themselves on Thursday night.  It still allows us to use NE in another teaser, but things have reached an all-time low in SD....further justifying their huge drop in the mid-season power rankings. 


New England Patriots vs New York Jets: NE is another team that has fallen from grace over the past month.  Tom Brady's play doesn't resemble anything we saw earlier in the season.  His season doesn't get any easier as he goes up against the top team in the AFC--according to my power rankings.  I wrote off NY early this season because they were making all the same mistakes they made last year and I didn't see much of a progression from Mark Sanchez.  However, I give them full credit for turning it around and playing great football.  Sanchez is still a giant question mark, but the team around him is masking all his flaws.  Yet despite the power ranking discrepancy, neither team have a huge advantage in any key area.  NY will have opportunities in the passing game, but NE's run defense has improved over recent weeks.  NY's defense stacks up pretty well with NE's offense, but NE have the most points from long drives in the entire NFL.  Both teams have great red zone offenses, but average red zone defenses.  Both O and D-lines are a wash as well.   NE have a top tier 3rd down offense, but NY has a great 3rd down defense.  Both are average in their turnover differential and penalties per game.  Essentially, the books got it right when they made NY the slight favorite.  If you shop around you can find NE at +1.5 which is enough to tease them up over a touchdown.  If not, I suggest you take a pass and watch the line movement throughout the week.  

Baltimore Ravens vs Seattle Seahawks: Once again we have BAL as a heavy favorite on the road against a lesser opponent.  People are no doubt going to remember what happened when they walked into JAX and laid an egg just a few weeks ago.  However, keep in mind that Harbaugh was 15-1 in so-called "let-down" games before that night.  BAL is coming off an emotional prime-time game against PIT, so this is another one of those situations where the intensity won't be at the same level.  Having said that, the mismatches in this game border on the ridiculous.  I'm not going to lay the 7 because the SEA home field advantage is always a wild card, but to say that BAL can't win this game by more than a point is absurd.   The BAL defense could probably win this game all by themselves and I won't be surprised if they in fact outscore SEA's offense.  They hold major advantages in every meaningful category on that side of the ball.  Things get a little more interesting when you matchup BAL's offense against SEA's defense, but it would take a serious implosion on Flacco's part to keep this game in question.  Don't overanalyze this one or overrate SEA's home crowd.  Bank BAL in any teaser you wish.

Detroit Lions vs Chicago Bears: For a game that carries a little more risk and intrigue we have DET at CHI.  There's no denying that CHI has proved me wrong over the last month of the season--mainly because they have changed their style of offense.  The old Mike Martz way simply wasn't getting the job done and put their special teams and defense in a tough spot.  Now that they are shortening the drops for Cutler and relying more on max protection and the running game, the team actually has a shot to win a lot more of their games.  For me, the current line sits just where it should.  CHI have a big advantage in the run game on both sides, and DET have the advantage in the air on both sides.  DET still have the edge with their pass rush, but CHI have shortened the gap from earlier in the year.  CHI will continue to gain favorable field position from their special teams, especially with DET having kicker issues this week. At the same time, DET rank #1 in the NFL with their 3rd down defense and near the very top with turnover differential.  Teasing them up over a touchdown is a no-brainer in what should be a game decided in the 4th quarter. 

Week 10 NFL Predictions: November 13, 2011

For latest odds check out one of my trusted sportsbooks - 5 Dimes, Bodog or Intertops.

Write-ups with full analysis soon.

Tennessee Titans vs Carolina Panthers: CAR -3
I was a little surprised by the line in this game when it first opened.  It has since moved to CAR -3.5 at most books, but you can still find -3 with a bit more juice if you shop around.

CAR have a few key advantages in this matchup that I really like a lot.  Out of the gate TEN's defense was getting applauded for their stingy play, but by mid-season their true identity has come through.  The luxury for CAR will be their ability to run or pass the ball.  TEN isn't very good at either.   Neither option carries a huge edge, but I expect Newton to continue his first half success and hopefully he'll begin to cut down on his glaring mistakes.  The amazing thing about this CAR offense is that they are 5th in the league in points from long drives, but yet still have a negative points-to-yards ratio, bad turnover differential, and horrible penalty ranking.  Some of that is attributable to their defense, but no matter what the rankings say this offense knows how to move the ball!  Imagine how many wins this team could have if they just eliminated half of their controllable mistakes.  CAR also hold advantages with their O-line, 3rd down/red zone offense, and completed offensive plays per game.

