December 3, 2019 - by Jason Lisk
Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans are rolling as we enter December (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)
Four weeks to go in the NFL season, and we are getting down to crunch time in football pools. As we noted last week, you may start to see some bigger differences across our pick sets for pools with season prizes (Maximize Profit, Win Something, Avoid Bad Finish).
Please read our article on Early Season versus Endgame Strategy in office pools for a more in-depth explanation. The bottom line is that your picking strategy should potentially shift to maximize your chance of winning based on your standings. If you are ahead, you will want to play it more conservatively. That could mean defending your position by leaning toward extremely popular choices. If you are trailing, you need to take some calculated risks to make up ground.
Last week, we highlighted five games. Three of those games ended up with the favored team being unpopular. While the Browns struggled against Pittsburgh, both Tampa Bay and Tennessee won. As a result, the public averaged 1.26 wins across those three games, while taking all three unpopular favorites netted two wins.
The other two games we highlighted were a wash. The Baltimore Ravens were mentioned as favorite that provided reasonable value by sticking with them. The Minnesota Vikings were noted as a potential value gamble. The favorite won, and the underdog lost, both in close games that came down to the end.
There were a lot of upsets in Week 13, including two big ones with Washington over Carolina and Miami over Philadelphia. Overall, the team that we projected with the higher win odds went 9-7 in Week 13. While that may not seem like a great record, it outperformed the public, who registered 8.46 wins on average.
Our confidence pool recommendations also did well in Week 13. For example, our “Tomlinson” Quick Picks* scored 78 points. That’s a pretty good score in a week where half of the most popular public choices lost.
*”Tomlinson” is a set of confidence point picks that we track to help us monitor the product. It assigns picks and confidence points based purely on our model win odds, ignoring public pick data and making no standings-related strategy adjustments.
Using Vegas odds, data-driven predictions, and pick popularity data from national football pick’em contests, we’ve analyzed the entire NFL Week 14 slate and identified the best value picking opportunities. This week, early pick popularity numbers show several games where the public is strongly on one side in matchups that the oddsmakers think are far closer to even.
Keep in mind that we are not saying that you should make all five of the picks below. The best Week 14 picks for your NFL pool depend on characteristics such as its size, rules, and prize structure; our Football Pick’em Picks product will recommend weekly picks for you based on all those factors.
What we are saying is that the teams mentioned in this post either offer some of the best opportunities to differentiate your Week 14 picks from your pool opponents, or they serve as prime examples of when picking against the crowd is most likely a bad idea.
Note: Win odds and pick popularity estimates below may change between publication time and kickoff time. If you want to see the latest numbers, our product updates multiple times per day.
Week 14 features a favorite that the public is picking at a lower rate than their chance to win. These types of teams are as close as you can get to “no brainer picks” in NFL pick’em contests, since both win odds and value are on your side.
The Tennessee Titans have won five of their last six games, corresponding with the team benching Marcus Mariota at quarterback and going with Ryan Tannehill. Oakland has lost their last two games by a combined 62 points, and have now been outscored by 97 points on the season.
So it’s a little surprising that the public is still somewhat enamored with the Raiders, picking them 61% of the time this week. Oakland is a deceiving 6-6 (most teams that get outscored by that much have far worse records) and the public may be slow in responding to Tennessee. Our 2019 NFL predictive ratings have the Titans at No. 12 and Oakland at No. 26, separated by 7.7 points on a neutral field. Tennessee is favored by 3 points, and our models give them a 64% chance of winning.
You can take the betting favorite, and a team that is playing much better of late, and gain ground on about 60% of your pool if the Titans win.
Tennessee is not the only value favorite this week, and there are two more teams that present a similar opportunity on the road.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are another team going in the wrong direction, and the public does not seem to be willing to fully jump off them. The public is taking the Jaguars 59% of the time, while the Chargers are a 3-point favorite in this game.
Jacksonville has lost four games in a row, all of them by at least 17 points. They benched Nick Foles at halftime of the last game and re-inserted Gardner Minshew at quarterback.
Part of the reason that the public is favoring the Jaguars in this one is that the Chargers are also 4-8, and have been a disappointment. But unlike Jacksonville, the Chargers have been in pretty much every game. The Chargers are an amazing 2-8 in one-score games this year.
You’ve probably seen the factoid that the Dallas Cowboys haven’t beaten a team with a winning record this year, and that continued on Thanksgiving when they played dreadfully at home against Buffalo in a game the entire nation watched.
Well, with Chicago sitting at 6-6, that will hold true, and they can either get criticized for only beating bad teams if they win, or losing to good teams if Chicago beats them.
The Cowboys are favored by 2.5 points in Chicago, with 57% win odds, and the public is taking the Bears more than half the time (53%) right now, so there is value on the Cowboys.
Most favorites are overrated by the public, but the team below looks more fairly valued in Week 14. You should think twice about picking against them, not because we think they are a lock to win (we certainly don’t), but because other games offer more compelling upset pick opportunities.
Tampa Bay vs. Indianapolis presents yet another case of the public reacting slowly to changing information. The Colts have lost four of the last five, while the Buccaneers are playing much better and have won three of their last four game to get to 5-7.
Tampa Bay is the favorite in this one, by 3 points, and has 59% win odds. The public is picking the Bucs 61% of the time, so roughly in line with their win odds. But that still presents some value in staying with the Bucs as the favorite in this one. Compare that pick popularity to some similar favorites: New Orleans and New England are also 3-point favorites, but are being picked 70% of the time; Pittsburgh is a 2.5-point favorite at Arizona, but is being picked by the public 71% of the time.
If you’re going to make a gamble on an underdog, you need to make sure that the potential reward (that is, how much your odds to win your pool will increase if your gamble pays off) is as big as possible. Take a bunch of extra risk on a super trendy upset pick, and the joke is on you.
The picks below are not appropriate for all pools. These are ideal picks in a single-week pool with a larger number of entries, and also can be the type of choices you need to start making if you are trailing or just outside the money and need to gain some ground by zigging when the leaders are probably zagging.
The Steelers are being picked by the public 71% of the time, as a 2.5-point road favorite. Pittsburgh’s implied win odds in the betting markets is 58%. Our models are even lower on Pittsburgh, giving them a 54% of victory.
That means taking the Cardinals in an upset is a reasonable risk to consider, and one that has a decent payoff with the Steelers being so popular. Pittsburgh has righted the ship, getting to 7-5 without Ben Roethlisberger this year, but they have a very small margin between success and failure.
The Cardinals are coming off their worst performance of the year, losing 34-7 to the Rams. They’ve lost five in a row. Schedule is the main difference between their 3-3-1 start and 0-5 run. They’ve played San Francisco twice, the Rams, and the Saints. So they aren’t as bad as they’ve looked recently, and the Steelers at home is the best matchup they have had in well over a month.
If you are a pick’em subscriber, you have access to the customized pick’em picks for your specific pools. Remember that we write this pick’em advice for NFL Week 14 early in the week. It is also a more general summary of the week that may not be applicable to your pool rules. Some information could be outdated by Sunday. Pick popularity can change over the course of a week, and injury news and line movements can alter which picks are the best for your pool. So don’t forget to visit our Football Pick’em Picks before your deadline to submit picks and see your customized pick advice, and also visit the NFL Survivor Picks and NFL Betting Picks.
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