Week 14 NFL Pick’em Strategy: Colts Ripe for an Upset?

posted in NFL, NFL Pick'ems

Note Friday 12/7, 4pm ET: The line for San Diego-Pittsburgh didn’t come in until after our picks locked, so you may notice that the pick/confidence looks off. The Steelers are 9.5-point favorites, and we’d recommend taking them to win, most likely with a high confidence. For the ATS pick, our models like San Diego as a toss-up pick to cover and 80%+ of Yahoo! users taking Pitt -9.5. Consequently, in most cases we’d recommend going with the Chargers in ATS pools since there seems to be a lot of value there.

Titans RB Chris Johnson is seven yards shy of 1,000 on the season, and has his highest yards/carry average (4.9) since 2009, which is good for 6th best in the NFL.

While Andrew Luck has helped the Colts exceed all reasonable expectations this year (we currently give Indianapolis 77.5% odds to make the NFL playoffs), the run defense has been a weak spot. In fact, the Colts rank 30th in the NFL in opponent yards/rush attempt (4.8).

Our models do see Indianapolis as favorites, with adjusted win odds of 60%+, but they could be vulnerable on Sunday. As less than 5% of the public has picked Tennessee to win outright, the Titans are a tempting choice for those needing an upset pick to make up ground in the standings.

Where We Stand After Week 13

Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 14. All three strategies rose in the standings last week, and our Conservative strategy continues to be a highlight, ranking in the top 5% nationally on ESPN:

  • Conservative: 95.1st percentile (+1.3 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 88.3rd percentile (+4.0)
  • Very Aggressive: 84.8th percentile (+7.7)

Our against the spread picks enjoyed a similarly impressive week overall. All three strategies improved in Week 13, and the Conservative and Aggressive strategies now both rank in the top 10% nationally on ESPN. Most impressively, the Conservative strategy continues to rank in the top 1% nationally:

  • Conservative: 99.4th percentile (+1.1 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 90.7th percentile (+4.9)
  • Very Aggressive: 77.3rd percentile (+2.0)

(Keep in mind that we “flip” picks if the point spread listed on ESPN is significantly different than the point spread listed on our site, as explained in the Against The Spread Pick’em Strategy section below.)

Week 13 Advice Recap

Last week there were no odds-on contrarian picks to recommend, though there were several solid upset picks. Our favorite upset pick was Washington over the New York Giants, and the Redskins came through Monday night edging the Giants 17-16. You know your rookie season is going well when even your fumbles go for touchdowns.

We also pointed out two other upset picks that provided high value for those needing to roll the dice. Pittsburgh and its 38 year old back up QB, Charlie Batch (39 today), came back to top the Ravens in overtime. Similarly, Kansas City beat Carolina as Brady Quinn had by far his best game of the season.

Finally, while we only recommended taking a chance on a long shot upset in the most dire situations, we should note that Tennessee fell short in their upset bid over Houston.

Our Week 14 NFL Office Pool Picks

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

Note: If you notice any mis-graded games on the point spread pick’em picks page, sorry about that. There’s an error and we’re working on fixing it.

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 14 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadValue Indicator
Washingtonvs Baltimore54.6%45%9.6%-1.0Odds-On Contrarian
Tennesseeat Indianapolis36.5%4%32.5%+5.0High Risk Upset
Carolinavs Atlanta37.7%7%30.7%+3.5High Risk Upset
Detroitat Green Bay27.1%5%22.1%+7.0Long Shot Upset
Kansas Cityat Cleveland29.9%13%16.9%+6.5Long Shot Upset

For the second straight week, Washington represents the best pool pick relative to risk and public imbalance. The Redskins are our only odds-on contrarian pick for Week 14, which occurs when a majority of the public picks against our (and in this case Vegas’s) projected winner. Our models give Washington about 55% win odds while only about 45% of the public has picked them.

Though the Redskins don’t provide a tremendous amount of value, it’s always helpful to be able to pick against the public without having to take a risk on an underdog with less than 50% win odds. Consequently, we see Washington as a solid pick for any sized pool.

There are no low risk upset picks this week, but for those needing to take some chances this late in the season both Tennessee and Carolina provide considerable value. We give both about a 35%-40% chance to win, yet more than 90% of the public is picking against each team. If it’s time to take chances based on your pool standing, both of these upsets are worth picking.

Finally, while both Detroit and Kansas City provide solid value as long shot upset picks, 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, Green Bay and Cleveland, unless you’re already defending a good lead.

