Week 5 Football Pick’em Strategy & Advice (2021)

The Falcons and Jets will kick the Week 5 Sunday schedule off early from London, and there are plenty of upset opportunities on the board.

Kareem Hunt and the Browns face the Chargers (Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

Week 5 of the 2021 NFL season is here with some top AFC matchups highlighting the schedule.

The Chiefs and Bills meet on Sunday Night Football, which should be of great interest in spread and game-winner pools. The Browns and Chargers are both 3-1 and also meet in a key game.

The NFC West also continues its two-week showdown, with the Rams and Seahawks facing off on Thursday Night Football in another swing game.

Here, we’ll track Week 5 news and discuss the implications for maximizing your edge in NFL and college football pick’em contests. We’ll also provide some of the rationale behind picks potentially recommended by our Football Pick’em Picks product.

Week 5 Pick’em Updates

We will continue to add to this post until Sunday of NFL Week 5, which starts early this week with a London game, so check back for daily updates. Here’s what’s available now:

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Tuesday 10/5

Week 5 Early Value Picks Outlook

Our top value play is for Urban Meyer to be gone from Jacksonville by Thanksgiving. But if you’re looking for Week 5 picks, here’s our early look at some potential value plays in NFL pick’em pools.

New England Patriots (at Houston Texans)

Line: -9.0
TR Win Odds: 77%
Popularity: 89%

The New England Patriots and Houston Texans are both 1-3. Maybe the Patriots’ record is keeping the public relatively down on this one. But even though they are popular, six other favorites have a higher pick rate right now in game-winner pools.

The Patriots have already moved to the second-largest favorite of the week behind only Tampa Bay. Since other entries are just as willing to pick an upset here as on other more even matchups, it makes sense to use the Pats as a high-confidence pick and stay with them in all game-winner formats.

Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Buffalo Bills)

Line: -3.0
TR Win Odds: 60%
Popularity: 56%

It’s rare that you get to take the Chiefs as a value play, but you have that opportunity in Week 5.

The Bills have arguably been the best team over the last month, bouncing back from the opening loss to Pittsburgh with three dominant wins. But they are also taking a major step up in class in opposing quarterbacks, as they have played mostly against backups the last three games.

The Chiefs’ defense has been an issue, and we’ll wait to see if they get healthy. But they still have Patrick Mahomes, and the public is more evenly split on this one.

Cleveland Browns (at Los Angeles Chargers)

Line: +1.5
TR Win Odds: 48%
Popularity: 35%

The Chargers just looked good in prime time, and they’re drawing the better of the popularity numbers right now against the Browns in what looks like a pretty even matchup.

Cleveland might have an excellent pass defense. The Browns rank sixth in pass yards per attempt allowed at 6.0. But unlike some of the teams ahead of them that have played bad quarterbacks, the Browns have also already faced Kansas City and Minnesota.

If you’re in a weekly contest, taking the Browns here gives you a coin-flip situation where two-thirds of the pool will be on the other side.

New York Jets (vs. Atlanta Falcons in London)

Line: +3.0
TR Win Odds: 41%
Popularity: 16%

After struggling against stout pass defenses in the first three weeks, Jets rookie QB Zach Wilson got a reprieve last week against the Tennessee Titans. He responded with 297 passing yards and 8.6 yards per attempt in the Jets’ upset win.

This matchup is a lot closer to that one in terms of opponent defensive quality, and the public is still down on the Jets overall. That makes them worth consideration in weekly contests as a high-value upset play.

Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Green Bay Packers)

Line: +3.0
TR Win Odds: 41%
Popularity: 16%

Green Bay and Cincinnati are both 3-1, and the public is heavily backing the favored Packers here. But the odds are close enough that it makes sense to go with the Bengals in a weekly contest as an upset play.

Since the Jets and Bengals have similar odds and popularity, let’s use this as a quick example of why it makes sense to play that value in a weekly contest.

Let’s say you picked both there underdogs this week. Using the odds, here are the chances of each set of outcomes occurring:

  • Both Cincinnati and the Jets win: 17%
  • One wins, one loses: 48%
  • Both Cincinnati and the Jets lose: 35%

You might look at that and say you’re twice as likely to go 0-2 as 2-0. That’s accurate, and it’s why we generally suggest not being as risky in season-long contests early.

But you win a weekly pool by getting a few key wins that your opponents do not. If you look at the reward side of the equation, you would expect only about 2.6% of all entries to pick both upsets (16% x 16%). In a 50-entry pool, there might be only one other entry matching you on an outcome that has a one-in-six chance of occurring.

To win a weekly pool, you would need those results to go your way. But if they do, few others would match you, so your chances of winning the prize that week would shoot up dramatically.

