BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Week 11 of the NFL season is upon us, leaving precious few weeks for bettors to bet against the spread.
With Thanksgiving only a week away, this is the time of year when I begin lamenting the fact that the end of the NFL season isn't far away. Through 10 weeks of the NFL season, my against the spread picks are 27-23, after I went 2-3 last week.
Eli Manning (New York Giants)
One of my incorrect picks for Week 10 came thanks to a crazy play where David Garrard's desperation pass to the end zone at the end of regulation was batted down by a Houston defender into the hands of a Jacksonville wide receiver, who scored with no time left on the clock. The Jaguars ended up easily covering as 2-point favorites over the Texans.
A losing pick is never something to be happy about, although given the freak nature of the Hail Mary play, it's not devastating. Thankfully, I didn't embarrass myself completely by selecting the
New York Giants
as a 14-point favorite at home against the woeful
. Not only did the Giants fail to cover the two-touchdown spread, the Cowboys handily beat them in an impressive performance.
In last week's column, I wrote about how only 10 games this season have had spreads in the double digits, which is down sharply from the season before. Thanks to parity, there have been fewer games where oddsmakers are predicting blowouts. The problem, it appears, is that double-digit favorites don't have a winning record against the spread this year.
Paul Bessire, the general manager and creator of the Web site
, says that he has observed an interesting phenomenon this season where many of his highest confidence against-the-spread plays have been favorites between five and seven points.
"However, in games with double-digit spreads, we have almost always had a 'no pick,' with less than 53% confidence in either side, or have liked the underdog to cover," Bessire says. His Prediction Machine is a quantitative way to break down NFL games as it simulates each contest 50,000 times to come up with a pick against the spread.
Bessire notes that while there are "certain situations where the teams are so extreme that the public essentially demands a double-digit spread," they don't occur every week. He points out that no double-digit team has covered since Pittsburgh won by 18 points as 14-point favorites over Cleveland in Colt McCoy's debut.
"In retrospect, even that may have been a lucky cover by the favorite," Bessire says. "When lines get up that high, they inherently favor the underdog, especially when that line gets to 14. There is just so much more room for error awarded to the underdog in that scenario."
To view it another way, any time a team is favored by 14 points, the public should expect them to win straight up about 90% of the time. As the Giants showed against in Week 10, nothing is certain.
"The assumption in the NFL is that every team is trying its best to win and that every team has a chance to win," Bessire says. "Blowouts occur, but there is rarely an expectation of dominance from one team over another."
Without further ado, it's on to my picks for the slate of games in Week 10. Once again, these are for entertainment purposes only. And as always, I've enlisted the help of
I've also collected commentary on each game from
. His analysis focuses on the spread movement by his oddsmakers and a look at where the public and professional money is moving on each game. These are necessary tools for bettors who are on the hunt for inefficiencies and value based on betting trends.
Read on for the first game preview, the Sunday meeting between the
New Orleans Saints
Seattle Seahawks at New Orleans Saints (-12)
Several weeks ago, this line would have been a lot lower.
Early on, the Seahawks caught several teams by surprise, perhaps outperforming for new coach Pete Carroll. On the other hand, the Saints were blown out at home by the Cleveland Browns in Week 7, despite being 14-point favorites.
But now the tables have turned. The Saints had last week off after dealing the Steelers and the Panthers, arguably the top and bottom of the league, lopsided losses. Seattle, meanwhile, ran into trouble after losing to the Raiders and Giants by a combined 64 points.
Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck returned in Week 10 from an injury to lead Seattle past division rival the Arizona Cardinals. However, the Seahawks now travel for a second week in a row against a much tougher opponent in the Saints. But will the Saints be able to blow out the scrappy Seahawks?
: "This is an example of a double-digit line that we can't quite buy into yet. The Seahawks are not a very good team, yet have shown promise and an ability to stay in and even win games that they were not expected to. New Orleans is exactly the opposite. The Saints are a good team, yet have been exposed and have an ability to lose games that they were not expected to. In both cases, that has to do with turnovers. Seattle has generated them when it needs to and New Orleans has not. Even with Reggie Bush's return to the team -- a critical weapon and threat to the pass and run game -- Seattle is the better side because 12 points is just too many to give in an NFL game, especially one with such inconsistent teams."
: "New Orleans is a heavy favorite opening 12.5 points Sunday evening and was quickly brought down to 11.5. Don't be fooled by the value move because the number 12 does not mean much in the NFL and its predictable the public will come late on the favorite and help Bookmaker.com close the event at the original 12.5 points."
