BOSTON (TheStreet) -- With only two weeks left to go in the NFL regular season, the last thing I need is a tough week. When I got an email from one of my sources for this week's piece that read "This is the least value that I have ever found in NFL lines," I felt like I woke up on Christmas with coal in my stocking.
After going 1-3 with one tie in Week 15, my record currently stands at 28-38 with four ties, good for a winning percentage of 40% in the 70 games I've picked so far. If I were to win outright from here on out with my picks, the best I could do this season is 47.5%, a failing record. Hearing that Week 16 has little value in the lines from one of my technical analyst friends only made the horrible feeling worse.
"I can't explain it," says Paul Bessire, the general manager and creator of the Web site
. His model is a quantitative way to break down NFL games as it simulates each contest 50,000 times to come up with a
"We were unable to find any games where there was 58% confidence to cover the spread. The minimum for us is usually three and can go as high as seven or eight," Bessire says. "I'm hoping this is a one-time thing. There's no one game at all that jumps out at me. For six of the games, our picks have already lost value because of line moves, too."
Finding value in the Week 16 lines is much harder than last week, adds Bryan Leonard, a professional sports handicapper with
who is also part of the Tuesday Group, a collection of professional bettors in Las Vegas who get together to handicap the games each week.
"Last week was a good week because they overpriced a lot of teams," Leonard says. "This week, there are a few games with value, but you have to hold your nose and take a team you probably don't want to. By game time, when the public gets involved, we might see some opportunities on these ugly teams."
With that, it's on to the
. As I'll remind you throughout the entire season, these are for
entertainment purposes only
. Once again, I have enlisted the help of
Bessire, who offers analysis of the data his model provides for each of the games I've picked this week.
Leonard also offers his thoughts, picks and analysis, which focuses on the spread movement by Vegas oddsmakers to determine where the public and professional money is moving on each game. These trends prove to be critical for bettors who are on the hunt for inefficiencies and value.
Read on for the first game pick, where the surging
San Diego Chargers
travel to play the playoff hopeful
. And as always, I encourage you to leave comments below with your favorite
this week. Happy holidays and best of luck with the games this weekend.
San Diego Chargers at Detroit Lions (-2.5)
It's December, so naturally that means the San Diego Chargers are winning games. The only problem is that the Chargers have the slimmest of hopes of making the playoffs this year, while the Detroit Lions have a legitimate chance of wrapping up a playoff spot this week.
That motivation combined with home-field advantage explains why the Lions are favored by Vegas. According to
, the Las Vegas Hilton posted the Lions as 3-point favorites. For a brief time, the line fell to -2 but has since stabilized at -2.5. When I say to Pregame's Leonard that it seems like oddsmakers are begging bettors to take San Diego as underdogs, he laughs.
"Getting three points with San Diego is a gift," Leonard says. "I don't want any part of Detroit. The offense can put up points, but the defense isn't very good. We all know what Philip Rivers does in December for San Diego. It's a big game for Detroit, sure, but I'd have to take San Diego myself."
Prediction Machine's Bessire, meanwhile, is skeptical of the confidence linesmakers have in the Chargers, even after their recent string of victories.
"Both of these teams played well to begin the season, were hampered with injuries a tough schedule and bad luck in the middle of the season and now are healthy and clicking again over the last few weeks," Bessire says. "Ultimately, Detroit is the slightly better team, with the matchup advantage and is playing at home with plenty of motivation to win. I think if this is a full field goal, there's some concern. But I still like Detroit outright here."
The Pick: Lions -2.5
. As long as I can get this below -3, I have to take the Lions. Right now, both offensive units are very similar. The Lions, meanwhile, have a top-10 rated defense using
Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, or DVOA, proprietary statistic. The Chargers, on the other hand, rank 24th on defense by DVOA. Detroit will score. San Diego probably won't score enough.
I would keep in mind the following: San Diego lost six straight games against teams like the Jets, Packers, Raiders and Broncos. Their wins came against teams that have mediocre offensive units, like the Bills, Jaguars and Ravens (yes, the Ravens offense is overrated aside from Ray Rice). After three straight games of scoring 34 points or more to outpace opponents, the Chargers won't be able to keep pace with Detroit's scoring.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-9.5)
After losing on the pick last week, I've learned that not even the higher power of Tim Tebow can stop the New England Patriots. The pain wasn't too unbearable, though, as the Patriots are my home-town rooting interest.
And yet here I am again, set to pick against my own New England team. I swear this isn't some sort of perverse reverse-jinx attempt. The line on this game just seems a bit too high for a Patriots team that likely has the top seed in the AFC locked up.
, the Las Vegas Hilton posted the Patriots as 10.5-point favorites. That line slowly dwindled to -9.5, where it currently sits. With an over/under of 48.5, Vegas is predicting a final score of 28-20, roughly.
