Week 11 NFL Pick’em Strategy: Will Cam Newton Finally Break Through?

posted in NFL, NFL Pick'ems

Update Fri 11/16, 5 PM ET: Our office pool pick sets have now frozen for the week as a result of the NFL game tonight, but on account of Jay Cutler’s still-evolving injury status, Pinnacle Sports (our odds source) has yet to release betting odds for the Monday Night Football game between Chicago and San Francisco.

Our model predictions rely on the Vegas line to drive injury-related prediction adjustments, and as a result, our NFL game winner office pool pick pages are “unaware” of the Cutler injury. Especially if Jay Cutler doesn’t end up playing, current indications are that San Francisco may end up being a favorite of around 5-7 points, based on a line released by BetOnline.

We would play this game conservatively and definitely pick San Francisco to win based on what we know now. Likewise, we would not make Chicago at top play in aggressive strategies. Given the uncertainty, we’d probably just keep San Francisco as the pick to win with moderate to moderate-low confidence points across the board, and slide all the other picks up.

For against the spread pools, if you think 70%+ of your pool will go with San Fran, and they are 5-7 point favorites (70% are picking SF -5 on Yahoo! so far), as of now we’d probably fade the public and take Chicago plus the points, with relatively low confidence. 

If your picks aren’t due today, the best move is always to wait as long as possible to pick. Hopefully a line will be released by Pinnacle by Saturday, and we’ll update this post again with a final recommendation.


Carolina’s QB has endured a rocky sophomore campaign (see Cam Newton’s passing stats), throwing more interceptions than touchdowns while fumbling nine times. This week’s matchup, however, could provide him with an excellent chance to get back on track as Tampa Bay ranks 30th in NFL opponent yards per pass attempt (7.9).

While about 75% of the public has selected the Buccaneers to win this week, we see this game as close to a tossup. Consequently, picking the Panthers at home is one of the more tempting upset picks for Week 11.

Where We Stand After Week 10

Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 11. Our game winner picks took a slight hit, but generally maintained their solid positions as all three reamain in the top 15% nationally. Most importantly, our Conservative strategy is contending for a top-three finish in pools of up to around 75 people or so:

  • Conservative: 95.6th percentile (-0.9 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 86.7th percentile (-3.6)
  • Very Aggressive: 89.2nd percentile (-1.1)

Our against the spread picks, on the other hand, had an excellent week. After a Week 9 which saw huge success for popular public picks, much to our (and Vegas’s) chagrin, all three strategies improved this week. The Conservative strategy was a particular highlight going 11-3 last week (including picks we flipped due to differences in ESPN lines), and that strategy now ranks in the top 3% nationally on ESPN:

  • Conservative: 97.1st percentile (+5.4 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 85.7th percentile (+5.7)
  • Very Aggressive: 76.5th percentile (+6.8)

(Keep in mind that we occasionally “flip” picks if the point spread listed on ESPN is significantly different than the point spread listed on our site.)

Week 10 Advice Recap

Last week we noted that both our models and Vegas favored Detroit to win, while less than 50% of the public had picked them. Unfortunately, Minnesota prevailed 34-24 behind a stellar rushing performance by Adrian Peterson.

We also pointed out the tremendous value in picking Jacksonville and Cincinnati to pull high risk upsets last week. While Jacksonville fell short on Thursday night, Cincinnati pummeled the Giants 31-13. With only 7% of the public picking the Bengals, rolling the dice with a Cincinnati upset last week would have resulted in gaining ground on over 90% of pool competitors.

While we didn’t recommend taking either of the riskier upset picks last week other than in “swing for the fences” situations, we should note that Tennessee indeed topped Miami while the Jets lost at Seattle.

On the point spread side, we noted five picks in which 70% or more of the public was picking a particular side, and going against the public in those picks last week yielded a 3-2 result. Applying that contrarian strategy should have led to gaining quite a bit of ground on most of your pool competitors.

Our Week 11 NFL Office Pool Picks

Here’s where you can find our computer generated picks for NFL office pools:

Also, if you haven’t read our NFL pick’em strategy series, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’ll ensure our choices here make a lot more sense.

OK, time for our handy Game Winner table, which summarizes a few teams that look like they could be smart picks for people that need to take some risks. It’s based on our detailed pick’em analysis page.

Week 11 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadValue Indicator
Miamiat Buffalo51.4%27%24.4%+1.0Odds-On Contrarian
Carolinavs Tampa Bay47.0%25%22.0%+1.0Low Risk Upset
Philadelphiaat Washington41.5%16%25.5%+3.5High Risk Upset
Kansas Cityvs Cincinnati38.2%13%25.2%+3.5High Risk Upset
San Diegoat Denver25.1%4%21.1%+8.5Long Shot Upset
Arizonaat Atlanta22.4%2%20.4%+9.5Long Shot Upset

There is only one odds-on contrarian pick this week, which occurs when a majority of the public picks against our projected winner, providing a nice chance to gain ground against other pool competitors without even having to make an upset pick.