The Pick: Seahawks (+12)
. In my first look at this game, I shied away from picking Seattle because this will be the team's second road game in as many weeks. Even still, the Seahawks average two turnovers on defense per game, while the Saints have had difficulty stopping rushing attacks. The Seahawks have also shown that they can win on the road with victories in Chicago and Arizona. To be sure, I don't expect that the Seahawks will beat the Saints, but I expect the score to be closer than two touchdowns. The Saints couldn't even beat the Arizona Cardinals by more than 10 points.
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers (-10)
Another double-digit spread, but is this one justified?
Sharp gamblers know that the Chargers can be wildly disappointing early in the season but really turn it on in November. In the last two games, San Diego has defeated the Titans and Texans, two teams that don't seem to have a true identity.
The same could be said for the Denver Broncos. One week the Broncos give up 59 points to the Oakland Raiders, the next they lose to the 49ers in London. After having Week 9 off, Denver came out and trounced the Chiefs last week, racking up 452 total yards of offense.
If the Chargers have a weakness to exploit, it's how miserable its special teams unit has been. In addition, the offense has a bad habit of turning the ball over, averaging two turnovers per game. With a turnover margin of -9, it would give a bettor pause in picking San Diego.
So how can the 10-point line be justified? The Broncos surrendered 484 total yards of offense to the Chiefs at home last week. It seems like it could only get worse this week against the top offense in the league. The Chargers average 420 yards of offense per game, thanks to Phillip Rivers, who has been outstanding despite losing some weapons in offense this season.
: "The double-digit line that is not only appropriate, we are comfortable taking the favorite, even when the underdog just blew out its division leader. While definitely unexpected, the Broncos home win over Kansas City last week does not scare us at all. San Diego has one of the few more explosive passing offenses and may just be the healthiest it has been all year. Hopefully, for their sake and ours, the Chargers can avoid the fluky special teams plays that have plagued them on the road. While Michael Vick is getting the current buzz and Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are always in the discussion, Philip Rivers has been the best quarterback in the league this season. The Broncos are the fourth best passing team in the NFL, but rank in the bottom five against the pass and run in our metrics. It's a huge line for a marquee game, but we still like the favorite to cover. Look for the Chargers to announce their late arrival to the playoff race with authority as they come out of their bye week with an AFC West rivalry game on national television."
: "The Monday Night event always gets the heavy volume. However, this matchup has started with little volume this week. Bookmaker.com opened the Chargers as a 9.5 favorite and moved to 10 on light volume. This game should close 10 or 10.5."
The Pick: Chargers -10
. I'm hoping I don't regret this pick. The Chargers have already burned me several times earlier this season, ruining the chances of a five-team parlay I played in Vegas several weeks ago. That said, I think the Chargers should be dominant after a week off. Denver isn't as good as they looked last week, and the Chargers are going to expose that.
Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys (-6.5)
The Dallas Cowboys will not fool me.
Earlier in this column, I noted that the Cowboys flexed their muscles last week by beating the New York Giants, who were heavily favored at home. It was the Cowboys' first win under coach Jason Garrett, who replaced Wade Phillips. I don't want to discredit what the Cowboys accomplished against one of the best teams in the NFL. I just don't buy that they're for real yet.
Turning to the Lions, I have to say that I love watching Detroit games. That's the first time I've said that in nearly a decade. There are still holes on the team, keeping them from being a full-fledged competitor. But this Lions team looks as though it can win on any given Sunday. The numbers bear out how good the team is. The Lions have a positive turnover margin, a positive point differential per game, and more than 330 yards of offense per game.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, have a turnover differential of -7 and the defense hasn't shown any signs of improving. The remaining slate of games doesn't get much easier for Dallas, with road games against the Colts and Eagles, as well as home games against the Saints and Eagles. If this team wants to prove it can still win games, this games against the Lions is one of few strong chances left this season.
: "We can't buy the Cowboys as a team about the set the league on fire right now. The coaching change from Phillips to Garrett may lead to better discipline, but, with Jon Kitna at quarterback and the same players who were making costly mistakes for this team for the last two seasons still putting on the jersey and taking the field for Dallas, we can't expect a sustained, drastic change. The Lions are naturally built to be competitive in every game. They have improved their defensive line to be about as athletic as any in the league and the offense has explosive tendencies that can especially kick-in in desperation, "garbage" time (hence their propensity for 'backdoor' against the spread covers this season). According to the numbers we are looking at, these teams are pretty similar on both sides of the ball. Dallas is the better team and is playing at home, but that should not lead to an expected touchdown or greater victory from the Cowboys. Look for the Lions to keep this within about three points as opposed to six or seven in what should be a shootout."
