Against the Spread: 2010 NFL Picks: Week 2

The NFL season rolls on to Week 2, and TheStreet offers picks against the spread for five games.
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BOSTON (TheStreet) -- According to Vegas bookmakers, the San Francisco 49ers should have defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 by a field goal. Instead, the Seahawks trounced the 49ers by a score of 31-6. So who saw that blowout coming?

According to the Yahoo! NFL Pick 'Em league for

TheStreet

readers and prognosticators, only eight out of the 50 current participants, or 16%, picked Seattle

against the spread

. The average confidence point score of those who selected Seattle was 5.25. I was among the other 84% who incorrectly picked San Francisco; my bruised ego is happy to see I wasn't alone.

(

There's still time left to join the free Yahoo! Pick'Em league I have set up to match your picks up against mine and other readers. If you want to join, click the link and enter this information when prompted: group ID#:43605; password: thestreet

)

"Obviously the outcome was disappointing to us," says Paul Bessire, general manager and creator of the Web site

PredictionMachine.com

. "But the game was not as much of a blowout as one might think looking at the score."

Seattle Seahawks' Marcus Trufant tackles San Francisco 49ers' Josh Morgan.

Bessire, who received an MBA in finance and quantitative analysis before becoming fascinated with sports simulation, actually had the 49ers winning by a score of 23-17, which would have covered the 3.5-point spread.

"San Francisco made it to the Seattle

6-yard line on three consecutive drives and got just six points," Bessire says. "What could have been 21-0 turned into 31-6 the other way pretty quickly because the 49ers allowed it to."

>>2010 College Football Picks: Week 3

Before we get to the picks for Week 2, it's important to first look at an incorrect pick like San Francisco covering in Week 1 to learn why the pick was wrong so as to not repeat it. In this specific case, it appears smart bettors would avoid wagering on a game involving a team with high turnover from one year to the next.

"Seattle had almost 200 player transactions in the off-season and a brand new coaching staff," Bessire says. "As a takeaway, it may be smart to stay away from a game involving a team that had as much turnover from one year to another until we know more about that team."

For Bessire, examining Seattle's player transactions as well as hundreds of other statistics grew from a hobby to a full-fledged mathematical modeling system. Equipped with a master's degree in quant analysis in finance, Bessire finds that predicting sports outcomes as a full-time profession is far more rewarding.

"The week-to-week adjustments in football make this not only a more fascinating market but it can make you more successful," he says. "That's why football betting is so popular. The frequency of the games, the timing of it, and the element of the spread -- it all captivates the public."

Bessire was a contributor to WhatIfSports.com but has gone out on his own with

PredictionMachine.com

, which employs a number of statistical interactions to simulate every game 50,000 times in a matter of seconds to come up with a probability that a team will or won't succeed against the point spread.

"I've found that in sports, past performance is far more indicative of future outcomes than in the stock market," Bessire says. "It's a market where initial opinions are set by the pros. That then corrects itself or is modified by the public. That's exactly the way that both Vegas and Wall Street work. There are always going to be inefficiencies in any market."

>>Fantasy Football Plays for 2010

Looking ahead to this weekend's slate of games, the inefficiencies appear to be in the outsized point spreads, which have climbed from Week 1. Last week, the highest spread was 6.5 points, with the

New York Giants

favored at home over the

Carolina Panthers

. This week, the highest point spread has hovered around 13 points. If picking the favorite, a bettor would need the

Green Bay Packers

to defeat the

Buffalo Bills

by at least two touchdowns.

"The lines were overly conservative in Week 1," Bessire says. "The market has now overcorrected itself and you're seeing bigger lines, like Dallas, Green Bay and San Diego favored by more than seven points. That may be because of the idea that the betting public is more afraid of the information it doesn't know before Week 1 and then probably is too confident of what it thinks it knows going into Week 2."