Despite being a one-point Vegas underdog as of Wednesday evening, our models actually see Miami as slight favorites to win at Buffalo; however, about 75% of the public has picked Buffalo to win outright. Consequently, we see the Dolphins as a solid pick for any pool size. The game’s a toss-up but the public is shaded strongly to Buffalo.

On the upsets side, Carolina provides significant value without too much risk. We see this game as close to an even matchup while only about 25% of the public has backed the Panthers. Because of the public imbalance for what we see as a toss-up game, we also think Carolina is a solid pick for almost any pool size, unless you’re already dominating a small pool.

For riskier upsets picks, both Philadelphia and Kansas City provide a large amount of value. We give both about a 40% chance to win, while only about 15% of the public has picked either. Philadelphia is the safer of the two and provides a great chance to try to gain ground on your opponents if you want to make another upset play in addition to the Panthers.

Finally, while both San Diego and Arizona provide value as upset picks due to the extreme public imbalance, we wouldn’t recommend picking either unless you’re almost out of contention and really need to pull out all the stops to make up ground. In confidence pools, though, you may want to lower the value of their opponents, Denver and Atlanta, unless you’re already defending a good lead.

Week 11 Against The Spread Pick’em Strategy

A lot of point spread based pick’em contests publish the games and associated point spreads at the beginning of the week, but give you until Sunday to submit your picks. This means a great strategy is to look for a game where the official spread in your contest is different from the current spread offered at most sports books, and take the “free points.”

In general, the edge you get from those free points is going to be stronger than any lean you have on who is favored to cover, especially if the difference is more than one point.

Below are the biggest line movements from earlier in the week, which could indicate “free points” opportunities in your pool. Highlights can also be found on on the right side of our NFL odds page.

Point Spread Movement Highlights

TeamOpponentOpening LineCurrent LineMovement
Baltimoreat Pittsburgh+3.5-3.57.0
St. Louisvs New York Jets-1.0-3.02.0
Washingtonvs Philadelphia-1.5-3.52.0

The massive 7-point swing in spread for Baltimore vs Pittsburgh likely is due entirely to the health of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who will miss Sunday’s game with a sprained shoulder and dislocated rib, making journeyman veteran Byron Leftwich the starting QB in his place.

The other major source of value in ATS pick’ems is finding teams that a huge majority of your opponents are picking, and then taking the other side. Most Vegas point spreads are pretty efficient, so if a large majority of your opponents are picking a certain team to beat the spread, that team is probably overvalued. And that means you’ve got roughly a 50/50 shot of pulling ahead of a huge chunk of your opponents by picking against them, no matter what your personal opinion is of that game.

Here are five teams where the lines for the Yahoo! ATS pick’em are the within half a point of those found at Pinnacle sports book on Wednesday afternoon (or better), yet only about 25% or less of the public is selecting them to cover:

Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Spread
Detroitvs Green Bay17%47%+3.5
Oaklandvs New Orleans19%53%+4.5
Philadelphiaat Washington20%59%+3.5
Pittsburghvs Baltimore24%46%+3.5
Kansas Cityvs Cincinnati25%52%+3.5

If the lines in your pick’em contest are the same or better as those shown above, and if you think your competitors will be picking teams in roughly the same manner as the general public (e.g., in line with the Yahoo! contest picking trends), we’d recommend playing all five of these teams, four of which are at home this week.

For advice on other games in your spread-based pick’em pool this week, check out our NFL office pool spread picks page, or our NFL ATS picks page.

As always, please feel free to ask questions in the comment section below. We’ll do our best to answer as many as possible, and we look forward to a fun and interactive college football weekly pick’em advice column this season.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.chapman.372661 Matt Chapman

    Great info. Thanks Matt!

  • RJL

    As you indicate in the BAL vs PIT game, line movement has moved dramatically due to Roethlisbergers’ injury. So is line movement the principal way you account for injuries to significant players in your forecasts for all teams?; or, how do you assess injuries for your picks?

  • Nick

    Gotta think Chicago over SF pick is highly dependent on whether or not Cutler is playing. Not confident betting on Jason Campbell to beat the Niners.

  • Bill Kimball

    You have Chicago over SF on Monday. Have you factored in the potential for Cutler to be out?

