Week 5 NFL Pick’em Strategy: Sit Tight and Play the Favorites?

Last week we noted that only 20% of the public was picking Philadelphia to beat the New York Giants, and the Eagles were our highest value game winner pick of the week.  Philly indeed came through on Sunday night, beating the Giants 19-17.  This upset helped drive an 11-4 record in Week 4 for our Conservative picks, our best week so far.

Will be be able to duplicate that success in Week 5?

Where We Stand After Week 4

Here is where our Game Winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 5.  Our picks were significantly more accurate than in Week 3.  However, a majority of favorites won last week and it appears Week 4 was a more predictable week overall than the crazy Week 3.  Consequently, we saw very little change in the standings.  All three strategies remain strong, though, highlighted by the success of our Very Aggressive strategy:

  • Conservative: 90.8th percentile (+1.8 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 90.8th percentile (-1.5)
  • Very Aggressive: 99.9th percentile (no change)

On the point spread side, taking advantage of public imbalance yielded mixed results last week.  Carolina covered against Atlanta even though they were an extremely unpopular pick.  Also, Philadelphia made much of the picking public unhappy by covering the 1 point spread.  Unfortunately, Buffalo and the New York Jets were both dominated in the second halves of their respective games and failed to prove the majority wrong.

Here is where we stand on ESPN with our Point Spread pick’em strategies.  Similar to our Game Winner picks, all three strategies now rank among the top 10% nationally:

  • Conservative: 90.1st percentile (+1.8 from last week)
  • Aggressive: 98.6th percentile (+0.1)
  • Very Aggressive: 95.8th percentile (-2.7)

(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 10% of ESPN, three are in the top 5%, and two are in the top 1.5%. It’s still early in the season, but following any of these strategies in your pool should have you in good position heading into Week 5.

Both of our Very Aggressive pick strategies continue to excel.  However, as we recommended last week, if you’ve built up a lead using those, you may want to consider playing it a bit more conservative.  While the Very Aggressive strategy has been excellent so far, that’s a very risky strategy to use if you’re already sitting pretty at the top of your pool.

Our Week 5 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 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 5 Value Pick Highlights: Game Winners

TeamOpponentAdj Win OddsPublic %ValueSpreadValue Indicator
St. Louisv. Arizona45.9%~25%20.9%+1Low Risk Upset
Miamiat Cincinnati38.8%~10%28.8%+3.5High Risk Upset
Washingtonvs Atlanta41.8%~20%21.8%+3.0High Risk Upset
Kansas Cityvs Baltimore34.2%>5%30.2%+6Long Shot Upset
Tennesseeat Minnesota33.4%~5%28.4%+5.5Long Shot Upset

There are no odds on value picks this week, so this looks like an excellent week to keep things conservative.  Opportunity to take chances will surely be there in later weeks.  Our Game Winner picks this week are mostly chalk.

That said, there is still some value with a couple of the underdogs.  We give Miami almost a 40% chance to beat Cincinnati while only 10% of the public is picking the Dolphins.  St. Louis and Washington are also a decent value picks without too much risk.

For a much bigger risk, Kansas City has quite a bit of value as well.  As bad as the Chiefs may have looked at times this year, we give Kansas City about a 1 in 3 shot to pull the upset.  With over 95% of the public backing Baltimore, the Chiefs are a very risky but highly value pick if you’re in a large pool or have tons of ground to make up.  With Kansas City as a higher value long shot, we see no reason to take a chance with Tennesee this week.

Week 5 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, especially if the difference is more than one point.

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

Point Spread Movement Highlights

TeamOpponentOpening LineCurrent LineMovement
Miami DolphinsCincinnati Bengals+5+3.51.5
Baltimore RavensKansas City Chiefs-4.5-61.5
New York GiantsCleveland Browns-10-82

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:

Point Spread Pick Imbalance Highlights

TeamOpponentPublic Pick%TR Cover OddsCurrent Line Spread
Jacksonvillevs Chicago~15%50%+6.0
Kansas Cityvs Baltimore~20%59%+6.0
Indianapolisvs Green Bay~20%50%+6.5
New York Jetsvs Houston~20%56%+9.5
Miamiat Cincinnati~25%54%+3.0

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, four of which are at home this week.

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.