Week 14 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
Clevelandvs Kansas City-4.5-6.52.0
Houstonat New England+5.0+3.02.0
New Orleansat New York Giants+6.0+4.51.5

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 35% or less of the public is selecting them to cover:

Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Spread
Tennesseeat Indianapolis18%58%+5.0
Carolinavs Atlanta20%51%+3.5
Kansas Cityat Cleveland34%52%+6.5
Detroitat Green Bay34%51%+7.0
Minnesotavs Chicago36%48%+2.5

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.

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.

  • Vincent

    Why do you have Pit so low in your Game Pick ’em rankings? All of your indicators seem to point toward them getting a double-digit ranking to beat SD (rather than a 1). Does the confirmation that Roethlisberger is starting change your analysis?


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

    Excellent catch, Vincent. Just added a note regarding this to the top of the post.

  • Johnny Sins

    what about St. Louis over buffalo? I think that has a great chance of happening. Also how risky is putting Houston over New England?

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

    Our adjusted win odds give St. Louis about a 40% shot to win, and about 35% of the public is picking them. Certainly go with your gut if you have a feeling, but taking a risk on the underdog doesn’t provide a lot of value here. That lack of value is why we picked Buffalo for even the Very Aggressive strategy.

    Similarly, we give the Texans win odds of about 35%, and that’s about how much of the public has picked them.

  • Vincent

    Thanks! Will likely move them to 12 ahead of GB and Cle (particularly given your comments above regarding those two games). Make sense?

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

    Right now PIT is actually our third most likely winner of the week from the TR algorithmic models, so yeah, at least that high, if you’re skewing conservative.

  • Vincent

    I’ve been using your conservative rankings all season (with some minor tweaks) in a 40 person pick’em pool and am currently in 4th place — 18 points out of the lead and 6 points out of 2nd (both spots pay). I’m still skewing conservative — does that make sense?

    Your insight is great — thanks!

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

    Thanks, appreciated. From your earlier comments I assume this is a confidence points based pool? If so, I don’t see the need to get very aggressive quite yet. The main thing to remember is that it’s a mini-pool now — you and the three people ahead of you. So your best opportunities to make up ground will depend the most on how those other three people end up picking. If one of them always gives high confidence points to whatever team is playing Kansas City, for example, because he/she thinks KC is terrible, they may well be acting irrationally, and that’s a chance to take a very minor risk by still picking KC’s opponent (likely the favorite) to win, but dropping that pick down in confidence points.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=770998451 Thomas Abrams

    i noticed in your pick em list you have a red X in front of tennesse +5…the final score vs indy was titans 23 (+5) to indy 27…tennessee covered 28-27 but it seems you marked it as a loss on your locked in picks? am i reading this correct? perhaps it was an error?

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

    Thanks for the comment — that’s a bug with how our tracking works, that another user alerted us to last week. Nothing else is affected, but the pages seem to be marking right/wrong against different spreads than the spreads shown for the “locked” picks on the page. So occasionally when a team barely covers or doesn’t cover, we may be marking it incorrectly.

    It’s on our fixit list, but since it doesn’t actually affect the logic behind how we make the weekly picks themselves and we’re pretty much heads down on bowl season this week, we’re probably not going to get this fixed for a bit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=770998451 Thomas Abrams

    cool, i have another question…the spreads for my pick em league are slightly different and we dont use half points…for example, in my league we have houston -7 over colts, packers -2 over bears and patriots -5 over the 49ers…according to your current score predictions for these games, texans, packers and pats all cover albeit perhaps by 1 or 2 points when factoring in the point spreads im going by in my league…can i still rely on your method of determining games just by looking at your score predictions and seeing where my point spreads fall into place or does the entire formula on how you calculate drastically change? just wondering because at the moment you guys are picking against these 3 teams but w/ my point spreads they would all cover…hope thats not too confusing…thanks in advance

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

    Instead of using the score predictions, I would recommend using what use when the spreads on Yahoo or ESPN pick’ems are different from what we have. We go by the general rule that a 1 point difference is worth 2-3% in cover odds. For example, right now we have SF +6 with 50.6% cover odds, so if a pool listed NE -5 that line difference would be enough to switch the pick to NE.

    Also, I would recommend waiting as long as possible to enter the picks, as our models are subject to constant change throughout the week as new information and new line movements come in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=770998451 Thomas Abrams

    cool, thanks 4 the help, my picks dont have to be entered until noon sunday so ill def. keep checking back for more updates