John Kaufman - Across the Board Sports
Tomorrow is Sunday, ladies and gents, and that means another glorious day of NFL football! Obviously, we all love to watch the NFL. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t. But being able to make some cheddar on the games while we’re watching all the NFL action? Well that’s the very definition of having our cake and eating it too! So let’s take a look at some of the more appetizing bets that are available this weekend and see if we can’t identify some value and put some extra cash in our pockets.
PITTSBURGH -3.5 vs Seattle (1:00 PM)
Last weekend Pittsburgh got whipped on the road by New England. The final score was 33-3 and Pittsburgh was never even remotely in that game. It was as bad a performance as we saw from any team in week one.
But week two in the NFL can be very dangerous because we tend to overreact to what we saw happen the week prior. Week one has a way of fooling us into thinking we know things for certain, when all we really have is a small sample size of NFL data. Think back to last season and you’ll recall that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers destroyed the New Orleans Saints on the road in week one. The Saints scored twice in garbage time to make the final score (48-40) look respectable, but they were never in that game.
After that miserable performance by New Orleans, what happened in weeks 2-17? The Bucs won four more games on the year and the Saints were the worst-blown-call-in-NFL-history-away from playing in the Super Bowl. Shocking as it was, the result of that Bucs-Saints game really didn’t matter.
So I expect the Steelers to bounce back in a big way tomorrow. They aren’t as bad a team as they appeared to be in week one. This game is at home where, under Mike Tomlin, they have played exceptionally well. Pittsburgh is 75-29 (72.1%) straight up at home since Tomlin became the head coach in 2007. Clearly the Steelers enjoy the friendly confines of Heinz Field.
But this wager is as much a bet on Pittsburgh as it is a bet against Seattle. The Seahawks have a few things working against them tomorrow.
1. They have to travel three time zones to play this game which kicks off at 1:00 PM Eastern. In their last 16 trips to the eastern time zone, Seattle is 6-9-1 straight up in those situations.
In each of the past five seasons, Seattle has consistently gotten off to rocky starts. Since 2015 and through last week’s win over Cincinnati, Seattle is 0-8-1 against the spread (ATS) in the first two weeks of the season. They haven’t covered a spread in weeks one or two since 2014.
2. Additionally, we know that Seattle’s defense is very shaky (I feel like someone just wrote about the Seahawks’ defensive woes recently…). Last week they yielded 418 passing yards to Andy Dalton. At home. They’re going to struggle all season versus sound passing attacks, so Ben Roethlisberger and company should be able to do what they want tomorrow.
Where I could be wrong about this game: In week one, New England annihilated Pittsburgh on play-action passing. The Steelers lined up using two split safeties – Terrell Edmunds and Kameron Kelly – on most of their defensive snaps. Edmunds and Kelly are not the best when it comes to keeping eye discipline when facing play-action. They tend to bite up on the run fake which leaves them vulnerable to the pass, and Tom Brady repeatedly exploited that throughout the game. This is relevant because Seattle’s Offensive Coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, loves to run play-action passes. This is a staple of their offense which means we’re going to see a lot of it tomorrow. If the Steelers continue to line up Edmunds and Kelly as split safeties and they don’t clean up their reactions to run fakes, Russell Wilson will absolutely shred them.
However, I don’t think it is a leap to expect Pittsburgh’s secondary to improve upon their issues. I mean, it’s not like they don’t know what they did wrong. Further, even if the Steelers don’t clean up how they react to play-action passing, it may not even matter. As a unit, Seattle’s offensive line is poor. They give up pressure quite frequently which plays right into the hands of the Steelers’ front seven who are excellent at generating pressure. According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA analysis (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which is a metric that explains a team’s success based on down-and-distance on each play, and then relates that performance to the league average), Pittsburgh had the second-highest pressure rate on defense in 2018, trailing only the Los Angeles Rams. The Steelers are very good at making quarterbacks feel uncomfortable, while Seattle is awful at protecting theirs. That is going to be a huge problem for the Seahawks.
But it won’t be an issue for you or me, dear reader. We’re going to exploit that by confidently laying three and the hook with Pittsburgh tomorrow. (FYI, this would still be a play for me at -4, just in case you can’t find -3.5 or if the line moves before kickoff.)
JACKSONVILLE +9 at Houston (1:00 PM)
Before Nick Foles broke his collarbone in week one, the look-ahead line for this game was Houston -3. Now it’s Houston -9. That line move stinks like crazy.
Betting on sports, especially the NFL, is difficult. We all know this. But it doesn’t have to be. When you remove Nick Foles from an NFL game and then the line moves six points, that’s a mistake. Plain and simple. There’s no way that Foles is worth six points to a betting line. He just isn’t, this line is way too high, and we’re going to take advantage by grabbing the points with the Jaguars here. Easy money.