Tuesday 10/5

Week 4 Results Summary

Half of Week 4’s games had extreme spreads and pick rates, so there wasn’t going to be much to differentiate entries in game-winner pools on those games. It came down to a few key results, and our pick recommendations came in over the public on average.

Game-Winner Pools

In game-winner pools, “max profit” season-long picks and “win the week” top options averaged 9.9 wins and 10.4 wins, respectively, while the public averaged 9.6 wins.

These were the highest-leverage results in game-winner pools in Week 4:

TeamOpponentPublicMax ProfitWeekly
LA ChargersLas Vegas68.8%100.0%99.5%

Baltimore winning was the result that prevented it from being a huge week. But several other games contributed solid gains against the public, including the Bears, the Chargers, and Washington winning.

Spread Pools

In spread pools, what started out as a strong week with the Thursday and early Sunday games turned quickly in the late afternoon and prime-time finishes.

The “max profit” season-long picks averaged 6.5 wins, and the “win the week” top picks averaged 6.9 wins, compared to a public average of 7.7 wins in Week 3.

Here were the highest-leverage games in spread pools, based on our recommendation rates versus the public pick rate.

TeamOpponentPublicMax ProfitWeekly
Green BayPittsburgh79.0%0.0%0.1%
New York JetsTennessee21.9%98.0%99.9%
New York GiantsNew Orleans32.9%97.3%99.6%
Kansas CityPhiladelphia73.5%31.4%0.9%

In spread pools, every game has the potential for much higher leverage than a typical game in a game-winner pool. Our picks in the highest-leverage games got off to a good start, with three of the five being net wins.

All of the difference in results came in the later games, where our picks closed with only 1.8 wins on average for the “max profit” selections. The public won 3.1 games out of six in the late afternoon and prime-time results.

On the season, the average Max Profit entry has 31.1 wins, and the average Weekly Top Option entry has 32.5 wins, compared to the public with an average of 30.1 wins. The last two weeks have been down after gains in the first two weeks, but that’s the nature of spread pools. Bigger swings are possible since no game is close to a lock.


Important Notes About Picks We Highlight

Keep in mind three things about picks we highlight in this article:

  1. Optimal pick strategy balances risk and potential reward.
    Maximizing your odds to win a pick’em pool generally requires identifying the best opportunities to differentiate your picks. You want to fade the public while taking on minimal risk to do so. For example, taking a favorite being picked by less than 50% of your opponents is usually a great opportunity.
  2. Not all of the picks we highlight are suitable for all pools.
    Don’t be surprised if our Football Pick’em Picks product doesn’t recommend several of the picks we mention in this post—especially the upset picks. The best pick strategy for your pool depends on a number of factors such as your pool’s size, rules, and prize structure (a concept that’s covered in part by our article on season vs. weekly prize strategy).
  3. Picks we highlight may no longer look compelling by game day.
    We analyze and write about picks using data (e.g. win odds and pick popularity), but that data can change up until kickoff. A key player being ruled out or a shift in public sentiment about a team can erase the differentiation value that a pick initially offered.

We’ll provide periodic updates in this post if major data changes occur for picks we’ve mentioned, so make sure to check back. However, there’s a much better way to stay on top of changing data trends throughout a week, which all sharp players need to do.

Our Football Pick’em Picks product automatically imports the latest win odds and pick popularity data multiple times per day. You can see the latest information in the Data Grid.

After you generate customized picks for your pool, you can also update those pick recommendations whenever you want via the My Pool Picks screen. The updated picks will incorporate the most recent data we have.


About Our Pick’em Pool Advice

What makes our football pick’em advice different from other sites is that it isn’t generic.

In any given week, the best picks for your football pool depend on a number of variables. Your pool’s size, rules, and prize structure all influence strategy, as do factors like your place in the standings and how many weeks are left.

So many different scenarios exist that it’s impossible to give pick advice that makes sense for every one. An underrated six-point underdog could be a great pick in a big weekly prize pool and a terrible pick for a small season-long pool where you’re currently in the money.

Technology to the rescue

Other sites don’t understand this stuff, or they just ignore it because it’s complicated and hard. We’re the only site that has built algorithms to evaluate these strategy factors and provide you with customized pick recommendations every week.

The result? Every year, an average of 71% of our subscribers win a prize in a football pick’em contest.

So if you want to see all the Week 1 picks we recommend for your football pool, you need to use our Football Pick’em Picks product.

Why we write this column

At the same time, we know our subscribers like to understand the rationale behind picks the product may recommend, especially when those picks go against the grain. So over the years, we’ve started to write more about the “whys” behind our approach.