We know the Patriots can score points -- they roved it at Miami in Week 1 on Monday Night Football -- but can we expect the same performance again?
"They want revenge for that first week loss to Patriots," Pregame's Leonard says of the Dolphins. "New England has a sandwich game here, between playing Tebow and thinking about a revenge game against Buffalo next week. I like betting against favorites who won big last week and are favored heavily again the following week. I'm waiting for the public to get in this, since everyone gets in on New England, and push the line a little higher."
Prediction Machine's Bessire is also on the side of Miami, noting that the team hasn't given up yet despite falling out of playoff contention and seeing their coach unceremoniously dumped two weeks ago.
"Even for the Patriots, 10 points is a lot against an average NFL team," Bessire says. "Reggie Bush has been an efficient all-around running back, so I think you could see some pretty decent numbers against a defense that's still not very good. That's why the Dolphins should keep this game pretty close. Offensively, the Dolphins have improved."
The Pick: Dolphins +9.5
. Getting Miami +10 would be nice. Miami +10.5 would be even better. It's just another valuable lesson to hop on lines earlier in the week. Even though the line is smaller than I'd like, the Patriots defense remains terrible, coming in 30 out of 32 teams by DVOA. Miami's defense is much better than it was in Week 1. Even though the Dolphins have an average offense, the team should be able to put up points against New England's porous defense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (-7.5)
I picked Tampa Bay as underdogs last week, expecting that the team would play tough at home against the Cowboys in order to save their coach's job. That obviously didn't happen. Although Raheem Morris hasn't been fired yet, it's hard to imagine the Buccaneers playing hard on the road this week if they couldn't get up for Dallas last week.
We all expected Tampa Bay to regress from last year's success; The Pythagorean expectation of wins predicted as much. But the collapse we've seen this season -- mostly due to injury -- has been tough to watch and even tougher to bet on. Somehow, the Bucs went from defeating the Saints and Falcons to losing too many games in a row to count.
That's why the Buccaneers are big underdogs on the road against a team that struggled to win any games at all last season. According to
, the Las Vegas Hilton posted Cam Newton and the frisky Panthers as 7.5-point favorites, a huge number for this fairly average team. Vegas, it seems, is really down on the Bucs. That's created some value for some smart bettors.
"I played Tampa Bay at +8 already," says Pregame's Leonard. "Any time you get a team that looks as bad as Tampa Bay looked on Saturday, you better grab them as soon as the lines come out. There is value on Tampa Bay. I like Carolina as a dog, but I don't like them as a favorite. It's not a position they're familiar with."
Prediction Machine's Bessire notes, however, that Carolina is 3-1 straight-up and against-the-spread over its previous four games, winning three times on the road and by an average score of 31-17. One of those victories came over the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, 38-19.
"Like Jacksonville, Tampa Bay is playing very poorly and faces a tough task in going on the road to face a strong offense," Bessire says. "Carolina is not playing for a chance at the playoffs. However, the Panthers do have a rookie quarterback who is undoubtedly looking to continue to improve heading into the off-season."
The Pick: Panthers -7.5
. I just typed that pick out and had to stop and take a breath to keep myself from vomiting. Like Leonard said on the first page of this article, it's about holding your nose and taking an ugly pick. Here's how I see it: Carolina and Tampa Bay both have terrible, bottom-ranked defenses. But while Tampa is ranked 22nd on offense by DVOA, Carolina has a top-5 ranked offense. I hate laying the points, but I think it's the right side. Tampa Bay isn't stopping Cam Newton.
Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts (+6.5)
Speaking of hold-your-nose picks...
I'll be honest, I didn't think I would like either side in this line. But when I was scanning the list of games, this +6.5 jumped off the page at me. The line wasn't always this high, though. According to
, the Las Vegas Hilton posted the Texans as 6-point favorites, but after the Colts won and Texans lost last week, the line dipped to Texans -5.5. That line has slowly crept higher to -6.5, presumably with more money coming in against the Colts after their big victory.
With the spread hovering near a full touchdown, which is always a dicey proposition when the road team is the favorite, Prediction Machine's Bessire and Pregame's Leonard are on opposite sides in this game. Bessire says he likes the Texans to not only win but cover in this game.
"They are still playing for something, on national television and have the markedly better team," Bessire says. "Plus, I can't imagine Indianapolis wants to win
game, but that is not in the numbers. Houston is much better than Tennessee, especially defensively. When one team has every motivation to win and the other franchise has the motivation to lose, with a 6-point line, you have to realize it's a different situation."
Leonard, meanwhile, says that common sense tells him that Houston is the right side of this bet, although the recent trend of Thursday night games where road teams fail to cover is scaring him away.
"If you blindly bet on road teams on these Thursday games, you're in the lower 40% subset," he says. "You're also expecting your team to win by a touchdown on the road. Houston got a reprieve last week with Baltimore and Pittsburgh losing. I think Houston wins the game, so this might be a good teaser candidate. But I can't going against Indy in this situation."