Things aren't all bad for TEN.  They have the top ranked red zone offense in the entire NFL!  The only problem?  They don't get there nearly enough.  They rank well below average in points from long drives which proves that they just can't sustain enough drives to take advantage of their great play inside the 20.  Their O-line does a pretty solid job in pass protection too.  What all this adds up to is a lack of execution by Hasselbeck and his receivers.  It doesn't help that CJ is having a bad year, but losing Britt really hurt this team and now Washington is hobbled with a hip injury.  Cook has bright moments, but doesn't get open consistently enough to be a major factor in the passing game.  TEN will have opportunities to score some points, but their inability to drive the field is going to hurt them in the end.  Relying on the big play isn't a formula for success against an up and coming CAR team.   Fans are excited about their Panthers so give them full value for their home field advantage.  Prediction: Bank CAR -3.

Houston Texans vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers: HOU -3
If I was surprised at the line in the TEN/CAR game, I was absolutely shocked at the line in this one.  I very rarely change the unit size per bet, but this is my strongest play of the week by a mile.  HOU has proved that they are a contender despite losing their best player on offense and defense this year.  This doesn't mean that they are a "lock" to win this game because this is the NFL after all, but the mismatches in this game border on ridiculous.

To begin with HOU's offense has major advantages in all four running/passing matchups this week.  TB lost McCoy last week and that's going to significantly hurt their chances to slow down the HOU running attack.  HOU should be able to dominate this game on the ground and have their way with TB's inconsistent pass defense off of play-action.  TB rank ok with their 3rd down/red zone defense, but they haven't been able to generate much of a pass rush this season and they are giving up a ton of points from long drives--a lot of them from big plays.  They also show their youth as they rank near the bottom in penalties per game.  Discipline has been an issue all season long. 

Offensively, things don't get much better for TB.  Most of the onus to win this game will fall on the shoulders of Freeman because HOU simply don't give up much on the ground.  This is really bad news if you are a TB fan because Freeman has been fairly average all season long.  They complete an average amount of offensive plays per game, but this team can't get points from long drives whatsoever.  In fact, they only average 10 points from long drives per game.  Most of this is attributable to their dead last ranking in red zone offense.  Some of this falls on the running game, but a lot of it falls on Freeman too because his O-line has done a good job with pass protection for the most part.  We'll see if TB can get their act together and make this competitive, but if recent trends continue this outcome won't even be close.  TB couldn't even sell out this game and they don't cover a lot of spreads at home.  Prediction: Bank HOU -3.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs Indianapolis Colts: JAX -3
If we learned anything in the 1st half of the season it's that the Indy Colts are the worst team in the NFL.  Through 9 games they are 2-7 ATS.  That is pretty remarkable when you consider that Vegas has been inflating lines in their favor ever since we knew Peyton would not be in the lineup.  Now they go up against a division rival and sit as 3 point dogs at home.  Is this the chance for them to get their first win?  A lot of people seem to think so, but I'm not one of them.

Let's start with the good news for IND.  Their pass protection has been ok given their challenges on the line.  They don't face a big threat from JAX in the 3rd down/red zone categories.  And they have been fairly disciplined in the penalty ranking. 

Now for the bad news.  Despite respectable numbers in many key areas, the main problem holding IND back is execution.  It's hard to put this all on Painter because their running game has been non-existent, but IND only need an average QB to capitalize on their opportunities.  Instead, they are in for a long day trying to contain MJD.  He should be able to control this game from the get-go.  Gabbert still looks very much like a rookie, but IND's defense just can't get off the field this year.  They rank dead last on 3rd down defense and that has translated into a lot of points given up.  In fact, IND has given up more points from long drives than any team in the entire NFL.  When you factor in that IND turn the ball over a lot, you are left with one big mess of a team.  Even worse, IND rank dead last in special teams play as well.  So fans can't even expect their main units to get help from that area either.  I'm not saying this will be a blowout, but JAX hold all the advantages and have a good track record against IND.  I feel pretty good about this pick as well.  The "suck for Luck" streak should continue on Sunday.  Prediction: Bank JAX -3.

