September 17, 2019 - by Jason Lisk
Jacoby Brissett and the Colts continue to be undervalued by the public entering Week 3 (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)
After a relatively crazy week filled with modest upsets, NFL Week 3 has arrived. Compared to last week, the Week 3 slate looks a little thinner in the early going for value picks, especially for upsets.
But there are still opportunities out there that need to be on your radar screen. And some weeks, even making one upset pick may not make sense, depending on how the public is picking.
Read on for our value-driven NFL Week 3 pick advice.
On balance, last week’s highlighted value picks delivered some solid wins. Two of the three favorites we highlighted (the LA Rams, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo) won in convincing fashion. It was also nearly a 2-for-2 week for the underdog value gambles, with Detroit delivering an absolutely huge contrarian upset over the Chargers, and Denver oh-so-nearly upsetting the Bears, only to lose on a 53-yard field goal as time expired.
To help convey why identifying underrated picks is so important in pick’em pools, let’s look a little deeper at these results. If you picked the three favorites above in a non-confidence pool, you went 2-1 and scored two points from those three games.
In comparison, when the dust settled last week, around 54% of pick’em entries nationwide had picked the Rams, 41% had picked the Seahawks to beat Pittsburgh, and 46% had picked Buffalo over the Jets. So the average expectation for the public across those three games was 1.41 points scored (0.54 + 0.41 + 0.46), compared to your 2 points scored. Even getting Pittsburgh wrong, you ended up much better off than the average pick’em player.
It’s a similar story for the upsets. If you picked both Detroit and Denver, you went 1-1 and scored one point. Nationwide, only 12% of entries picked Detroit, and 79% picked Chicago. On balance, even with Denver losing, you still came out slightly ahead, with one point scored vs. an average expectation of 0.91 points scored for the public.
This is why it’s so important to identify when the public is under-picking teams, and make sure you exploit those opportunities. Over the course of an entire season, all of these little edges can add up to the difference between winning a prize and winning nothing.
Using Vegas odds, data-driven predictions, and pick popularity data from national football pick’em contests, we’ve analyzed the entire NFL Week 3 slate and identified the best value picking opportunities. Here are five teams with profiles you should know about.
Keep in mind that we are not saying that you should definitely make all of the picks below — the upset pick especially. The best Week 3 picks for your NFL pool depend on strategy factors such as its size, rules, and prize structure, plus situational factors like your current place in the standings and the number of weeks left in the pools.
(Our Football Pick’em Picks product recommends weekly picks for you based on all those factors.)
What we are saying is that the teams mentioned in this post offer some of the best opportunities to differentiate your Week 3 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 estimated national pick popularity data below may change between publication time and kickoff time. If you want to see the latest numbers, our product updates multiple times per day.
Most favorites are overrated by the public, but the three teams below look more fairly valued in Week 3. 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.
San Francisco 49ers (vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)
THURSDAY UPDATE 6:30pm ET: San Francisco’s pick popularity has surged to 87% since the beginning of the week, and they are no longer a more fairly valued favorite than others. Now, Minnesota is the team you don’t want to pick against from a value perspective, while Green Bay remains significantly overrated by the public.
Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger is out for the year, the Steelers are 0-2, and they have scored 29 points total in two games. San Francisco is 2-0, has won both games on the road, and has scored 72 points so far in 2019. The game is in San Francisco.
The point spread for this game opened with San Francisco as a 7-point favorite. Based on what we have seen so far this season, you could make a pretty good case that the 49ers should have been a solid favorite even before the Big Ben injury. And so far, 78% of pick’em entries nationwide are going with the 49ers to triumph in Mason Rudolph’s first career start for Pittsburgh. That’s slightly above San Francisco’s win odds of around 71%.
Compared to other teams favored by about a touchdown this week, though, that looks like a fair price. So if you are going to make a bold upset pick, it’s best to look elsewhere. Green Bay (97% public pick percentage), Philadelphia (90%), Kansas City (89%), and Tampa Bay (85%) are all favored by roughly the same amount as San Francisco but are even more popular with the public. We’ll see if the public percentages climb for San Francisco throughout the week as more people process the Roethlisberger injury news.
Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Houston Texans)
The Chargers return home to face Houston after getting upset by the Detroit Lions, thanks to a 4th quarter touchdown. LAC had nearly 100 more yards and more first downs than Detroit, but couldn’t put the Lions away.
The Texans, meanwhile, have had two of the most exciting finishes in the NFL this year, losing in dramatic fashion at New Orleans in Week 1 and holding on against Jacksonville at home in the final minute in Week 2. They came away with a victory last week, but also underperformed expectations as a 7.5-point favorite and were outgained in terms of yardage by the Jags.
The Chargers are a moderate 3.5-point favorite at home, and 65% of the public is selecting them. That’s very close to their win odds, which are around 62%. The Chargers were overvalued in the first two weeks, but the public now appears to have been sufficiently spooked by an OT win and upset loss, which provides a good reason to stay the course with the favorite here. This week, teams like Chicago and the LA Rams have similar odds to win but are much more popular, and make for better upset fodder.
