Week 16 NFL Pick’em Strategy: Ride the Cowboys

The New Orleans Saints pass defense has truly struggled this season, allowing 7.7 yards per pass attempt. Only Tampa Bay was allowed more. Dallas, meanwhile, ranks 2nd in the NFL in pass attempts per game (41.3) and 11th in yards per pass attempt (7.1).

Dez Bryant has been the Cowboys top target with 10 touchdowns and over 1000 receiving yards. While Bryant does have a hand injury that will require surgery, he hauled in four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown playing through the pain last week.

This appears like an excellent matchup for the Dallas offense, and our models see the Cowboys as narrow favorites to win. Vegas, similarly, has made Dallas 1-point favorites. With only 40% of the public backing the Cowboys, taking Dallas in game winner pools provides a solid chance to gain ground on the public without picking a risky upset.

Where We Stand After Week 15

Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 16. While the more aggressive strategies took slight hits in the standings, our Conservative strategy rose for the third week in a row. The Conservative pick set now ranks in the top 4% nationally on ESPN:

  • Conservative: 96.4th percentile (+0.6 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 86.8th percentile (-1.3)
  • Very Aggressive: 81.7th percentile (-4.8)

The performance of our against the spread picks mirrored that of our game winner picks. The more aggressive strategies fell slightly, while the Conservative strategy moved up a bit and continues to rank in the top 1% nationally:

  • Conservative: 99.5th percentile (+0.1 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 86.5th percentile (-0.7)
  • Very Aggressive: 74th percentile (-2.2)

(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 15 Advice Recap

Though there were quite a few close calls, last week unfortunately ended up being a rough week to fade the public. The good news is that if you’ve used our Conservative strategy all season, you didn’t need to take many of those chances.

St. Louis and Pittsburgh were our odds-on contrarian picks last week, and both lost as narrow favorites. Similarly, Cleveland and the New York Jets were low risk upset picks, as we saw both games as relative tossups, and both fell short in competitive games.

While our odds would expect 2.0 of those 4 teams to win, there was still about a 6% that this would happen and all four would lose.

The high risk upset picks fared no better, as Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Chicago all lost. Finally, while we didn’t recommend taking either last week, Arizona did beat Detroit while Buffalo lost to Seattle.

Our Week 16 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
Dallasvs New Orleans53.9%41%12.9%-1.0Odds-On Contrarian
Seattlevs San Francisco50.4%41%9.4%pickOdds-On Contrarian
Detroitvs Atlanta37.9%10%27.9%+3.5High Risk Upset
Buffaloat Miami36.1%14%22.1%+4.0High Risk Upset
St. Louisat Tampa Bay39.1%20%19.1%+3.0High Risk Upset
Kansas Cityvs Indianapolis30.3%6%24.3%+6.5Long Shot Upset
Arizonavs Chicago34.0%11%23.0%+5.0Long Shot Upset
Philadelphiavs Washington30.9%11%19.9%+5.5Long Shot Upset

Note: The Jets over the Chargers is also an odds-on contrarian pick this week, and actually provides more value than the two listed below. Unless you’re protecting a big lead and need to go with the public, the Jets are an excellent pick for any size pool and should probably receive high confidence points in pools that require them.

This week we again have two odd-on contrarian picks, which occur when our models (and sometimes Vegas) favor a team that less than 50% of the public is picking. We see both Dallas and Seattle as narrow favorites while about 40% of the public has picked each.

It’s generally a good idea to take opportunities to gain ground on the public without absorbing too much risk. However, we only give Seattle 50.4% adjusted win odds (and Vegas lists the game as a pick) so this one in particular is not worth any stress and if you have a feeling about the 49ers, go with it.

There are no low risk upset picks to recommend this week, but there are several high risk and long shot upsets. We give Detroit, Buffalo and St. Louis all about 35-40% win odds, and 20% or less have picked them.

For those needing to take some chances this late in the season, it’s worth taking a serious look at Detroit, Buffalo and St. Louis.

Finally, while Kansas City, Arizona and Philadelphia provide solid value as long shot upset picks, we wouldn’t recommend picking any of the three unless you’re almost out of contention in a big pool 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, Indianapolis, Chicago and Washington.

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
New Orleansat Dallas+3.0+1.02.0
San Diegoat New York Jets+3.0+1.02.0
Washingtonat Philadelphia-4.0-5.51.5

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 25% or less of the public is selecting them to cover:

Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Spread
Kansas Cityvs Indianapolis19%53%+6.5
Detroitvs Atlanta21%52%+3.5
Philadelphiavs Washington22%48%+5.5
Jacksonvillevs New England23%59%+14.0
Arizonavs Chicago27%52%+5.0

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.