Buffalo Bills vs Dallas Cowboys: BUF +5.5
This is another line that I was surprised to see on Monday morning.  I think there has been a little bit of an overreaction over BUF's loss last week against NY.  Yes, they did get dominated from start to finish, but give NY credit as they currently sit as the 2nd best team on my mid-season power rankings.  The line in this game has been overadjusted in the wrong direction though.

The main reason that DAL should be the favorite in this game is the edge they hold over the BUF defense.  After a strong start, the BUF defense has fallen back to earth.  Sharps look at their amazing turnover differential and they know it's only a matter of time before things begin to regress to the mean.  I'm not going to argue with this logic because it holds some weight, but is it enough to favor DAL by 5.5 points?  There's no question that DAL's offense will have opportunities to put points on the board.  Murray has done a nice job replacing Jones in the backfield and Romo has enough receiving options to move the sticks through the air, but let's take a closer look at just how proficient this DAL offense is.  We could see more of the same with Austin back on the sidelines with another injury. 

To start, they rank near the bottom of the league in red zone offense.  Their points-to-yards ratio is also very low.  DAL can move the ball, but only put up average numbers in the point column.  They either stall and settle for field goals, turn the ball over, or shoot themselves in the foot with drops and/or penalties.  Contending teams simply don't do this on a consistent basis.  More of this was on display last week against a less-than-impressive SEA team.  DAL finally broke through in the 2nd half, but it was a 6-6 game at halftime.

I'm not saying BUF is going to win this game, but they could and I expect them to keep it close all the way through.  As it stands now BUF's O-line has done the best job in pass protection through the first half of the season.  They are excellent with their red zone/3rd down offense and score a lot of points from long drives.  Rob Ryan did get the blueprint for how to slow down this offense from his brother Rex, but DAL don't have the same personnel to lock things down on the outside.  Outside of pass rushing, DAL's defense has fallen back to earth and rank near the middle of the pack in every meaningful category.   Their test will become even more difficult with Jenkins expected to miss the game.  DAL shouldn't be favored by anything more than a field goal for home field advantage.  Prediction: Bank BUF +5.5.

St Louis Rams vs Cleveland Browns: STL +3
The last pick I've added to the card this week is one of the cellar-dwellers in the St Louis Rams.  I realize this pick could carry more risk than some of the others, but we are talking about the Cleveland Browns people.

Despite hanging around the "bubble" status for most of the year on my power rankings, CLE isn't a team that does anything particularly well.  They've only managed to beat the bad teams and haven't come close to beating a winning team all season long.  In other words, their rankings are a bit of a mirage.  In 8 games they've only covered 1 of them, so even in their wins they weren't able to get the cover.

Perhaps one of the most telling stats for CLE is their points from long drives.  At the midway point they only have 80 points from sustained drives all year long.  When you compare who these teams have played this season, that becomes a god awful number for CLE.  In fact, STL have only played 1 team from the bottom third of the league all season long.  After adjusting for strength of schedule, STL matchup with CLE quite well in all the major categories.  

Massaquoi, Hillis, and Hardesty are all out this week.  This means CLE is going to be relying more on trick plays involving Cribbs.  Yeah...good luck with that.   Bradford is limited, but he can still play.  I'd much rather have a hobbled Bradford than a healthy Feeley.  This has all the makings of an ugly game, and the matchup was tricky to evaluate given the strength of schedule discrepancy, but I knew that STL would get favorable point spreads in the 2nd half of the season and it starts this Sunday.  I expect them to win this game straight up, but take the points just to be safe.  Prediction: Bank STL +3.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

2011 NFL Mid-Season Review

Market Watch
Season overall records to date:
Public Consensus Picks: 22-22-1
Hilton Contest Consensus Picks: 22-20-3

Before I get to my mid-season review, let's cover how the public and pros did against the spread this season.  Now let it be stated up front that the Hilton Contest players are not all "pros" or "sharps".  There are many "squares" and people who think they are "pros" that enter this competition so the numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt.  Having said that, it's the closest thing we'll get to "pro" plays so it will be an adequate measuring stick for our purposes.  When you compare the top 5 consensus plays from the public tracking systems and the Hilton Contest--the differences are very obvious.