With that in mind, let's tackle (no pun intended) my picks for the second week of the NFL season. In Week 1, my selections for five games gave me a record of 3-2. I correctly picked the

New England Patriots

, the

Detroit Lions

and the

Tennessee Titans

, the last of which was also a correct choice as our survival pool selection.

Due to Garrett Hartley's two missed field goals, our pick of the

New Orleans Saints

was incorrect, and a weak performance by the

New York Jets

offense made that our second incorrect pick. A 3-2 record isn't anything to trumpet yet, but at least it's a winning record.

Week 1 was based mostly on opinion and examination of offseason moves. Week 2 picks still involve opinions due to the small sample size of statistics, but it requires a deeper examination of Week 1's numbers. With that in mind, let's get to the first pick for Week 2. Bessire has offered his comments on each of my five picks based on results from the PredictionMachine.com's simulations.

Baltimore at Cincinnati (+1.5)

Even without injured starter Ed Reed, the Ravens' defense looked absolutely terrific in Week 1 against the Jets, thanks to several big plays by Ray Lewis (pictured above). The Ravens' offense were challenged by a very tough Jets defense but still eked out a one-point victory in New York.

On the other hand, the Bengals looked absolutely atrocious on the road against the Patriots. The offense struggled early against what was expected to be a sub-par New England defense, turning the ball over twice. The Bengals offense came on strong in the second half, and by the end of the game Cincinnati had accumulated more total yards on offense (428) than the stellar New England offense (376).

Several fundamental factors that lie outside of the pure statistics are present for this match-up. First, Cincinnati managed to take both games against its division rival last year, so no doubt the Ravens are out to prove themselves this time around. Second, this is the second road game to start the season for the Ravens; They won't play their home opener until next Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. There are also lingering questions about Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, who went into the locker room before halftime in Week 1, leaving the Bengals without their two best receivers on a critical play that could've brought the team within striking distance of the Patriots.

The Pick: Cincinnati +1.5

. A quick poll of sports books shows that some have the Bengals getting as many as 3 points, which is an even better play than the average line of 1.5 points. Looking back to Week 1, both the Ravens and Bengals had a negative yards-per-play differential and both had a turnover differential of -2. The Bengals have a far better offense than the Jets and, if they play like they did in the second half of Week 1's game, they stand a very good chance of being a straight-up winner.

Bessire's Take

: "This line opened as a pick, and we had Baltimore winning 63.8% of the time. Obviously, that's two to three times what a bettor would play on a game. The line has moved very quickly to favor Baltimore, which takes the winning percentage back to 58.5%. Before the season even began, we had Baltimore winning this game by 2 points. Even without Ed Reed, Baltimore's defense played well and should play well. Cincinnati's offense found a way to put up points against the Patriots, but the defense never found a way to put it together."

Kansas City at Cleveland (-1.5)

If you're having difficulty making a selection for your survival/knock-out pool this week, you can blame the NFL schedulers for this game. This may not end up being the most riveting game in Week 2, but it is interesting due to the change in the line. The spread opened at 2.5 points favoring the Browns, although it has moved closer to the Chiefs after their performance at home in Week 1 in defeating the San Diego Chargers. Bodog.com, for instance, currently has the game as a pick.

In miserable weather Monday night, the Chiefs managed only 197 total yards and a scant nine first downs. On the defensive side of the ball, they gave up 18 first downs and nearly 400 total yards to the Chargers. However, the Chiefs didn't turn the ball over while the defense forced a fumble by the highly touted running back Ryan Mathews. Meanwhile, Chiefs wide receiver Dexter McCluster had a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Of course, it's not all about the Chiefs' performance on Monday night. The Browns had a chance to beat another weak team in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road in Week 1, but three turnovers on offense was the difference in a 17-14 loss. It appears Jake Delhomme (pictured above) picked up right where he left off with the Carolina Panthers, notching more interceptions (two) than touchdowns (one). Delhomme is a question mark for Week 2, as a right ankle injury has kept him out of practice, according to

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

.