We also utilize this column to help educate our readers about pick’em pool strategy. We highlight tactics proven to result in more pick’em pool wins over the long term and point out common pitfalls to avoid.

Our goal with these articles is to dig deeper into pick’em pools than anyone else by using an objective, data-driven lens. We’ll recap key results from the previous week, identify the most compelling value picks of the current week, and evaluate the implications of breaking news on pick’em strategy.

We hope you enjoy reading, and we encourage you to check out more of our football pick’em strategy articles.

Wednesday 10/6

Minnesota Line Move to Detroit Injury 

We’ve seen a big line jump this morning in the Vikings-Lions game after Detroit center Frank Ragnow was placed on IR with a toe injury.

The Vikings were already one of the larger favorites of the week, but that line has moved an additional 1.5 points. It’s now at Minnesota -9.

That move shouldn’t impact game-winner picks, but it could have an impact on the confidence-point rankings if you play in such pools. For those in spread pools, taking Minnesota could become more enticing if spreads already locked.

Thursday 10/7

Thursday Night Rams-Seahawks Should Be Fairly Important 

Tonight’s Rams-Seahawks game has the potential to shift the NFC West odds significantly. It’s also likely to be a higher-leverage game in pick’em pools.

After two straight weeks where the Thursday game featured a larger favorite that prevailed, this one is closer on paper.

The Rams are currently a 2-point favorite, with 54% win odds. They are being picked by 67% of the public in game-winner pools.

Given those dynamics, you may see different picks depending on your pool type and goal.

The Rams should be the pick in season-long pools as long as they remain the favorite. Depending on pool size, the Seahawks could creep in as a moderate upset pick in weekly pools given the pick popularity.

In spread pools, the pick popularity is similar (Rams about 66%). Your recommended pick there may depend on the spread offered in your pool, and your pool goals. For example, if you have the Rams by three and current market values hold, we are more likely to recommend that you take the closing-line value on Seattle.

Friday 10/8

Russell Wilson’s Injury and Calvin Ridley’s Absence 

The big news out of Thursday was Russell Wilson’s finger injury that knocked him out of the game. Wilson has never missed a start in his career, but he is now set to miss at least a few weeks.

Looking forward, Calvin Ridley did not make the trip to London with the Atlanta Falcons and has been excused for personal reasons. The spread in that one has dropped another half-point, with the Falcons favored by only 2.5 points. Meanwhile, 81% of the public is on Atlanta in the early Sunday game.

Atlanta WR Russell Gage is also out injured, so the Falcons will be thin at receiver. This marks the second straight week the Jets will catch a team without its starting receivers, as they avoided A.J. Brown and Julio Jones in last week’s OT win over the Titans.

Saturday 10/9

College Value Picks for Week 5

Here are some value picks for this weekend in college football.

Value Favorites

  • Virginia Tech (-1.0) vs. Notre Dame (23% popularity)
  • TCU (-2.0) at Texas Tech (44%)
  • Tulsa (-3.5) vs. Memphis (54%)
  • Ole Miss (-5.0) vs. Arkansas (64%)

Value Underdogs for Weekly Contests

  • Nebraska (+2.5) vs. Michigan (10%)
  • Rutgers (+4.5) vs. Michigan State (7%)
  • Boise State (+6.0) vs. BYU (3%)
  • Florida Atlantic (+4.0) at UAB (10%)
  • West Virginia (+2.5) at Baylor (18%)

Sunday 10/10

Jets-Falcons Reminder; Reviewing the Week 5 Dynamics Entering Sunday

First, a reminder that we do have an early game in London between the Jets and Falcons that kicks off at 9:30 a.m. ET.

In Week 5, we do not have many lower spread value favorites this week, but the public is concentrated on some smaller favorites enough to offer some value opportunities.

The only “value favorite” where the public is picking them less than our win odds projection is Kansas City vs. Buffalo on Sunday night. As a result, in a weekly pool, you may see a lot more moderate gambles this week on teams with win odds of 40% or more.

Depending on your pool, those upset picks could include the following:

  • Cincinnati vs. Green Bay
  • Philadelphia at Carolina
  • New York Jets vs. Atlanta in London
  • Jacksonville vs. Tennessee
  • Cleveland at LA Chargers
  • San Francisco vs. Arizona

How many of those, and which ones, may depend on your pool size and prize structure.

In spread contests, we don’t have quite the level of extreme popularity as in recent weeks. No team is being picked by over 75% of the public, though Baltimore is the closest on Monday Night Football at 74.2%. Buffalo (58.9%) is the most popular spread pick among underdogs.