At this time last season both the public and pro plays were hovering around 39-44%.  The Hilton picks eventually recovered to achieve 50%, but the public never came close to that number.  The interesting aspect of this season is that the big favorites are covering like never before.  Despite inflated point spreads, heavy favorites are getting the job done and the public is reaping the benefits.  Will this trend continue or will the books adjust?  I have a couple theories on this down the page...

SIDES
This season I stand at 21-19-2 ATS on sides at the halfway mark.  In football handicapping, the magic overall number is 52.4%.  Achieve this winning percentage at the end of the year and you will have broken even.  This is the minimum number that is the most important once the Super Bowl is handed out in February.  Right now I'm exactly at that mark.  Not very good, but not bad either.  Sometimes a break even record is a morale victory in itself.  At this point last year I was 23-19-1 at the midway point and I finished the year 57% on sides and close to 60% if you include the preseason.  So while I'm not thrilled with how the season has gone, I'm not deterred either.

Looking back at my losses, a handful of teams have accounted for most of them.  ATL and SD were teams I was high on coming into the season and I've missed 3 times with each.  I've lost twice with CAR, PHI, BUF, and MIN.  Ironically enough, with the exception of PHI, the other 3 teams have winning records ATS.  In fact, CAR is 5-2-1 ATS this year so imagine how good I feel about picking their only 2 losses.

Teasers
This has been one area that has gotten the best of me so far this year.  After going back and reviewing all my teaser picks nothing really stands out--they just haven't hit this year.  If I would have taken all my teaser picks as straight picks against the spread the record would be 13-16.   This tells me two things.

1) I haven't had much luck in terms of which teams I combine.

2) I've been teasing the right sides, but the 6 points hasn't been enough.

Unlike "totals" last season, I don't see any trends that signal a red flag so I'm going to continue with them throughout the 2nd half.  In theory, many games down the stretch are sure to be highly competitive and tightly contested affairs. Weather will become more of a factor and point spreads will be inflated based on what we've seen thus far.  There will be opportunities to take advantage of this.

Player Props
Last season player props were posted earlier in the week than this season. Right now books like Bodog and 5dimes aren't posting their props until late Saturday or early Sunday.  It is simply too many games to go through with not enough time to evaluate and get them out to be much of a factor this season.  In the 2nd half I'll post player props for the prime-time games for those looking for a little extra action on the side.

My top 50 season-long player props are looking good though.  On props that are all but decided on I'm 14-8.   About half of them could go either way depending on how the 2nd half goes.   2 were graded as "no-plays" because they didn't play in week 1.

Division Winners
These have been a mixed bag thus far.  STL has been a big disappointment this year and SF have been much, much better that people expected.  PHI has an outside chance to win the division because they still have another head-to-head game with NY and NY have a very tough 2nd half schedule.  That said, it's not a pick I'm expecting to win at this point.

I picked HOU to win before any of us knew that Peyton Manning wasn't going to play and I feel great about that pick--especially getting them at +200.

I took a pass on the NFC North, AFC East, and AFC West because GB, NE, and SD were so heavily favored.

My other 2 picks are pending.  ATL has a decent chance to take it, but they'll need to beat NO head-to-head.  PIT isn't out of it yet, but losing both games to BAL is going to make things difficult.

In hindsight there isn't much I would have done differently here.

Season Win Totals
There isn't much to report in this category just yet.  I'm on track to be 6-4 with teams that are all but decided, but 9 teams could go either way (NYG, CHI, ATL, TB, TEN, SD, OAK, PIT, DEN).

I hit on MIN, DET, SEA, ARI, HOU, and MIA.

