Week 15 NFL Pick’em Strategy: Upset Possibilities Galore This Week

posted in NFL, NFL Pick'ems

The Rams, coming off a dramatic win at Buffalo last week, possess a defense that has performed quite well this season. In fact, St. Louis ranks 9th in the NFL in opponent yards/play with 5.2.

While Adrian Peterson has enjoyed an incredible bounce back year for the Vikings, his efforts have done little to overcome a passing game that ranks second to last in the NFL in yards/pass attempt with 5.6. Minnesota QB Christian Ponder, who has posted a passer rating over 70 just once in his last ten games, has particularly struggled.

Our models do see the game as a close matchup, but with two-thirds of the public picking Minnesota, it’s the best chance this week to gain ground on pool competitors without absorbing too much risk.

Where We Stand After Week 14

Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 15. All three strategies enjoyed a fairly stable week in the standings, and our Conservative strategy continues to be a highlight, ranking in the top 5% nationally on ESPN:

  • Conservative: 95.8st percentile (+0.7 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 88.1st percentile (-0.2)
  • Very Aggressive: 86.5th percentile (+1.7)

Our against the spread picks generally held their positions in Week 14, and most impressively, the Conservative strategy continues to rank in the top 1% nationally:

  • Conservative: 99.4th percentile (no change from last week)
  • Aggressive: 87.2nd percentile (-3.5)
  • Very Aggressive: 76.2nd percentile (-1.1)

(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 14 Advice Recap

Last week Washington was the only odds-on contrarian pick, which occurs when our models (and in this case Vegas) favor a team that the public is picking against. For the second week in a row the Redskins came through against public expectations. Rookie QB Kirk Cousins filled in for an injured Robert Griffin III and lead Washington to a thrilling 31-28 overtime win over Baltimore.

While there were no low-risk upset picks, we noted that Tennessee and Carolina provided considerable value for those needing to take some late season chances. Much to the chagrin of 94% of the picking public, the Panthers topped Atlanta 30-20. The Titans, though, fell short by 4 points in their upset bid against Indianapolis.

Finally, we didn’t recommend picking Kansas City or Detroit unless the top prize was nearly out of reach and drastic measures were necessary, but we should note that both lost on Sunday.

Our Week 15 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 15 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadValue Indicator
St. Louisvs Minnesota50.9%37%13.9%-1.0Odds-On Contrarian
Pittsburghat Dallas52.7%49%3.7%-1.0Odds-On Contrarian
Clevelandvs Washington48.6%29%19.6%+1.0Low Risk Upset
NY Jetsat Tennessee47.8%30%17.8%+1.0Low Risk Upset
Kansas Cityat Oakland39.9%16%23.9%+3.0High Risk Upset
Tampa Bayat New Orleans39.1%16%23.1%+3.5High Risk Upset
Chicagovs Green Bay40.6%18%22.6%+3.0High Risk Upset
Arizonavs Detroit33.7%11%22.7%+5.5Long Shot Upset
Buffalovs Seattle33.2%16%17.2%+5.5Long Shot Upset

This week there are two odds-on contrarian picks, which occurs when a majority of the public picks against our (and in this case Vegas’s) projected winner. Of the two, St. Louis provides the most value by a decent margin. It’s interesting to note that our algorithmic odds actually side with Minnesota in this game as of publication time, but Vegas odds favor the Rams. Anyhow, it’s close enough that we’d stick with the value pick of the Rams.

Pittsburgh is in a similar situation as basically a toss-up pick, but doesn’t provide nearly as much value as St. Louis. It’s still beneficial to take the opportunities to go against the public without having to take a risk on an upset, but if you’re doubtful about the Steelers then it’s not worth agonizing over. Pick the Cowboys if you feel strongly about them.

There are also a couple of intriguing low risk upset picks this week. Our adjusted win odds see both the New York Jets and Cleveland as virtual tossups in their respective games, and each is only a 1-point underdog in Vegas. With about 30% or less of the public picking either, both the Jets and the Browns are great minor-upset picks. (Just remember that if you’re protecting a solid lead, going against the masses with an upset pick can be detrimental.)

For riskier upset picks, Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Chicago all provide decent value. Our models give all three adjusted win odds of about 40%, yet more than 80% of the public has picked against each. For those needing to take some chances this late in the season, it’s worth taking a serious look at Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Chicago.

Finally, while both Arizona and Buffalo provide solid value as long shot upset picks, we wouldn’t recommend picking either unless you’re almost out of contention in a big pool and really need to pull out all the stops to make up ground, especially with the plethora of other chances to pick against the public this week. In confidence pools, though, you may want to lower the value of their opponents, Detroit and Seattle.