The Pick: Texans -6.5
. My biggest fear is the Indianapolis back-door cover, especially as the Colts have now covered three games in a row in incredible fashion. Houston's offense ranks at the top of the NFL while Indy is near the bottom of the heap. Houston's defense is also among the best, while Indy's is the absolute worst. Houston is clearly the better team, though. I'm sure I'll be screaming about the result of this game tomorrow morning, though.
Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5)
The Chiefs, coming off a major upset victory over the previously undefeated Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, have to be overvalued in this situation, right? So then why am I still leaning in that direction?
, the Las Vegas Hilton originally posted the Chiefs as 1.5-point favorites, but the line has been on a wild ride since then. It dropped to Chiefs -1 to a pick 'em to Chiefs -1.5 to Chiefs -2 and is now back at Chiefs -1.5. There's little doubt the volatility will continue into the weekend as more bettors place their wagers.
This seems like a classic over/undervalue situation. As mentioned, the Chiefs pulled off a shocker last week. The Raiders, meanwhile, blew a fourth-quarter lead to the Lions and ended up losing in a game they absolutely needed to keep pace in the AFC West division race. If the public is going to react this way, it would make the most sense that value could be had in the Oakland pick.
"I don't want any part of Kansas City," Pregame's Leonard says. "Kansas City is coming off of a huge win and they're in the playoff picture, but I think Oakland is the better team. We only have a small sample of what Orton can do on this team. All around, Oakland has the better resume. That said the best unit on the field is the Kansas City defense."
Prediction Machine's Bessire, on the other hand, is leaning towards the Chiefs, noting that Oakland has done 0-3 in its past three games. In those contests, the Raiders have been outscored by an average of 36-19, he notes.
"Carson Palmer has been up and down at the quarterback position, but the offense truly misses dynamic all-around talent and home run threat Darren McFadden," Bessire says. "Obviously, both teams have every motivation to win. This should be a competitive game, so that's why I like the home team in that scenario."
The Pick: Chiefs -1.5
. I initially wanted to take the Raiders. I figured that the Chiefs are due for a letdown. But then I remembered that the Chiefs trounced the Raiders a few weeks ago in Oakland, where Kyle Boller and Palmer combined for six interceptions and Michael Bush couldn't quite crack 100 rushing yards.
No, I don't expect the Chiefs to shutout the Raiders again. But it's tougher for opposing teams to play at Arrowhead. And I would also make the argument that Kyle Orton is better than Matt Cassel, who went 15-for-30 in the last Raiders-Chiefs game, throwing two interceptions and no touchdowns.
Although I've given my five picks against the spread for Week 16, I thought I'd also add in my selections for the other games this week. I won't include these in my overall record, but instead I'm just merely adding them as a bonus. Again, please leave your comments below with your picks this week and why. Have a great holiday and see you back here next week for the final week of the regular season.
Home team in all caps
- BUFFALO +2.5 over Denver
- TENNESSEE -7.5 over Jacksonville
- Arizona +4 over Cincinnati
- BALTIMORE -12.5 over Cleveland
- NY JETS -3 over NY Giants
- Vikings +6.5 over WASHINGTON
- St. Louis +14.5 over PITTSBURGH
- San Francisco -2.5 over SEATTLE
- Philadelphia +1.5 over DALLAS
- GREEN BAY -13.5 over Chicago
- Atlanta +6.5 over NEW ORLEANS
When looking at the Browns at the Ravens, Pregame's Leonard and Prediction Machine's Bessire are on opposite sides.
"Cleveland is not close to average," Bessire says. "Seneca Wallace is an upgrade for that offense, especially if they stick to a run philosophy. But that's almost a Tim Tebow-style of strategy where you try to grind out a victory by running the ball, and I don't think Baltimore will play that type of game."
Leonard says he bet Cleveland at -14 earlier in the week, but even at -13 he still likes Cleveland.
"There's some value there," he says. "McCoy is cleared to play, but I'm hoping Wallace plays because I'm more comfortable with him. McCoy is a sitting duck in the pocket, which plays into Baltimore's style. I can't see Baltimore scoring more than 24 in this game, which is what the total says. I think the Browns score enough to get that cover."
In the Giants-Jets game, where there isn't a true home-field advantage for the Jets, it's the same case of finding both on different sides.
"The Jets are the better team. If we give Jets full home-field advantage, they cover," Bessire says. "If not, it's right on the line. The Giants run offense hasn't done anything offseason. The entire defense for the Giants has been banged up."
"I don't think either of these teams are very good," Leonard says. "They both have tremendous flaws. I took the dog at +3 because I think it will close at Jets -2."
Pregame's Leonard also says he played Seattle +3 and liked the Eagles earlier this week at +3, although that line has come down since. He also likes Arizona as the underdog on the road in Cincinnati, as "they are the better team right now."
-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston
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