I missed on PHI, SF, BUF, and CIN. I think it's fair to say that most (if not all) of these teams haven't shocked people in the 1st half of the season.  I'm not surprised PHI struggled out of the gate, but I am surprised they have a losing record given their schedule.  It will be interesting to see if SF, BUF, and CIN can keep it up when the games become more important.  

Going Forward
The main difference that I've noticed between this season and last is how the trends have played out.  In 2010 underdogs won at an unprecedented rate during the first half of the year and things balanced out as the season went along.  This season the league has seen an unprecedented rate of scoring with no apparent trends regarding underdogs/favorites/home/road teams.  This trend is bizarre on a number of accounts.

1) Every sharp on the planet assumed that defenses would be way ahead of the offenses due to the lockout-shortened offseason.

2) The new kickoff rule has reduced returns by a significant amount

3) More rookies started the season than any time before

The only trend counter-acting all of this was the strong emphasis on player safety in the rules.

The results couldn't have been more opposite of what was expected.  Offenses came flying out of the gate and seemed miles ahead of the defenses.  Rookies were making a much more significant impact than people expected.  And points from long drives has not been affected due to the kickoff rule.

How this has all shaken out in the point spread is a lot of unpredictability in the 4th quarter.  Teams that would have otherwise had a game in the bag have given up the lead like we've never seen before--and I'm not just talking about garbage points.  Dramatic lead changes at the end of games have made a large share of games a coin flip on the Vegas line.

The reason for this is fairly simple.  Passing is way up and the rules facilitate it.  Right now 14 teams (almost half the league) is passing over 60% of the time.  Last year only 7 teams were passing this much.  That increase is phenomenal.  300 yard passing games used to be a barometer of an top tier quarterback.  Now people start asking questions if you don't reach that mark.

Penalties have always been a problem in the NFL.  Going back in time I don't know anybody that hasn't attributed some of their losses to bad calls that turned a game.  The difference this year is that player safety is being used as a copout reason for a large amount of bad calls.  Whether it is a helmet to helmet hit, a pass interference play, or a roughing the passer call--penalties are sustaining drives and increasing scoring.  When almost half the teams pass 60%+ of the time those calls are going to become even more prevalent.

Now I'm not about to blame my losses on this new trend because I'm sure I've been on the winning side of it too, but it has added a new wrinkle to handicapping football in the 2011 season.

Conclusion
At this point of the season I feel pretty good about things.  It's reassuring to know that even in a turbulent season that has caused problems for mostly everyone, my system is still holding up well.  Teasers have hurt my overall profit margin so far, but with 8 weeks of the regular season and playoffs remaining, I expect to have a 6th straight profitable season.

I'd like to thank all those who have taken the time to contact me and I appreciate all the feedback (good and bad) and support.  Behind the scenes, I've been in talks with a handful of people in regard to expanding the website.  It's possible that I introduce more people and their picks before the season is out, but those details are still being ironed out.  Stay tuned for that and best of luck to all the rest of the way!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

2011 Week 10 NFL Predictions

Week 9 finished with a thud as PHI once again blew a 4th quarter lead.  They have officially become the NFC version of the San Diego Chargers--a team full of underacheiving stars.  Give CHI full credit for executing a great game plan because it was a minor miracle that they didn't give up a single sack against one of the best D-lines in the league.

I have some picks up for week 10 with a couple more underdogs waiting for more favorable line movement.  I'll have the mid-season power rankings up tomorrow and a mid-season review on Wednesday.  It's been one of the whackiest NFL seasons I've seen in a while and I have a couple of theories why.  That said, I fully intend to have my 6th straight winning season despite the new trends.

Week 10 Teasers
Week 10 Predictions
Mid-Season Power Rankings

2011 NFL Mid-Season Power Rankings

I use a set of 17 weighted statistics--some of them traditional and some of them custom--as the core basis of my ratings, but I adjust the rankings slightly based on various qualitative factors (coaching, injuries, opinion, strength of schedule, etc).

Power rankings are good to have, but they only tell you where teams sit in relation to one another in the overall scheme of things. A team lower in rank could easily defeat a team above it if they matchup well with them--something to keep in mind when evaluating weekend games.