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    In short, yes. For almost all injury scenarios we trust the betting markets to assess the relative impact in expected points better than analysis we could do on our end. Forecasting injury impacts isn’t something we’ve done a ton of proprietary work on yet, so we don’t really have any awesome “secret sauce” in that department right now.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    Pinnacle Sports (our odds source) hasn’t released odds for that game yet, so our model projections for that game will almost certainly change once they do. One book that has released a spread, BetOnline, currently has the Niners as 5-point favorites. If Pinnacle releases the same, our Conservative game winner strategy will almost certainly favor SF. If Cutler is declared playing and the line gets a lot closer, maybe not. Just have to watch and see.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    See response to Nick below…

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    Crap. I just realized that because of the Thu night NFL game tonight, our NFL office pool picks have already frozen for the week, so they are going to be messed up for the MNF game this week. This is a corner case that we will handle better next year.

    So what does that mean…I’m going to add a note to the top of the post above now re: how to handle the situation.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    OK, post is updated, see the very top.

  • bkeritk

    Hi. In your conservative strategy office pool picks you are picking Cleveland +9.5. In my league on Yahoo Sports however, the spread for this game is only 8.0, opening at 7.5. Usually, the point spread difference between your site and yahoo is only a half a point and I end up using your picks. However, 1.5 points is a big difference. Any suggestions on who to pick in these situations? Thanks!

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    We’ve actually been working on building out new technology to adjust our site’s official predictions for any line. (We’re looking to get this on the site sometime in the next month or two, hopefully.) We currently favor Cleveland to cover with 54.5% odds at +9.5. At +8, our models still favor Cleveland, with 52% odds. Which team you should actually pick depends on several other things, but if you’re playing it conservatively, unless you think your opponents will overwhelmingly — like 80-90% or more — be picking Dallas to cover, Cleveland +8 would still be our play.

  • Guest

    What do you mean the conservative ATS strategy went 11-3 last week? I play that strategy and saw it as 8-6?

  • bkeritk

    Thanks! Great site.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    We should have made that clearer — I put a note in the text above. Remember that (as we’ve been saying in the text since Week 1), we will “flip” a pick for ESPN (or any other specific pick’em pool we’re competing in) if the spreads are different enough to warrant it.

    There were some spreads last week on ESPN that were much different than the spreads of our final office pool picks. We ended up flipping three picks in our ATS Conservative pick set for ESPN’s lines as a result:

    DET -1 to MIN +2.5
    ATL -1 to NO +2.5
    OAK +9.5 to BAL -7.5

    So to take an example, if we have OAK +9.5 as a pick in our Conservative ATS strategy, but our models give it low confidence, and the line in YOUR pick’em is only OAK +7.5 (as it was in ESPN last week), then the better play ends up being BAL -7.5.

    As you can see, we ended up winning all three picks we flipped. Definitely some luck involved there, of course, but the bottom line is “free points” matter, as we’ve been saying in the post all year, and free points can definitely change a pick.

    In the future, we’re going to work on building a tool that just let’s you input the exact spreads you’re getting in your specific office pool, and updates all the calculations. It’s annoying that this issue exists though…

  • http://www.facebook.com/dennis.natale.9 Dennis Natale

    The Philly Skins game.You have Philly as favorites in the conservative even though it is at Washington and the back up is in.You also have it at 13 con pts.Your model still thinks that game is a good risk?Any other insights into this one?

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    If something has changed dramatically since the picks locked last night, I’d suggest checking out our regular picks pages:



  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    I assume you’re talking about ATS here. As of Thursday 7pm ET, yes, our models like Philly +3.5 this week. We’re never good at explaining why. There are hundreds of thousands of data points behind our model predictions. This is also why we suck at radio interviews. “So WHY do you guys like the Steelers???” If we could explain it in 2 sentences, then our models probably wouldn’t be all that sophisticated, right? It’s something we’re working on though — there may be a way to have the models output some of the underlying data they saw as most important for a particular game, but it will be a significant challenge technically to do that.

  • Sideshow Luiz

    Your model likes
    Miami +1.5. The spread moved to 3 by game time. Surely your model
    really liked Miami +3. However, this is counter-intuitive to picking
    games in an office-pool. Wouldn’t the “free points” outweigh any model

  • Colin Batchelor

    I’m real late responding to this, but I just wanted to let you know that’s a tool I’d be willing to shell out a few dollars for! Right now I’m second in my pool of about 55, putting me currently in the money, plus I’ve already won one week! While we’re on the subject, I’ve been a paying customer of your NCAA March Madness for the past few years and it’s done me well. I’ve always wanted some kind of a “personalised” simulation where you implement your pool size and scoring rules (mine uses a non-traditional upset bonus). Keep up the good work and thanks again guys!

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    Thanks for the feedback Colin, and we appreciate the kind words. Glad you’ve done well with the site, and definitely stay tuned as we continue to evolve our contest advice and related products…