Week 12 NFL Pick’em Strategy: How To Avoid The Turkeys

posted in NFL, NFL Pick'ems

Note: This week has been a bit unusual largely due to QB uncertainties; as of late Wednesday night there are two games for which Pinnacle Sports has yet to release betting lines. They include a Sunday game and the Monday night game, so at least the Turkey Day games are unaffected. We’ll do our best to update the advice later in the week when the spreads become available.

As a result, as of the time of publication, our game winner model predictions for those games will be sub-optimal, and we’ll need to simplify our pick’em strategy until Pinnacle spreads are released. And spread picks for those games will not exist.

For the games that currently don’t have spreads, despite what our NFL office pool picks pages currently say, for game winner pools we’d just stick with the teams that we expect to be favorites once Pinnacle releases lines: Chicago over Minnesota with moderate confidence, and Carolina over Philadelphia with low confidence.

Where We Stand After Week 11

Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 12. While our game winner picks took a slight hit for the second straight week, the Conservative strategy is still in solid position:

  • Conservative: 93.9th percentile (-1.7 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 83.5th percentile (-3.2)
  • Very Aggressive: 78th percentile (-11.2)

Our against the spread picks had a similar type of week. After success across the board in Week 10, all three strategies lost some ground last week. The Conservative strategy remains quite strong, however, and currently ranks in the top 5% nationally on ESPN:

  • Conservative: 95.5th percentile (-1.6 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 77.1st percentile (-8.6)
  • Very Aggressive: 76.5th percentile (-7.5)

(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.)

As expected, in weeks when the public does well, like last week, our strategies are typically going to suffer a bit.

Week 11 Advice Recap

Last week we noted that our models favored Miami to win, while less than 50% of the public had picked them. Buffalo generated zero offensive touchdowns, but four field goals, a +3 turnover differential and a punt return for a touchdown were enough to top the Dolphins 19-14.

We also pointed out that picking Carolina to pull the upset over Tampa Bay provided significant value with little risk. The Panthers looked solid until the last four minutes when the Bucs scored 11 straight points to force overtime, where Tampa Bay eventually prevailed. Tough pill to swallow, but can’t feel bad about that one.

We further mentioned that for riskier upset picks Philadelphia and Kansas City came with tremendous value. The Eagles and Chiefs did not come through, however, losing by a combined score of 59-12.

On the point spread side, we noted five picks in which 75% or more of the public was picking a particular side. Of the five, only Pittsburgh covered the spread as the public picks proved quite successful last week.

Our Week 12 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 12 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadValue Indicator
San Diegovs Baltimore52.1%17%35.1%-1.0Odds-On Contrarian
St. Louisat Arizona50.1%25%25.1%+1.0Odds-On Contrarian
New York Giantsvs Green Bay55.6%34%21.6%-2.5Odds-On Contrarian
Tampa Bayvs Atlanta47.4%25%22.4%+1.0Low Risk Upset
Detroitvs Houston43.5%13%30.5%+3.0High Risk Upset
Buffaloat Indianapolis40.1%11%29.1%+3.0High Risk Upset
New York Jetsvs New England27.7%5%22.7%+6.5Long Shot Upset

There are three odds-on contrarian picks this week, which occur 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.

The Giants are a 2.5-point Vegas favorite as of Wednesday afternoon, and our models similarly see New York as slight favorites to beat Green Bay at home; however, about two-thirds of the public has picked the Packers to win outright. Consequently, we see the Giants as a solid pick for any pool size.

Likewise, St. Louis and San Diego are both in games that we (and Vegas) see as relative tossups. With such a large majority picking against them repectively, we also see the Rams and the Chargers as solid picks for any pool size.

On the upsets side, Tampa Bay 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 Bucs. Unless you’re already at the top of the charts in a smaller pool, Tampa is probably worth a play.

For riskier upsets picks, both Buffalo and Detroit provide a large amount of value. We give both a 40%+ chance to win, while only less than 15% of the public has picked either. Taking the Lions on Thanksgiving 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 Tampa Bay. But it’s a risk.

Finally, while the New York Jets provide value as an upset pick due to the extreme public imbalance, we wouldn’t recommend picking them 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 opponent New England a bit, unless you’re already defending a good lead.

Week 12 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
Cincinnativs Oakland-7.0-9.52.5
San Diegovs Baltimore+1.0-1.02.0
Seattleat Miami-1.0-3.02.0

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 30% or less of the public is selecting them to cover:

Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Spread
New York Jetsvs New England17%47%+6.5
Detroitvs Houston22%57%+3.0
Buffaloat Indianapolis22%50%+3.0
San Diegovs Baltimore28%50%-1.0
Kansas Cityvs Cincinnati29%53%+10.5

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.

  • Emily

    How do you feel about Denver this week?

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

    Not sure exactly what you’re asking there, in terms of a pick’em pool. What kind of pool are you in (game winner or spread)? How many people are in your pool and how well are you doing? Does it use confidence points or not?

    The answer depends on all of that. But here are our latest predictions for that game, if you just want to know what our prediction models think:


  • E,o;u

    I am in a pool where there were 850 people. There are now 35. I just have to pick the winner and cannot reuse a team. I know very little about football.

  • Matt Woods

    Check out this week’s article on Survivor Pools. Sounds like that’s exactly what you’re looking for:


  • fatsdomino

    Hi. I’m in a spread pick’em league in first place with a 6 point lead. The pool is small sized (32 people) and a few of the players behind me consistently place in the top 5th of the pool (as I do) year after year. What should my strategy be going forward?

    I’ve analyzed the picking tendencies this season of 3 players below me and compared them with the number of times each of the nfl teams has won vs the spread (see image below). I’m confident that this could be a useful tool but I’m also not sure of the best way to utilize it. I was going to convert the team wins and picks into percents, but since each team has played an even number of games (10 each), it was pointless for this week.

  • Steve

    Thank g-d for teamrankings.com! I’ve followed your picks every week in my no-spread pool and I’m one of 250 left. The picks are: Falcons, Ravens, Bears, Bengals, Cowboys, Packers, Vikings, Chargers, 49ers, Bucs and Texans. Unfortunately this week I need to make two picks. What do you suggest?

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

    Wait…how does this pool work exactly? You make it sound more like a survivor pool than a traditional weekly pick’em.

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

    I’m not going to have time to digest your attachment there tonight, but I will say that with 6 weeks of games to play in a spread pool, a six point lead is nice to have but certainly not a “I’ve got it in the bag” type of lead. When the odds to get each game right are fairly close to 50/50, as they are with spread based pools, just one combination disaster week by you and great week by an opponent could wipe most or all of that lead out.

    Still, you are in first place, so the main thing I would do (which is explained in the post) is avoid picking against the crowd in games where you think the overwhelming majority of your pool is going to pick one of the teams to cover. That limits your opponents’ opportunities to gain ground on you.

    Beyond that I would look to generally be conservative, take the teams our models like to cover, and make sure you take advantage of free points that may be available in your pool.

    For instance, we note a big public imbalance on the New England (in Yahoo!’s pick’em contest, at least) to cover vs. the Jets. If I was behind, despite the fact that our models think the Patriots have a slightly higher chance to cover the spread, I’d still take NYJ because of the huge value and potential to gain ground in my pool if they win.

    However, in your case I’d take New England, because there’s no strong reason to take such a gamble when defending a lead.

  • Steve

    Yes, sorry, it’s a survivor pool.

  • Steve

    And I’m on the wrong page. 😉

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

    Roger that. :-)