Rank Contenders
Rank near the top in 6 key categories, but still struggle with 3rd down and pass defense.
Have vaulted themselves to the top of the AFC power rankings and out of pretender status. The only category they rank in the bottom half in is penalties.
Steady climb up the list despite losing Johnson and Williams. Still need work in red zone offense/defense.
People keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and we might have had a hint of it vs NY. The numbers suggest they can bounce back.
Huge win in NE validated their stats. No one is quite sure how they are pulling it off given their injuries.
Finally earned their way into contender status. Still have glaring weaknesses on offense (3rd down/red zone), but winning the turnover battle compensates.
Just when people were ready to write them off, they demolish DEN on the road. They are 0-2 against contending teams though and they'll need to win one of those to remain in this group.
Have very quietly moved from pretender to contender without much notice. Big chance to stamp their names among the elite with a win over Drew Brees.
Sweeping PIT was impressive. Special teams and red zone offense are areas to work on. Can't afford a letdown in SEA.
Huge matchup against ATL this week for the inside track on the division crown. 32nd ranked red zone defense is a concern.
A big fall down the rankings for Brady and company. Not in danger of becoming a 'pretender' yet, but they aren't going in the right direction. Showdown in NY should tell us more.
Haven't moved much from this spot all season long. Three key areas are holding them back--O-line, red zone defense, turnover differential.

This group has grown to 12 teams at the halfway mark. There's been a lot of movement up and down over the past month, but the real tests are still to come. Half of these teams won't be here come December.

Rank (LW) Pretenders
A win in PHI was a step in the right direction, but still don't have a win over a legitimate contender. They'll get their chance at legitimacy this week against DET.
Another blown 4th quarter lead keeps them out of contending status. Would take a minor miracle for them to win the division at this point.
Moved out of 'bubble' status with a 6-2 record, but need a win against a top team to validate the record. Halfway through the season CIN have yet to play a top tier team.

No one is quite sure what to make of these teams yet. The potential is there, but their status remains in flux.

Rank (LW) On the Bubble
After what seemed like a promising start, this DAL team has become a middle of the pack team in almost every sense. Losing Lee hurt.
Defense still gives them a shot, but injuries and problems at QB have them on the brink of failure.
Another team without the kind of offensive production to make up for a bad defense. The clock on Hasselbeck is ticking..
Problems on both sides of the ball is derailing their season. Dennis Green said it best--they are who we thought they are.
3-0 vs bad teams. 0-5 against everyone else.
Inconsistency defines this team, but they've done enough to stay out of the basement--for now.
Carson Palmer isn't enough to compensate for a bad defense and leading the league in penalties never helps.
Biggest fall from grace in the entire NFL. Still have a chance to turn it around, but could very easily drop to the bottom tier of the league with a couple more losses.

With the exception of OAK, every one of these teams has a winning record against teams below them, but a losing record against the contenders and pretenders. If you are a fan of these teams--temper expectations down the stretch.

Rank (LW) "Suck for Luck" Sweepstakes
They've made strides in several key areas this season. The 2nd half will be about limiting the controllable mistakes.
Finally validated what I was saying about their defense with a win over BAL. Could continue to rise if Gabbert makes strides down the stretch.
Not a lot to say about a very bad team. Tebow has brought the circus to town which is the only thing keeping them in the news.
Getting dominated by a winless team doesn't entirely wipe out the improvements they've made, but they continue to be one of the most unpredictable teams in football.
Losing Kolb wasn't a big a step back as people might think. This team has been horrible all season.
Climbed out of last place thanks to a win over the Saints, but losing a game they should have won against ARI was a big blow to morale.
It's amazing to think this team travelled across the country and beat NY. Their one strength (run defense) failed them last week against DAL.
It's going to take more than one win over KC to rise much in the rankings. Let's see if they can follow it up with another strong effort.
Currently IND is the undisputed leader in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. I can't recall a more intriguing last place team. Will they win a game? Will Manning come back?

None of these teams should be on prime-time for the rest of the season. It would be an insult to every football-loving fan.