The Pick: Cleveland -1.5

. While the Chiefs have a better turnover differential (+1) than the Browns (-1), Cleveland has a positive yards-per-play differential (+0.853) while Kansas City had a negative YPP differential (-1.537). Add in home field advantage and the way the line has moved in favor of the Chiefs and it's hard not to take the Browns. To be sure, I wouldn't put a lot of confidence in the pick, but even with Delhomme out, there is some value in a Browns pick.

Bessire's Take

: "It flies in the face of our analysis, but this is the best chance Cleveland has to win a game this season. We're only predicting the Browns to win 3.8 games this season. That said, our model still favors Kansas City. I assumed after their Week 1 performances that this line would favor Kansas City. It surprises me that it isn't a pick 'em game or favoring Kansas City by one or two points. They have so many young weapons on offense, like Jamaal Charles. Last season, Cleveland had one of the worst passing offenses I've ever seen, according to our numbers. They didn't add any weapons to their offense. They brought in a couple of quarterbacks, but the numbers suggest they won't be any better, whether it be Jake Delhomme or Seneca Wallace."

New England at New York (+3)

A week ago, the Jets were among the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Now, all I've read about the Jets involves reporter

Ines Sainz

, who claims players and coaches harassed her during a visit to a practice session.

In the aftermath of a tough 10-9 loss to the Ravens, most of the media headlines involved the alleged inappropriate conduct of Jets players toward Sainz. What we've heard little about is the injury to nose tackle Kris Jenkins, who tore his ACL in the Monday night game. In addition, there's been considerably less attention paid to Darrelle Revis, who was limited in practice this week due to hamstring issues. All of a sudden, the public is down on the Jets.

On the other hand, the Patriots quickly gained a lead against the Bengals thanks to big plays on defense and a terrific showing by quarterback Tom Brady (pictured above) and wide receiver Wes Welker, who scored two touchdowns after having his knee surgically repaired a few short months ago. If you'll recall, the line for the Week 1 game against the Bengals was moving in favor of Cincinnati leading up to the game, an indication the public had little faith in the Patriots during their home opener.

So what should bettors take away from the Jets' loss to the Ravens Monday and the Patriots' win over the Bengals? For one, the Jets gave up a whopping 125 yards on 14 penalties, giving the Ravens

six

first downs. Jets running back Shonn Greene had several miscues, opening the door for LaDainian Tomlinson to be the featured back. The Patriots, meanwhile, had a quick lead of 24 points, but scored only 14 points in the second half to win 38-24. Like the Bengals, the Patriots played differently in the second half, surrendering 21 points, allowing the Bengals offense to show signs of life.

Looking at fundamental factors, the Jets are playing their second home game at a new stadium, while the Patriots travel on the road for the first time. The Patriots lost on the road to the Jets in Week 2 of the 2009 NFL season before winning at home against the Jets in Week 11 by a score of 31-14. The Jets also have one less day to prepare for this game, having played Monday night while the Patriot players rested after their victory Sunday.

The Pick: New York +3

. Lots of noise from the media will distort public opinion on this game, and the line movement from a pick to +3 exemplifies that. Looking at the numbers from Week 1, the Patriots had a higher yards-per-play differential thanks to a strong offensive performance against a weak Bengals defense. Surprisingly, the Jets also gained more YPP on offense than they gave up on defense. Both teams also have a strong turnover differential (+2). Add in home field advantage for the Jets and this game should be closer than a field goal.

Bessire's Take

: "This is possibly the most interesting game on the schedule. Because of how poorly the Jets' offense played in Week 1, they have fallen in our power rankings from the top spot to the fifth. As the Patriots looked so good in Week 1 and the Jets struggled, we like the Patriots to win the game 59.6% of the time straight up by a score of 22 to 18.6. However, that line opened as a pick to New England being favored by 3 points. That's a pretty drastic shift in Week 2, although it may be appropriate. Now at New England minus 3, we wouldn't have an opinion on the game. It went from almost a 60% bet to unplayable in a couple of days. The model still favors New England slightly, but the margin is the same as the spread. That doesn't make it a worthwhile play."

