“Confidence”: Sunday Gambling Preview

Last week was blowout week in the NFL, which is bad news for teasers. Of the thirteen games played, only two losers covered even with a teaser: Philadelphia and Buffalo. The Eagles needed a miracle just to pull theirs off – with no offensive points! Sadly, I didn’t pick either of those teams and the squads I did choose ALL fell flat on their faces.

Pittsburgh? The Steelers blew a 24-17 third quarter lead with 0:07 left in the fourth quarter… or did they?

Mike Tomlin scowls at the broadcasters summoning the Football Gods with this graphic. (Photo courtesy FootballOutsiders.com)

The second Fox posted that graphic the Football Gods unleashed their fury, turning that teaser on its head. The rest of the games didn’t have any awful announcing-driven gut punch, but none were competitive by the fourth quarter either.

Chicago won the battles of raw yardage, time-of-possession, first downs, photogenic moments, etc. with the Packers but still got walloped on the scoreboard. The Bears ran 77 plays to Green Bay’s 47! Chicago’s two long interceptions in the third quarter both came in enemy territory and were returned back to the Chicago 35- and 11-yard lines respectively. Assuming the Bears had just kicked field goals, those plays resulted in a 20-point Packers swing.

Where to begin with New Orleans? The Dallas offensive line turned a respectable Saints defensive line into blocking sleds, pushing them all over the field. But what happened with the Saints’ offense is still inexplicable. New Orleans apparently forgot they had Jimmy Graham on their team; the guy would have been a nightmare matchup for a Cowboys defense down to three healthy cornerbacks by the second quarter. Graham didn’t even have a reception until late in that period, but this stunning 38-17 defeat was an epic victory compared to what happened on Monday night.

New England had its second-worst game by DVOA in the Hoodie Era. Their performance was a microcosm for “Confidence” last week. Like the samurai Shinzaemon’s warning before the imminent carnage of battle, for the Patriots and my teasers, it was a…

They are on to Cincinnati. (Photo courtesy bp.blogspot.com)

Last week’s disaster drove me to get back to the basics. This week, before I even looked at what the lines were, I wanted to find teams that had significant statistical and roster advantages on both sides of the ball. There is one team with a clear edge: Denver, which hosts Arizona. There are also four teams with less pronounced edges: 1) Seattle @ Washington, 2) Detroit vs. Buffalo, 3) Philadelphia vs. St. Louis, and 4) San Diego vs. New York Jets.


Teams to Tease in Order of “Confidence”

Arizona at Denver -7 (-1)

Let’s start the weekend off the “Wong” way by selecting this seven-point home favorite.

Denver is going to pass and pass frequently against Arizona. The Broncos’ offensive passing DVOA is 55.0% ‒ best in the NFL. The Cardinals will attempt to counter that with a 0.4% pass-defense DVOA. Arizona doesn’t figure to bother Peyton Manning with their pass rush. Denver has the 11th-best pass blocking squad according to Pro Football Focus and the 4th-best adjusted sack rate via Football Outsiders. Arizona’s PFF overall pass rushing score ranks fifth from the bottom and their adjusted sack rate is second-worst. Their only hope is to smother the stacked Bronco receiver core in coverage. PFF ranks the Cardinals fifth worst in coverage, too. Good luck, Arizona.

The Broncos figure to stifle the Cardinals and their feeble offensive line in all facets. Denver’s rushing defense (-17.2% DVOA) is worlds better than Arizona’s rushing offense (-19.5% DVOA). PFF backs this observation up with their own stats: Arizona has the 6th-worst run blocking, while the Broncos have the 11th-best run defense. The Broncos will get some pressure on whomever is playing quarterback for the Cardinals but they will excel in air defense. Denver brings their PFF-ranked 10th-best pass coverage to face the 20th-ranked Cardinals passing attack. Football Outsiders largely agrees, ranking Denver 6th in pass-defense DVOA at -7.6%. Because Arizona will not be able to run the ball, Denver will be able to stay in nickel packages all day. That’s going to make Denver’s coverage suffocating.

The Call: This is a high “Confidence” pick. Take Denver -1.

The following five games all have their teasing merits. I plan on making a pair of two-team six-point teasers using Denver and Seattle as my top choices.

