Week 2 NFL Pick’em Strategy: Don’t Overreact To Week 1

We’re off to a decent start in our NFL pick’ems this year. It’s too early to pay much attention to where we’re ranked at this point, but it’s still good to be starting off on the right foot, with all of our strategies for both Game Winner pick’ems and ATS pick’ems placing in the top half of ESPN.

In Game Winner pools, our odds predicted two to three upsets from among the six we highlighted last week; Tampa Bay and Dallas came through for us, and now our Conservative and Aggressive pick sets are both ranked at the 77th percentile in ESPN’s NFL pick’em contest. Our Very Aggressive picks, which are designed to be more boom-or-bust, are in the middle of the pack, in the 53rd percentile.

Our ATS pick’em strategies are faring a bit better. Our Conservative picks went an even 8-8, but that’s good for the 74th percentile on ESPN. Our Aggressive and Very Aggressive strategies, which heavily fade public opinion, both went 9-7, putting us in the 89th percentile on ESPN.

Our Week 2 NFL Office Pool Picks

Just a friendly reminder; here’s where you can find our computer generated picks for NFL office pools:

Also, if you haven’t checked out 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 2 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadValue Indicator
Philadelphiavs. Baltimore53%~15%38%-1Odds-On Contrarian
Atlantavs. Denver57%~45%12%-3Odds-On Contrarian
Carolinavs. New Orleans45%~15%30%+1Low Risk Upset
Indianapolisvs. Minnesota48%~40%8%+1Low Risk Upset
St Louisvs. Washington43%~10%33%+3High Risk Upset
Seattlevs. Dallas40%~10%30%+3High Risk Upset
Tennesseeat San Diego32%~5%27%+6Long Shot Upset
Chicagoat Green Bay33%~15%18%+6Long Shot Upset

There a few great value opportunities in the NFL this week, according to our adjusted win odds (a combination of our NFL game winner picks and the Vegas line).

Both our models and the Vegas line agree that the Eagles and Falcons should be favored at home this week over the Ravens and Broncos. Yet under half the public is picking Atlanta to win, and a shocking 85% are picking the Ravens to upset the Eagles. The public is likely placing too much emphasis on Week 1 events. The Ravens looked great in a win over 2011 playoff team Cincinnati, while the Eagles struggled to beat the Browns. The smart move, according to the data and to game theory, is to take advantage of the public’s recency bias by placing some extra confidence points on the Eagles and Falcons.

Another great value spot is Carolina at home against New Orleans. The Panthers are only 1-point underdogs, but 85% of the public is picking the Saints. That means for only a little additional risk (45% win odds instead of 55%), you get a chance to gain ground on 85% of your pool as opposed to 15%. That means the Panthers are a smart gamble for anyone in pools larger than a couple dozen people.

For people in very large pools, the Rams and Seahawks are both valid options this week. Both have win odds of 40% of higher, yet are only being picked by 10% of contestants. In a giant pool, you need luck to swing your way in order to have a chance of winning. You want to position yourself so that when you do get lucky, you pass as many of your opponents as possible. It’s hard to top a chance to pass 90% of your opponents, with relatively close to even odds to do so.

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 the end of the week (or close to it) 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.

Below are the biggest line movements from earlier in the week. They can also be found on on the right side of our NFL odds page.

Week 2 Point Spread Movement Highlights

TeamOpponentOpening LineCurrent LineMovement
Green Bay Packersvs. Chicago Bears-4.5-62
Carolina Panthersvs. New Orleans Saints+3+12
Jacksonville Jaguarsvs. Houston Texans+9+7.51.5
Oakland Raidersat Miami Dolphins-1-2.51.5

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 85% of your opponents are picking a certain team to beat the spread this week, that team is almost certainly being severely 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, yet under 20% of the public is selecting them to cover:

Week 2 Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Line Spread
Jacksonvillevs. Houston~15%52%+7.5
St Louisvs. Washington~15%56%+3
Arizonaat New England~20%53%+13.5
Seattlevs. Dallas~20%49%+3
Tennesseeat San Diego~20%53%+6

If the lines in your pick’em contest are the same 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.