Jacksonville at San Diego (-7.5)

I still don't really know what to make of Jacksonville. I expected the Jaguars to cover the spread against the lowly Denver Broncos in Week 1, but I was surprised they won by a touchdown. The Jaguars have a stronger offense than I believed they would. Looking at the numbers, the Jaguars had a respectable 299 total yards and ran the ball well, rushing for 134 yards. The defense allowed a whopping 363 total yards to the Broncos, but forced two turnovers.

On the other hand, the Chargers performed exactly as I had expected against the Chiefs, gaining 389 total yards with a majority of that coming through the air. Philip Rivers (pictured above) had a stellar performance, notching a 98 passer rating with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Allowing a touchdown on special teams and turning the ball over on a fumble ultimately lead to a loss against the Chiefs, something I hadn't expected.

The fundamental factors are split; Jacksonville has to travel across several time zones to California, while the Chargers played a late game on Monday on the road and have less time to prepare for the Jaguars.

The Pick: Jacksonville +7.5

. I hate to use bad sports clichés, but we're going to learn a lot about these two teams after this game. In a small sample size, the Jaguars have shown that they can perform well rushing and passing. The Chargers, on the other hand, gave up a lot of rushing yards to Kansas City in Week 1 (135) and could give as many or more to the Jaguars in this game. The Chargers may ultimately win this one, but it won't be by more than a touchdown.

Bessire's Take

: "Before the season, we had this as closer than a touchdown game at a score of 26 to 20.7 in favor of San Diego. The line is still at over a full touchdown, which really surprised me, as we have the updated score of 25.2 to 20.7. We never thought San Diego would be a team blowing other teams out this season. It's the simple fact that San Diego isn't as good of a team without Vincent Jackson, Marcus McNeil, and LaDainian Tomlinson, in that order of importance. I thought Jacksonville wasn't necessarily surprising but they did more on offense than I thought they would."

Buffalo at Green Bay (-13.5)

This Week 2 game between the Bills and the Packers once again highlights how public opinion can shape the lines of these games. Many are predicting that the Packers will make it to the Super Bowl, and that hasn't changed after they went on the road and held off an Eagles team lead by a reinvigorated Michael Vick. Meanwhile, the Bills are also-rans of the AFC East and lost at home -- as expected -- to division rivals the Miami Dolphins.

A deeper look at the Week 1 numbers tells a slightly different story. The Bills offense was horrible, gaining only 166 total yards. However, the defense held up well, allowing under 300 yards of total offense. By comparison, the Packers gained only 299 yards of total offense against the Eagles, turning the ball over twice. Aaron Rodgers (pictured above) threw for only 167 yards and two interceptions. On the other side of the ball, the Packer defense gave up 150 rushing yards and forced only one turnover. Yes, Buffalo has a horrific offensive unit that can't move the ball, but the real story is that their defense held up well in a close game.

The Pick: Buffalo +13.5

. The Bills' job of containing the Packers offense becomes much easier after a season-ending injury to Green Bay running back Ryan Grant, who gained 45 yards on eight rushing attempts against the Eagles in Week 1. While the Packers will likely win this game straight-up, it's a big risk to say they'll have a margin of victory equal to two touchdowns. That makes the Packers my knockout/survival pool pick for Week 2.

Bessire's Take

: "The line is just huge. There's no real good way to phrase it otherwise. Very few teams should be favored by two touchdowns or more against any other team. The line is moving in Buffalo's direction, and that's because coming into the season they have the second best defense against the pass. And Buffalo's defense did play well against Miami, even if the offense didn't. I would expect this game to be closer than 14 points. "

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston

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