December 18, 2019 - by Jason Lisk
Linval Joseph is not a new man on the Minnesota Vikings, but he will tell you who to pick straight to your face (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)
Week 16 is here, and with it comes Saturday football. So don’t forget to get your picks in for the Houston-Tampa Bay, New England-Buffalo, and San Francisco-Los Angeles Rams games by Saturday.
Before we get to this week’s breakdown, let’s recap last week’s results.
The five games we highlighted last week included three toss-up type games where the public was heavily on one side, a value favorite, and a gamble. Unfortunately, we went only 1-2 in the toss-up games, with a day where the wins came by large margins while the losses were closer. Dallas rolled to a win over the Rams despite 27% of the public picking them. The Giants won by 16 at home against the Dolphins. The Steelers lost an ugly, defensive affair to the Bills at home, and the Titans lost to the Texans by a field goal in a key AFC South game.
Meanwhile, the Chargers as an upset gamble did not pay. For the first time all year, the Chargers lost a game by more than 7 points, as Bad Philip Rivers showed up and the Vikings won 39-10.
Even with those results, because of the popularity differences, a 2-2 result in the first four games was exactly even with the public, which got 2.0 wins on average in those contests as well, and the upset pick was the only thing that prevented an above average week.
Overall, an approach of taking the team with the higher projected win odds last week would have still resulted in 11 wins, while the public averaged 10.6 correct in Week 15, based on public popularity data for each game.
Using Vegas odds, data-driven predictions, and pick popularity data from national football pick’em contests, we’ve analyzed the entire NFL Week 16 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 16 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. (And if you are also getting ready to participate in some college bowl pools, our Bowl Picks product can also provide customized recommendations for you).
What we are saying is that the teams mentioned in this post either offer some of the best opportunities to differentiate your Week 16 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 16 features two favorites 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.
We’ll start with the final game of the week, the last Monday Night game of the year, between Minnesota and Green Bay. It’s a game with major playoff impact, as these two teams are still battling to win the NFC North. Minnesota cannot move into the tiebreaker lead, but they can tie the Packers at 11-4 overall by winning at home, and make Week 17 meaningful for the two sides.
Our projections give Minnesota a 70% chance of winning this one, and they are 5.5-point favorites. The public, though, is giving Green Bay more of a chance here, picking the Packers to pull the upset 40% of the time. That means there is value in playing the favored Vikings here to continue rolling.
We’ll note that despite Green Bay’s 11-3 record, this is the largest home spread for the Vikings in a game against Green Bay since 2000. Minnesota has gone 7-3 against the spread in the last ten home games with Green Bay. For the season, the Vikings have outscored opponents by 119 points while Green Bay is +47 in point differential.
The Chargers bombed out last week against the surging Vikings, mainly because of a -6 turnover margin (the yardage for both teams was equal). Oakland has lost four straight games, just blew a lead to Jacksonville, and the last time they beat a team besides Cincinnati this year was the last matchup with the Chargers.
In that one, the game came down to the end despite Los Angeles being -3 in turnovers. Big if here, but the Chargers are the better team, and as long as they don’t commit a bunch of turnovers they should have the advantage. The oddsmakers have the Chargers as a 7.5-point favorite. The implied win odds from the betting markets puts the Chargers at 74%, while our models give them an 80% chance of winning.
The public is picking the Chargers 72% of the time, meaning you are getting them at relative value here for a bigger favorite. Five of the other seven teams with win odds over 70% are at 90%+ pick popularity, and the Chargers are the least popular of the bunch.
When a matchup is pretty much a 50/50 proposition, it usually makes sense to pick the less popular team. To win an NFL pick’em pool, you’re probably going to need some luck in these “coin flip” games, and when you get it, you want to maximize the upside by scoring points the majority of your opponents miss. We say “usually” because that strategy could differ if you are leading your pool late and want to cover the most likely pick your opponents will make. So for our subscribers, make sure you use your customized advice that takes into account your place in the standings when deciding on these kind of plays.
The Cincinnati Bengals can clinch the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft with a loss to Miami. It seems the public are expecting them to do just that. (They are likely to get the top pick whether they win or lose, as they have a two-game lead on everyone else with two games to play).
The Bengals are only a one-point underdog here, with 49% win odds. The public is only picking the Bengals 16% of the time, so you can get a lot of value here by going against the crowd in this matchup of bad teams.
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.
We’ll close our value gambles with the two games that will go a long way toward deciding the final AFC Wildcard spot. Pittsburgh has overachieved after the loss of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But things may be finally catching up to them due to offensive deficiencies, as they are averaging only 15.5 points over the last six games. Devlin Hodges threw four interceptions in the loss to Buffalo, and the team had already benched Mason Rudolph in favor of Hodges.
The Jets have been an inconsistent team, but have put together some big home performances to pull off upsets against Dallas and Oakland. With only 14% of the public picking New York here, this is another good value spot. The Jets are only a 3-point underdog, and 43% chance of winning according to our models.
Tennessee needs a Pittsburgh loss (or a Houston collapse) to have any chance at the playoffs. They also need to come up with a big home win themselves against the Saints. Tennessee is a 3-point underdog, and the public is only picking them 11% of the time. Our models are even more optimistic than the betting line odds, giving the Titans a 48% chance of victory.
Last week, Tennessee blew an opportunity against Houston, but they had been a great value play for the previous month, frequently highlighted in this weekly column. It’s not time to jump off yet if you are in a pool where you need to add a little risk at a great value price.
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 16 early in the week. Some information could be outdated by the first games this week on Saturday. 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. It is also a more general summary of the week that may not be applicable to your pool rules.
So don’t forget to visit our Football Pick’em Picks before your pick deadline in order to see your customized pick advice, as well as our NFL Survivor Picks and NFL Betting Picks. For those who are participating in college football bowl pools, also check out our Bowl Picks product for customized advice on all the college bowl games.
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