Our quantitative approach to handicappping NFL regular season games against-the-spread is primarily driven by adjusting a (third-party) power rankings system for factors empirically demonstrated to matter (such as home field advantage and extra rest). We then overlay a (third-party) game simulation system on the output. We bet every game where this dual-pronged system offers a comfortable margin.
New Orleans Saints +4.5 at Pittsburgh Steelers (10:00AM, Pacific)
For Sunday, November 30th, we highlight value betting the Saints as 4.5 point road dogs at the Steelers. As is illustrated below, New Orleans sports a slightly higher octane offense than Pittsburgh.
In 11 games this season, Brees' passing has fallen meaningfully short of the 300 yard mark on two occassions: in week 2 at the Cleveland Browns and in week 11 versus the Cincinnati Bengals. The Saints in lost both outings. We expect that a New Orleans cover today will coincide with Brees gaining over 300 yards in the air and maintaining an average (or better) touchdown-to-interception ratio -- Brees has thrown 22 TDs against 11 picks, for a ratio of exactly 2:1.
Working against the Saints, Pittsburgh quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, has been lights out at home, posting a TD/INT ratio of 18:1. Also, the Steeler's second-year running back, LaVeon Bell, seems to be rolling. Bell tattooed 204 rushing yards on the Titans in week 11. The Black and Yellow's ground attack might pose a prblem for the Saints run defense, which is not quite as giving as Tennessee's, but still ranks in the bottom tertile. And finally, the Steelers will be well-rested for this afternoon's contest, after their scheduled bye in week 12. Generally, we believe weeks off are worth about 2.6 points.
Thus, we expect the Steelers will eke out the win straight up -- which they sorely need to fan the smoldering flames of their playoff hopes. However, we anticpate that the potency of the Saints offense will keep the away team within striking distance.
The public is lining up solidly in the favorites' camp. SportsInsights reports 64% of side bets on their radar have followed the Steelers. Similarly, CappersMall cites public support for the Steelers ATS at 69% (based on 4,500 bets). We view this as a favorable condition, as we prefer to bet with the house (considered smart money) rather than with the general public.
SportsInsights also notes a tightening of the opening spread from Saints +4 to +3.5. This change constitutes a reverse line movement and further validates our selection. However, VegasInsider cites an opening line of +3 in Las Vegas, versus a right-now spread of +3.5 (a negative half-point move).
After adjusting for home field advantage, FiveThirtEight NFL Elo ratings make Pittsburgh 4 point favorites (without accounting for the bye week).
Carolina Panthers +3 at Minnesota Vikings (10:00AM, Pacific)
The Panthers have not won a game outright since a week 5 victory at home against the Chicago Bears, but have gone 3-3 versus the number over the last 7 weeks. Nonetheless, they face a foe on Sunday with a statistically inferior offense. The Vikings average fewer points, total yards and passing yards than the Panthers.
Moreover, like Pittsburgh, the Panthers also enjoyed some R&R last week -- their bye was also scheduled for week 12. Unlike the Saints/Steelers matchup however, the Vikings have not exhibited the offensive prowess that suggest they might overcome the 2.6 point, bye-implied deficit, so we are quite disinclined to bet against the rested team here.
Also, the Panthers still have something to play for this year. Per FiveThirtyEight, a win today would increase Carolina's probability of making the post-season from about 15% to roughly 24% (victories by the Steelers and Cardinals would also help). Minnesota, on the other hand, playing in a stronger conference, sports virtually no chance of making the playoffs. Given this incentive, Carolina has the impetus to go for the win straight up. To this point, the respected handicappers at Massey-Peabody see Cam Newton and the boys winning outright. We think it will be hard for the Vikings, as a team, to exert maximum effort for the remainder of the season with so little riding on the outcome of each game.
The public is more split over how this game might end. 58% of bets have flowed the Vikings direction, per SportsInsights, while CappersMall reports that 58% of the roughly 4,900 wagers they track followed the Panthers.
SportsInsights also reports a slight favorable spread change, from Carolina +3 to +2.5. However, VegasInsider suggests that line has held firm at 2.5 since the open.
Elo ratings corroborate our pick, making the Vikings out to be 2-point favorites, without considering the value of the Panther's bye.
Baltimore Raven -5.5 at San Diego Chargers (10:00AM, Pacific)
At first release just before 10AM Pacific, this game was not included among the week 13 picks. It instead became one of our official plays via a last minute tweet (follow @WizeOwlSports to get ALL of our picks, for ALL sports we bet). We amend this post after the fact to include this game so that our readers have the benefit of our thinking. The analysis below includes only data available prior to kickoff.
Baltimore unquestionably has more at stake on Sunday's contest than does San Diego. The Ravens will probably make the playoffs. By FiveThirtyEight math, the likelihood is 60%, before they face the Chargers. A win Sunday would boost their chance to 72%, while a loss reduces the number to an improbable 38%.
On the other hand, just prior to week 13 play, FiveThirtyEight estimates San Diego has a meager 17% chance of playing past week 17. They find that even with a win on Sunday, the Chargers are still unlikely to make the playoffs. Thus, the game is more meaningful to Baltimore. As such, we expect the Ravens to maintain the psychological edge that helped them knock off the New Orleans Saints as 3 point road underdogs in week 12, upgrading their run toward the playoffs in the process from unlikely to probable (per probability estimates from FiveThirtyEight).
Perceived mental edge mumbo-jumbo aside, Baltimore is fundamentally a better team than San Diego. The Ravens average 34.9 more yards per game and 4.5 more points than the Chargers.
Both teams are top quartile defenders, with the Baltimore ranked 6th by points allowed and San Deigo just below. However, the Ravens struggle guarding the pass, ranking 29th by passing yards allowed. Fortunately for Baltmore backers, San Diego is not a pass-first kind of team. The Chargers throw the ball fewer than 21 other teams -- attempting approximately one less pass than the league average and median. However, San Diego QB, Philip Rivers, owns the 5th best QBR in the league (among qualified passers), so the Chargers might be especially qualified to capitalize on the Ravens' vulnerbility to the aerial attack.
To the point of Baltimore simply being the better team though, every mainstream power rankings systems we surveyed (CBS Sports, ESPN, Fox Sports, NFL.com, USA Today) lists the Ravens atop the Chargers -- in several cases, significantly so. We respect the process that underlies The Linemakers/Don Best NFL Power Ratings, but also appreciate the practical presentation of their approach. Rather than simply ranking teams 1 through 32, as is most common, The Linemakers/Don Best list allows for the calculation of neutral field spreads between any two teams. They rate Baltimore at 98.5 and San Diego at 93.5. This suggests if this Ravens team were to play this Chargers team repeatedly on a neutral field, Baltimore should average the win by 5 points. The Linemakers/Don Best also ascribe a 2.5 point home field advantage to Baltimore. Thus, per their work, these Ravens should beat these Chargers by 7.5 points per game, on average.
Elo ratings see Baltimore winning but not covering the spread (-3.5).
60% of public bettors like Baltimore to cover. Accordingly, the spread has increased from between -4 and -5.5 to -6.5 before the start of the game.