September 27, 2012 - by Tom Federico
NFL Week 3 was a crazy week. Yesterday RJ Bell reported on Twitter that no less than 9 underdogs of a field goal or more won their games this past week. That usually augurs a bloodbath for pick’em pools, and it was. In terms of the number of winners predicted correctly, we did relatively poorly, as did most everybody else.
The good news is, in a pick’em contest you’re not measured in terms of the absolute number of picks you get right; you’re measured in comparison to other people. So despite missing a decent number of games in Week 3, here is where our Game Winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 4:
And here is where we stand on ESPN with our Point Spread pick’em strategies, which performed well:
(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.)
Overall, all six of these pick sets are in the top 20% of ESPN, four are in the top 10%, and three are in the top 1.5%. Given that it’s only Week 4, that sounds good to us. There’s nothing to be concerned about even with our lower-performing pick sets.
It’s also been a blazing start for our Very Aggressive picks. If you’ve built up a lead using those picks so far, it may be worth considering playing it a bit more safely for a bit, unless you’re in a pretty big pool.
Another point we brought up to an emailer is that even our worst pick set this past week, Game Winner / Very Aggressive, with only 4 picks right, is still outperforming the ESPN consensus over even just the past two weeks. The more aggressive you get, the more boom-or-bust the results are bound to be. That pick set had a big boom in Week 2, and a relatively big bust in Week 3. Overall, it’s still in the top 10% of the nation.
On the game winner side, the more conservative value picks were pretty pathetic last week. Both our odds-on value plays of Week 3, San Diego and Carolina, got blown out as home favorites. Not much to say there; if you trust the markets, that wasn’t even close to the likely outcome. We were picking the favorites in both games, it’s not like we were going after crazy longshots that didn’t pan out. Then Miami, a low-risk value upset pick, took the Jets to OT and lost.
Our higher-risk recommended value upsets were money, though, and they saved the week for our Very Aggressive pick set. Jacksonville, Oakland, Minnesota, and Kansas City all came through with upsets for a 4-0 sweep. That’s not going to happen very often, so we’ll take it!
On the point spread side, taking advantage of the public picking imbalances we highlighted also netted major returns. All five of the picks we mentioned (Seattle, Oakland, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Jacksonville) covered the spread, and they were all very unpopular picks. That means if you went with most of all of them, you gained a serious amount of ground over your opponents, the vast majority of whom were on the other side of those games.
Just a friendly reminder; here’s where you can find our computer generated picks for NFL office pools:
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.
NOTE: As of the publication of this article, the point spread for Minnesota at Detroit still hadn’t been released by Pinnacle Sports, pending the status of Detroit QB Matthew Stafford. So we don’t have an official model prediction for that game yet. In addition, that game seems to have disappeared from our Point Spread Pick’em picks page for the Conservative and Aggressive pick sets, but a pick is showing up for the Very Aggressive pick set, which is odd. We’re working on fixing this.
|Team||Opponent||Adj Win Odds||Public %||Value||Spread||Value Indicator|
|Tampa Bay||vs Washington||60%||~40%||20%||-3||Odds-On Contrarian|
|Philadelphia||vs NY Giants||53%||~20%||33%||-1||Odds-On Contrarian|
|Kansas City||vs San Diego||51%||~40%||11%||-1||Odds-On Contrarian|
|Buffalo||vs New England||35%||~10%||25%||+4||High Risk Upset|
|New York Jets||vs San Francisco||35%||~10%||25%||+4||High Risk Upset|
|Miami||at Arizona||32%||~5%||27%||+6||Long Shot Upset|
|Carolina||at Atlanta||30%||<5%||26%||+7||Long Shot Upset|
Like last week, we again have some slight home favorites being underestimated by the public, based on Vegas lines and objective predictions. Say what you will about the Eagles and Giants, but it is highly unlikely that Philadelphia, at home, only has a 20% chance to beat the G-Men this weekend — but that’s how your opponents are valuing them on the whole. So that game looks like as smart a gamble as any.
As an unpopular three point favorite, there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to pick Tampa Bay to beat the Redskins in a pick’em contest. Kansas City also has slight value, although your opinion on that game probably depends on just how good you really think the Saints and Chargers are.
For larger pools, although Miami and Carolina have value, the added risk just isn’t worth it compared to making Buffalo and/or the New York Jets your big upset pick(s) of the week. The point spread in the Bills/Patriots game made a quick early move toward the Bills (Buffalo is still a 4-point underdog, but they opened around +6 at several books), and there’s always a chance that the public is overestimating the impact of Darrelle Revis being out for the Jets.
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, especially if the difference is more than one point.
Below are the biggest line movements from earlier in the week. (Here we go with Carolina again!) Highlights can also be found on on the right side of our NFL odds page.
|Team||Opponent||Opening Line||Current Line||Movement|
|Carolina Panthers||Atlanta Falcons||+9||+7||2|
|Kansas City||San Diego||+1||-1||2|
|Buffalo Bills||New England Patriots||+5 or +6||+4||1-2|
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, that team is probably incredibly 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 under 20% of the public is selecting them to cover:
|Team||Opponent||Public Pick%||TR Cover Odds||Current Line Spread|
|Buffalo||vs New England||~20%||50%||+4|
|New York Jets||vs. San Francisco||~20%||49%||+4|
|Philadelphia||vs. New York Giants||~20%||50%||-1|
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 them are at home, and at the time of posting, Jacksonville was +2.5 on Yahoo! and only 26% picked.
That’s phenomenal value. (Note Thursday 3:45 ET: Turns out the Pinnacle line we have for Jacksonville is not representative of the market consensus at -110 payout odds — that’s closer to +2.5 than +1. So JAX still has value, but since our models can produce counter-intuitive results sometimes, it’s not clear it’s as “phenomenal” as we originally thought.)
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.
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