Week 15 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
St. Louisvs Minnesota+3.0+1.02.0
Chicagovs Green Bay+3.0+1.02.0
New Englandvs San Francisco-4.0-6.02.0

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
Arizonavs Detroit21%58%+5.0
Chicagovs Green Bay25%51%+3.5
Buffalovs Seattle30%52%+6.5
San Franciscoat New England30%51%+7.0
Tampa Bayat New Orleans31%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.

  • Monte

    I wish I would’ve used your small pool picks this year. I would have won 3 weeks and would be leading the standings. I’m glad I found this site though, keep up the hard work.

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

    Thanks Monte, we appreciate the comment. We’ll be here next year!

  • myedayok

    Gotta agree with Monte.. Very helpfull and intersting site… Have to be here for week one next year.

  • Nick

    I’m currently in 5th in my pool of ~100, so I’m staying relatively conservative this week. But with RGIII officially inactive for WAS, is it worth picking CLE with high confidence (as in your mid-sized pool) to try to steal some points? Just wondering your opinion since your picks locked before RGIII was officially ruled out. Thanks!

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

    Thanks myedayok. We should also have some great new analysis & tools for weekly NFL pick’ems next year. We started covering these more just for fun, but we’re about to get a lot more serious about it.

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

    Sorry, didn’t get to this before kickoff of the game, but hopefully you stuck with the conservative pick. :-)

    In general, we’ve decided we pretty much need to get rid of this whole “picks locking” concept next season. This way, if something changes on Thu afternoon/Fri/Sat/Sun morning that affects our predictions, our office pool picks will update accordingly, and if you’re one of the people who don’t need to have picks in until right before kickoff of each game, you can take advantage of the latest information for the Sunday games.

    What makes this complicated is the fact that there’s a Thu game, so we’d need to “freeze” that Thu game with whatever confidence points we give it, and only let the rest of the picks move around as predictions move until Sunday. So it’s not a totally easy thing to do from a logic standpoint. Good summer project for us.

  • YouAren’tSmart

    Wow. Nice picks, smart guys. 3 right with the “use if fallen behind in a small league” set of picks. Quality work.

  • WillyWannaWin

    Wow! What a rough week…. I was up 9 games going into this week. Going into this evenings games I’m only up 3. I really need the Monday night game. I have the Jets plus 1.5. Thoughts??

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

    Let me see if I can find the point in there…so the picks that we label as “aggressive” and significantly more risky than our conservative strategy have a bad week, and that proves that we stink at this. OK, got it. Thanks.

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

    Is that a confidence point pool? If not, the person in second must have crushed it this week. Looks like our conservative strategy, which is what you should be using if you’re defending a nice lead like that, has 5/14 correct with 2 games to go. That would imply the second place contestant went 11/14 over the same games, which is almost 80% ATS. Not much you can do about that.

    Re: Jets +1.5, not really any thoughts, our models currently have Jets +1 at 50.3% confidence…at +1.5 it’s still pretty much a coin flip. Do whatever superstitious rituals you prefer!

    One strategy tip to remember if you’re defending a lead this late is that you’re basically in a mini-pool against the small group of people barking at your heels. So the best way to defend a lead is to neutralize their chance to gain ground on you. In other words, try to find out who the second place guy is picking, and pick the exact same way. That way you either both lose or both win.

  • WillyWannaWin

    I just wanted to follow-up on your post. This is not a confidence pool. We just pick straight up versus the spread. To be fair, I have been using your picks for most of the season, which is why I built such a considerable lead. This week, I got 7 right and they got 12 right. I am up 4 going into tonight’s game. I picked the Jets. I think the person in 2nd place is just picking the yahoo public picks with minor tweaks. I assume they picked the Titans. Should I switch? I think on a weekly basis I will have better luck with your conservative picks rather than the yahoo public (I feel this week was just unlucky). Therefore, I would rather ride it out with you than assume what the 2nd place person is going to do? Bad idea – thoughts? Thank you for your assistance.

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

    Picking games against the spread is close to a 50/50 proposition to start with, and our models see no significant edge either way in tonight’s game. I’m not sure who’s in third or fourth place, etc., and how close THEY are to you. But if the second place person is your only major threat right now, then my point is, if you can correctly guess what picks he/she is going to make and pick all the same ones from here on out, they have a 0% chance of beating you in this contest. It’s that simple.

    That’s easier said then done, of course, but especially since our models have no strong pick in this game, I’d definitely pick whatever side you think the second place entry is going to go with tonight.

    Not much you can do if an opponent nails 12/15 against the spread, btw. You should expect to give up a decent amount of ground in that case. He clearly hasn’t been doing that every week.