NFL Pick’em Advice Week 17: Santa Stole All The Value!

This post covers picking strategies for NFL pick’em contests for Week 17 of the 2010-11 season, based on NFL predictions from our algorithmic models and other relevant data such as public picking trends. It also complements the analysis and projections presented in our new NFL Office Pool Analysis pages.

This will be our final installment of NFL pick’em advice for this year, so we hope you have enjoyed this column. Please drop a comment at the end of this article if you have any ideas about how we can improve this advice next season, or any other general comments. We would love to hear your feedback, and best of luck in this closing week!

Week 16 Highlighted Picks Recap

We were spot on on our only odds-on value pick last week: Green Bay dumped the Giants easily at home. Our riskier pick, San Francisco over Saint Louis, did not pan out, however, as the Rams won at home and Niners coach Mike Singletary was fired.

Our confidence-point advice also was just so-so. Atlanta lost on Monday night to the Saints, but Baltimore did win in Cleveland.

The biggest news is that our perfect streak in highlighted against the spread plays extended into its fourth week! Both Cincinnati (+9) and Washington (+7) not only covered, but also won straight up on Sunday. Below we try to end the season on a 10-0 ATS streak…

NFL Week 17 Pick’em Strategy: Game Winners

See our NFL Game Winner Pick’em Contest Picks page for our complete list of game winner picks and confidence point recommendations. Remember — if you’re not in the top spot or two in your pick’em contest, but are within striking distance of the lead, you’ve got to go all-out picking unpopular teams this week, and hope for a lot of upsets.

This week, we don’t really see any odds-on value opportunities in straight up NFL pick’ems. Depending on how injury/player status news breaks in the upcoming day or two, picking Jacksonville to beat Houston away could have a little bit of value, but some major contributors could be out for the Jaguars, and this game is currently “off the board” in Vegas until more uncertainties are resolved. So we can’t officially recommend it.

Instead, we will highlight two promising picks that would be slight upsets. Additionally, because it is the final week of the season, we need to factor in the possibilities that teams may rest players or not be as motivated to win if they have clinched the playoffs. With this in mind, we highlight the two upset picks below:

Buffalo Bills at New York Jets: The Jets are already in the playoffs and can do no better than the 5th seed. There is also a good chance that injured QB Mark Sanchez will get some rest in this game. Vegas’s line, which takes motivation into account, makes the Jets only a 1-point favorite, and our models give the Bills over 45 percent win odds. However, a huge majority of the public (almost 90% if we are to believe Yahoo!’s numbers) are picking the Jets to win. So the Bills appear to be a great value pick if you’re shopping for a low-risk upset pick.

Seattle Seahawks vs St. Louis Rams: Seattle hosts Saint Louis with the NFC West title on the line in prime time. The Seahawks, home underdogs, have 40-48% percent win odds according to our various models. However, 63 percent of the public is picking the Rams to win. Seattle appears to have some value, but we must add the caveat that it looks like Charlie Whitehurst will start at QB for the injured Matt Hasselback, which introduces some uncertainty.

Advice for NFL Week 17 Confidence Point Pools

  • Do not give the Jets more than 11 confidence points. As detailed above, their game against Buffalo is more difficult than the public thinks.
  • Give San Francisco at least 6 confidence points against Arizona this week. Sure, there’s a chance the Niners just give up on their season after the firing of their coach. But the public seems to be overestimating that chance.

NFL Week 17 Pick’em Strategy: Against the Spread

Tennessee +10 at Indianapolis: The Titans have stumbled to the finish of the season, and the Colts also need to win to get into the playoffs. Still, our models give the Titans roughly 55 percent odds to cover the ten point spread. Yet only 24 percent of the public are picking Tennessee to cover. Do we think the Colts should win this game? Yes. But covering a double digit spread is another beast entirely, and the Titans appear to have strong value.

Oakland +3.5 at Kansas City: This is another case of Week 17 motivational analysis. The Chiefs are locked into their playoff spot and may rest starters against Oakland on Sunday. Oakland is the model favorite to cover (roughly 54 percent odds to cover) across all three models. Despite this, only 31 percent of the public are picking the Raiders to beat the number. With the Chiefs having little to play for, the Raiders seem to be the pick to cover.

Final Words of Wisdom

As we have reiterated throughout the season, it’s critical to realize that the best strategy for winning a pick’em contest is not necessarily to always pick the team you think has the best chance to win a game. (Or cover a point spread, if you’re in a spread-based pick’em.)

Rather, your best strategy will take into account factors such as the number of players in your pool, the teams that you believe other players may favor, your own standing in the pool (when you are behind, you may need to make riskier picks to try and catch up), and how much time there is still in the season. Optimizing your picks given these dynamics, which change weekly, is an ongoing balancing act. We’re here to help.