: "Dallas comes into this week with a shocking victory against the Giants last week. However, the smart money believes it was a fluke. Bookmaker.com posted them a 7-point favorite against Detroit, the sharps brought the number down to 6, and the money has stopped flowing. This event should close 6 or 6.5."
The Pick: Lions +6.5
. It's pretty simple. The Lions have been the most dependable team in the NFL against the spread, while the Cowboys rank among the worst. When in doubt, I take the points, and I feel very comfortable doing that in this case.
Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars (-1)
Am I really going to pick the Brownies again?
If you're recall, I picked the Browns to cover against the New England Patriots a few weeks ago. My wife, who grew up outside of Cleveland and has been down on the Dawgs for years, couldn't believe the pick ended up being correct. It certainly paid off well, and I'm still high on the Browns, even though the Jets dealt the team a tough overtime loss last week.
Every time I look at Cleveland's stats, I walk away impressed. The team has a positive turnover differential, as the defense has forced at least one turnover in nearly every game. The Browns' offense has been sparked by running back Peyton Hillis, and the team now averages more than 115 rushing yards per game.
The one weakness that Jacksonville can exploit is the rushing defense of the Browns, as Cleveland gives up an average of 113 rushing yards per game. That may climb because of the efforts of Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns against the Texans in Week 10.
But even then, the Jaguars still don't strike me as a dangerous team, even for the Browns. The Jaguars turn the ball over frequently, and the defense doesn't force many on the other side of the ball. In addition, the defense has trouble containing a good running back, giving up 150 or more rushing yards to teams like the Titans and Chiefs.
: "This week's 'Upset Watch' game takes place in Jacksonville where the Jaguars are slight favorites, yet expected to lose according to the Predictalator. At home, Jacksonville has pulled off three of the luckier wins of the season. The Jaguars were beneficiaries of a Hail Mary last week. Cleveland, on the other hand, is coming off an unlucky loss, or at least an unlucky against-the-spread loss, to the Jets at home. The Browns have been playing well over the last three games since Colt McCoy took over as the starting quarterback for the team. McCoy is not going to maintain his 65% completion percentage and 7.4 yards-per-pass for the rest of the season, but he has a great chance to put up good numbers against Jacksonville's porous pass defense, still the worst in the league allowing 8.8 yards-per-pass. The Browns are fairly well balanced and definitely well tested. Expect them to take advantage of a rare, weak opponent -- at least defensively -- and win this game."
: " The smart money likes the DAWG's in this matchup! Boomaker.com opened the Jags as a 3-point advantage and the wiseguy's pushed the oddsmaker's impressively off the magic number 3 down to 1.5. This game has potential to close even money."
The Pick: Browns +1
. I have a hard time believing that the Jags can be favored twice at home and cover both times. The Browns will have trouble stopping Jones-Drew, but they should also be able to depend on Peyton Hillis to lead the team to an upset win.
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots (-3)
I am going to pick against the Patriots, my hometown team, twice in as many weeks. And that makes me feel ill.
Quarterback Tom Brady (pictured above) was fiery last week, leading his team to an upset win in Pittsburgh against the Steelers, all while screaming at his teammates. It was a classic Brady performance: 350 passing yards, no interceptions and several touchdowns. For those doubting the Patriots, Brady did all he could to put those questions to rest.
But unlike the Steelers, the Colts will not come out flat, even on the road at Gillette Stadium. Peyton Manning keeps his team in every game. Throwing out the Week 1 loss to the Houston Texans, the Colts' only other losses came at the Jaguars by 3 points and the Philadelphia Eagles by 2 points. If they're not winning, they're keeping it close.
: "The public will love this game because everyone wants to watch it. So do we. And we will get to without having to worry about the pick because we are staying away. Technically, we like the Patriots to win, yet the Colts to cover in a shootout, but neither opinion is very strong. These two teams almost always play each other close, and with good reason. They are built similarly and have maintained a high level of play from experienced players, coaches and front office members in key positions. I'm much more inclined to like either pick in this game with the hook (Indianapolis +3.5). Yet with so many points expected, these teams could easily play each other even and one team could still win by a touchdown"
: "Everyone gears up for the Brady versus Manning matchup. The Pats opened as a 3-point favorite and it is doubtful, barring some late injury announcement, it will move anywhere. This game should have the highest volume of the year and opinions will be evenly matched. Bookmaker.com says New England will close -3 with a slight lean towards hometown Belichick and company."
The Pick: Colts +3
. Looking at the history of the Pats/Colts rivalry, there have been more than a fair share of close games. In the last three years, there have been three contests between the Patriots and Colts, and they were decided by an average of 2.67 points. The Pats may win, but it'll be a tight score no matter what.
-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston
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