If you need a few more pieces of evidence, allow me to toss these little tidbits your way. In three career games against Jacksonville, Deshaun Watson has…
…never thrown for more than 234 yards.
…never had a QB rating in the 90s.
…thrown exactly one touchdown and two interceptions.
Obviously Watson is an incredibly talented player. But this is a division game, and division games are inherently tougher due to how familiar the two teams are with one another. Snagging the +9 with the Jaguars here is just a really smart bet. I’m sure that Houston will win this game. In fact, I’d be shocked if they didn’t. But I’d be more shocked if they won by double digits versus Jacksonville. So I’ll take the points all day in this one.
DENVER +2 vs Chicago (4:25 PM)
I like Denver at home versus Chicago tomorrow. A lot. Here’s why:
First of all, we love home underdogs in the NFL.
Home field advantage in the NFL is real, so any time we can get our money down on teams catching points at home we must strongly consider doing so.
Second, Denver is an astounding 48-6 straight up at home in weeks one and two since 1975, including 22-1 at home in weeks one and two since the 2000 season.
Third, NFL teams coming off a loss who are home underdogs of six points or less the following week are an impressive 20-5 ATS. That’s an 80% cover rate.
Look, I’ll be very honest with you here: Trends can be tricky. Sometimes they’re just showing us a bunch of coincidences, yet we humans discern a pattern where none really exists. And sometimes trends are merely descriptive as opposed to predictive. But Denver’s home record in weeks one and two since 1975 is not a coincidence, and it isn’t fluky or lucky. Teams traveling to Denver have to deal with that altitude, and that’s not easy. It very clearly has had an impact on those visiting teams, a fact that shows up in the Broncos’ aforementioned record at home.
The trend about Denver being a home dog of six points or less coming off a loss could be descriptive as opposed to predictive. After all, the 25 teams that have previously been in that same situation have nothing to do with this current Broncos team, their players or coaches. This trend might not be predictive for that reason.
However, what we should instead be focusing on is the situation itself. We already talked about how week two can be tricky because week one can be misleading. Perhaps teams that are 0-1 and get to play their next game at home simply do well because the stakes are higher (they don’t want to fall to 0-2) and because, well, they’re at home (we already discussed that home field advantage matters in the NFL). Those are both reasonable assumptions to make.
Last, let’s not forget that this trend concerns teams that are underdogs of six points or less. With close lines such as those Vegas is telling us that, while the home teams are not favored, they aren’t big underdogs either. Vegas is letting us know that they think those home teams definitely have a chance to hang around in – or perhaps even win – those games. So we shouldn’t be overly surprised when, in a matchup between two relatively evenly matched teams according to Vegas, small edges like home field advantage end up playing a major role. Intuitively that makes sense.
Therefore, I’ll be on Denver +2 tomorrow. Join me, won’t you?
SIX POINT TEASER OF THE WEEK:
DENVER +8 vs Chicago
ATLANTA +8 vs Philadelphia
NY GIANTS +8 vs Buffalo
(In case you’re not familiar with a teaser, it’s a bet in which you get six points to manipulate the point spread and/or game total in a favorable direction. For example, Denver is +2 versus Chicago. In a teaser, you get to add six points to Denver’s line and increase it from +2 to +8. Or instead, if you liked Chicago in that game you could take the six points and tease their line from -2 to +4. Teasers are great ways to manipulate lines so that they’re more favorable to you. Last, just like a parlay, teasers must include two bets or more, and you must win all the legs in the teaser to win the bet. If you lose one leg of the teaser your whole bet is busted.)
We've already discussed why I like the Broncos tomorrow, so I’ll quickly go over the Atlanta and NY portions of this bet:
The Falcons didn’t look so good losing to Minnesota on the road last week. Likewise, the Giants scored first against Dallas to take a 7-0 lead, and then everything went to hell after that. I expect both teams to bounce back and play better than they did in week one. Additionally, the trend that we went over regarding 0-1 teams who are underdogs of six points or less at home the following week (remember – teams are 20-5 ATS in that situation) which applied to Denver, also applies to both Atlanta and the NY Giants this week. So essentially, we’re simply fading week one narratives while simultaneously betting on home underdogs in good spots.
But the real key to this teaser bet is that we get to move these three point spreads through some key numbers (3, 4 and 7), which turns our bet in one with a positive Expected Value (EV). Teasing small home underdogs and moving the point spread up over seven is one of the best ways to bet on the NFL. That’s really what this teaser bet is all about.
That’s it for this week. Good luck to you all this weekend!! Here's to cashing all of our tickets!!