Seattle -7 (-1) at Washington

I was hoping Seattle would only be a four-to-six point favorite, but you have to pay a premium when you want to take the defending champs against the probably overrated Kirk Cousins.

Seattle takes away Washington’s strength on offense: the run game. The defending champs sport the 4th-best run defense DVOA at -29.5% and they specialize in limiting long runs with the 6th-best second level defense and 4th-best open field defense. While Washington can stop the run and has a strong front seven, they are terrible in coverage, owning a 18.5% pass defense DVOA and ranking 3rd-worst in coverage by PFF. Russell Wilson’s mobility will mitigate the effectiveness of the pass rush, further dampening Washington’s chance of stopping the Seahawks aerial assault.

Though they are outweighed by the positives above, there are three things about this matchup that give me pause:

  1. Seattle is on the road, where they are simply not as good.
  2. Washington has the second-highest variability in play this season.
  3. Washington has a strong front seven that could make this a close game.

The Call: This is a high “Confidence” pick. Take Seattle -1.

Best of the Rest:

I like the following four games, but each has its unique advantages and disadvantages. I will list them according to how I rank them, but they are all close together so apply your “Confidence” at your own discretion.

Buffalo at Detroit -7 (-6)

What I like: Detroit’s defense is ranked third against the pass and fourth against the run in DVOA against Buffalo’s twenty-third ranked offense. The Lions front seven with the 6th-highest adjusted sack rate should destroy the Buffalo offensive line.

What I dislike: Buffalo’s front seven will be able to exert pressure on Matthew Stafford. Neither team will be able to run the ball on the other.

St. Louis at Philadelphia -7 (-1)

What I like: Philadelphia’s pass defense (15th in DVOA at 8.6%) and rush defense (8th in DVOA at -26.1%) have the edges over St. Louis’ passing offense (27th in DVOA at -15.7%) and rushing offense (18th in DVOA at -10.9%). When the Eagles have the ball they will be able to pass against a porous St. Louis secondary currently ranked 31st against the pass, flashing a 42.3% DVOA!

Philadelphia gets right tackle Lane Johnson back which will allow Todd Herremans to play his natural position of right guard. Thankfully for the Eagles, the Rams are generating the worst adjusted sack rate in the NFL at 2.6%. I am banking on Philadelphia’s offense, currently 22nd in overall DVOA at -8.3%, rebounding soon.

What I dislike: Philadelphia’s offensive line has multiple issues and that is having a huge impact on the entire offense. The interior offensive line is missing left guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce. While Johnson’s return is a positive this will be his first action in four weeks. Philadelphia’s offensive line, ranked 32nd in the run game by Football Outsiders, is going against the 4th-best defensive line against the run.

San Diego -6.5 (-0.5) vs. New York Jets

What I like: The Chargers’ passing offense (2nd in overall DVOA at 53.9%) is going to light up the Jets’ passing defense (16th in overall DVOA at 10.3%). The numbers might not tell the full story, either, because San Diego’s offensive line (4th overall in adjusted sack rate) can neutralize the potency of the Jets’ pass rush (1st overall in adjusted sack rate). Jets cornerback Dee Milliner returns to action on Sunday, but their pass coverage is currently ranked 22nd by Pro Football Focus and they will have matchup problems all day with San Diego’s talented receivers, with or without the guy who thinks he’s the best cornerback in the league.

What I dislike: The Jet’s offensive and defensive lines have an advantage in the run game against the Chargers. The Jets’ front four are as athletic and powerful as they come; no team can stop them completely.

Closing Thoughts

I am going to tease San Francisco and Philadelphia because, although the stats don’t conclusively prove that San Francisco -6 is a good line, I love the matchup. It will be interesting to see who on San Francisco’s defense takes Kansas City’s dynamic young tight end Travis Kelce in coverage. Patrick Willis would be my first choice and that matchup alone would make for must-see-tv.

The Plays

Denver -1 and Seattle -11

Risking 1 unit to win .91.

Detroit -1 and San Diego -1.5 (Wong Teasers)

Risking 0.75 units to win 0.6825.

San Francisco PK and Philadelphia -1 (Wong Teasers)

Risking .5 unit to win .455.

Total Risk: 2.25 Units

Total Potential Reward: 2.0925 Units

John Limberakis is Inside The Pylon‘s gambling analyst, using statistics and trends to break down the betting lines, and finding the winning edge to wager with confidence.

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