NFL Week 10: Dolphins, Falcons & Ravens, Oh My!!
In Week 9, our official plays split (as did our leans). On the one hand, the Dolphins thoroughly embarrassed the Chargers in a 37-0 rout, delivering an easy-breezy cover. Conversely, we lost a nail-biter after rookie QB, Teddy Bridgewater, led the Vikings on a fourth quarter drive that scored the go-ahead touchdown. The Redskins lost 24-27. Our 1-1 week 9 leaves us at a meagerly profitable 18-15 for the season.
For week 10, we have identified three early games that we think give us a good chance at cashing in:
Miami Dolphins +3 at Detroit Lions (10:00AM, Pacific)
We profited from the Dolphins covering against the Packers in week 6, the Jaguars in week 8 and San Diego last week. Our approach compels us to remain comfortably seated on the Dolphin bandwagon, at least through week 10, which has the Fins travelling to the Detroit Lions.
In Detroit’s favor, all-pro receiver Calvin Johnson, affectionately known as Megatron, will return to the lineup after missing the last three games with a high ankle sprain. Johnson is 6’5”, 236 lbs, and a tough cover. However, Miami’s defense is notoriously stout. The Dolphins rank 3rd in points and total yards surrendered and 2nd in defending the pass – this latter stat might be particularly germane to Sunday’s game plan. Running back Reggie Bush is also likely to play Sunday.
Ranking 1st in points allowed and yards allowed, and 2nd in defending the run, Detroit’s defense too is its hallmark.
However, in spite of both teams defensive prowess, and notwithstanding the observation that the starting quarterbacks on these teams sport virtually identical quarterback ratings, Miami has been stronger on offense (not surprising, considering the key injuries afflicting the Lions). The Dolphins have been particularly adept in the back halves of games.
We are looking for the Fins to continue to outplay Detroit on offense, and for head coach Joe Philbin’s halftime adjustments to remain effective.
FiveThirtyEight makes the case that the outcome of the week 10 match-up between the Dolphins and the Lions is more meaningful to the Fins’ chance of making the playoffs than is the true for Detroit. Their work suggests that a Miami win would increase the Dolphin’s likelihood of making the post-season from 47% to north of 62% (while a loss reduces their chance of seeing the post-season to 37%).
On the other hand, with a 6-2 record, Detroit sits atop the NFC North Division, and is already highly likely to make the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight. While a loss Sunday would somewhat dull Detroit’s potential for playing in January, such an outcome would only reduce the probability of a Lions playoff berth from roughly 86% to 75%.
In other words, while the Dolphins only become likely to make the playoffs with a win over the Lions, Detroit will probably play beyond week 16 no matter what happens here.
While I doubt that either the Dolphins or the Lions are applying the level of statistical rigor that Nate Silver’s crew employs, I expect that Miami is well aware that their position in the race to the playoffs (tied for second in the AFC East) is more precarious than Detroit’s, and that they ‘need’ this game more than their opponents. We expect that this knowing can lend an added bit of mental acuity to Miami’s cause.
The opening line of Miami +3 has tightened slightly to +2.5, according to VegasInsider. This move supports our selection. Sportsinsights, however, reports a half-point move against our favor.
Elo ratings-derived spreads give Detroit a 2.5 point edge.
The Dolphins to cover appears to be the favored play among the betting public.
Atlanta Falcons -2.5 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10:00AM, Pacific)
When these two NFC South bottom-feeders met in Atlanta in week 3, we advocated betting Tampa Bay +7. Unfortunately for us, the Falcons blew the Bucs out 56-14. While we aren’t making the Falcons to be 42 point favorites Sunday, our system anticipates an outcome consistent with what happened September 18th: an Atlanta win and cover.
Tampa Bay will reinstall Josh McCown at the QB spot Sunday, after the Bucs dropped four consecutive games with Mike Glennon lining up under the Center. McCown though has a worse QB rating than Glennon, so we do not expect an elevation of play on the basis of this personnel change. Instead, we think the Tampa Bay coaching staff is merely rolling the dice on a shake-up (the Bucs have not won a game in well over a month, so QBRs aside, how much worse could McCown possibly be than Glennon, as measured by wins and losses?).
Similar to the plight of the Buccaneers, the Falcons have not enjoyed a victory since these teams met almost two months ago. And though Matt Ryan rates considerably higher than McCown, the QBR for the Atlanta quarterback is also below the average for the current season.
But Atlanta is coming off a bye week. Admittedly, an extra week of rest didn’t seem to matter in week 9, as both the 49ers and the New York Giants dropped games after week 8 respites, however, empirical analysis suggests byes are worth 2.6 points on average. We think that the one-week breather might be key in deciding the outcome of a game between these two particularly poor teams.
Atlanta opened as one point underdogs but apparently attracted plenty of takers. The Falcons have since been bid up to 2.5-3 point favorites.
Elo ratings give Tampa Bay a 2.5 point advantage.
More than three quarters of wagers tracked by SportsInsights have flowed Atlanta’s direction.
Baltimore Ravens -9.5 vs. Tennessee Titans
The Don Best/Linemakers Power Rankings make Baltimore 8.5 points better than Tennessee on a neutral field. This approach also ascribes a 2.5 point value to home field, boosting the Ravens advantage to 11. Tennessee too is coming off a bye last week, after falling to Houston and Washington in the two preceding weeks. If the average holds, the benefit of the extra rest the schedule afforded Tennessee, would reduce the Baltimore handicap to -8.4 -- shy of the -9.5 point spread.
Mitigating factors though justify our selection of the Ravens to cover, including uncertainty surrounding the Titans rookie QB, Zach Mettenberger, who got the nod two weeks ago versus Houston. Against the Texans, Mettenberger connected with receivers on 27 of 41 attempts and threw for two touchdowns. However, the first year player also tossed an interception and lost a fumble – against the defense that ranks 29th in passing yards allowed.
Baltimore is materially better than Houston without the ball (5th in points allowed vs. 15th), however, protecting against the pass is, admittedly, the weakest component of the Ravens defense. And Baltimore cornerback, Jimmy Smith, is done for the year after sustaining a foot injury at the Bengals two weeks ago.
Further, the Titans are among the worst at stopping the run, while the Raven’s rank 9th in rushing yardage. Thus, a healthy dose of running might help Baltimore dispatch Tennessee Sunday.
The Ravens were carved up at home by Big Ben and their division rival Pittsburgh Steelers last week, sustaining a loss that resigned them to the bottom of the AFC North. The Ravens have not been division laggards in the back half of a season since 2007. Further, Baltimore is 7-0 against the spread following a loss at home. These circumstances both provide incentive for Baltimore to sharpen up mentally, and suggests that this team is capable of ratcheting up their resolve when the chips are down.
VegasInsider suggests the betting line is holding firm at Ravens -10, while SportsInsights reports a half point move in Tennessee’s direction.
Elo ratings make Baltimore a 9.5 point favorite.
The public agrees with our assessment, as, of wagers monitored by SportsInsights, more than 73% of the spread action for this game is aligned with Baltimore.