Carolina Panthers (at Arizona Cardinals)
THURSDAY UPDATE 6:30pm ET: Based on the evolving Cam Newton injury news (which isn’t looking good), Carolina has fallen from a 2.5-point favorite to a 2.5-point underdog, so they are much riskier now. If Carolina’s current win odds and pick popularity hold, there’s no longer a very compelling risk/reward profile. From an upset pick perspective, Jacksonville over Tennessee is a better proposition.
This game is one to keep an eye on given the Carolina QB Cam Newton’s evolving injury status, but that’s also very public information, and the Panthers are 2.5-point favorites in the betting markets despite that news.
Recency bias is a value picker’s best friend, and after watching Carolina get upset by Tampa Bay on Thursday Night Football last week, and seeing an injury situation at QB, it’s no big surprise that the Panthers are not public darlings this week. However, there’s a good argument to be made that the loss to Tampa Bay was a fluky one. Carolina had more yards, more first downs, a -1 turnover margin, didn’t convert several 4th-and-1 opportunities, and performed atrociously in the red zone, generating all of its points from four field goals and a safety.
That level of performance is unlikely to repeat itself, and with 57% win odds and equivalent 57% pick popularity, Carolina is fairly valued here. Look for other upset picks besides the Cardinals.
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.
Indianapolis Colts (vs. Atlanta Falcons)
So far this year, the public has had a love-hate relationship with the Falcons, while generally underrating the Colts. In Week 1, we highlighted the Minnesota Vikings as a fairly priced favorite where you did not want to pick the Atlanta upset. Last week, though, Atlanta ended up being an unpopular toss-up pick against the Eagles at home. Only 23% of the public sided with Atlanta in Week 2, though the point spread never moved above two points in either direction.
Indianapolis, meanwhile, has been very unpopular with the public so far with Jacoby Brissett playing quarterback in place of the retired Andrew Luck. The Colts were selected only 8% of the time in Week 1, losing in overtime to the Chargers, and were then picked by only 13% of the public last week while upsetting Tennessee. For team close to being 2-0 right now, the Colts have been an absurdly unpopular pick.
Relatively, then, the public is coming around a bit on the Colts now, picking them 30% of the time this week. However, Indianapolis is the betting favorite, favored by 1 at home over the Falcons after opening as a 2.5-point favorite. Our models are less optimistic about the Colts, putting their win odds slightly under 50%. All things considered, it looks like pretty much a toss-up game, but the public is treating the Colts more like they are a six-point underdog at home.
All upset picks are not created equal. 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 pick below is not appropriate for all pools. If you’re in a smaller, season-long pool with lots of games left, it’s probably not worth the risk. However, if you’re in a single-week pool with a larger number of entries, or if you only care about winning weekly prizes, this highly unpopular underdog has a compelling profile.
Cleveland Browns (vs. LA Rams)
The Los Angeles Rams are off to a 2-0 start, though they did beat the Saints in a matchup where Drew Brees left the game because of a thumb injury, and let Carolina hang in the game in Week 1. The Browns, meanwhile, after a bit of a fluky blowout loss in Week 1 fueled by late turnovers, rebounded on Monday night against the woeful Jets, and now face a key swing game at home.
For the second time in three weeks, the Rams travel east as a slight road favorite and are hugely popular with the public. In Week 1, they won by three points at Carolina. This time around, they are only favored by 2.5 points, but the public is selecting them 90% of the time. Last week’s biggest value underdog, Detroit, won when the public was similarly down on them, and the Browns will try to make it two weeks in a row in which an extremely unpopular small underdog pulls off the win.
Our models like the Browns’ chances here even more than the implied win odds from the betting market, and give Cleveland a 48% chance of winning outright at home. When you can get that kind of value in a situation where 90% of your pool is going the other way (assuming, of course, that your pool reflects the national averages), it deserves consideration.
Usually we have a second value upset pick to highlight, but Week 3 looks like slim pickings on the upset front from a risk vs. reward standpoint. Outside of Cleveland, the next most likely team to win that is being picked by less than 15% of the public is Cincinnati, but the Bengals are six-point underdogs with only around 30% win odds. That’s a serious risk for a team that is still a more popular pick than Cleveland.
Once you know the best value opportunities of NFL Week 3, you can typically increase your odds to win your pool by making educated gambles on them. Perhaps you bump up the number of confidence points you assign to a value pick like San Francisco or the Chargers. Maybe you take even more risk and pick a team like Cleveland to win.
There are a lot of decisions to make, and not all of them make sense for your specific pool.
Our solution to winning more pick’em pools was to build technology to do all the heavy lifting from an analytical perspective. We developed a product that customizes weekly pick recommendations based on the strategy dynamics of your specific NFL pick’em pool, all driven by research-based algorithms.
It leverages betting market odds and objective game predictions, aggregates national pick popularity data to project your opponents’ picks, and adjusts your weekly recommended picks for factors like your pool’s scoring system and format, prize structure, and your position in the standings.
It also covers game winner or spread-based contests; confidence pools; and pools with end-of-season prizes, weekly prizes, or both. In fact, it’s so advanced that we had to come up with an appropriately technical, massively creative name for it: Football Pick’em Picks.
If you learned something from this article, we encourage you to check it out.
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