NFL Pick$ Week 1: Analysis Against The Spread That Doesn't Suck

  • Matt Rudnitsky

NFL ATS Picks Week 1

Every week, I’ll pick NFL games against the spread and track my results. Last year went surprisingly well, but I promise I’ll mock my inevitable failures.

IMPORTANT: I am not an “expert,” but my analysis is still worth reading. I’m not an expert because nobody is an expert, and if someone calls himself an expert, he’s probably not an expert.

The point of this column is to give a unique angle of analysis — the bettor’s perspective — the psychology and resources of which are far superior to the brain-dead “the popular team should win because they should” that you see from “experts” on ESPN and elsewhere, who don’t even acknowledge point spreads.

There is a solid chance these picks will lose money, so I’m not recommending that you bet on them blindly. But I do recommend that you read for a new perspective. And plenty of stupid jokes. Doesn’t Ben Roethlisberger look like Will Ferrell if he ate nothing but KFC for a month? (It’s funny because Roethlisberger is the athlete… zing!)

Please don’t hesitate to call me a moron on Twitter if inspiration strikes. Now would be a good time.

OK… to the bets!

Seattle Seahawks (-6) over Green Bay Packers

(Sorry, I must quickly tell a story. I swear it has relevance.)

I woke up, there was no puke, I didn’t have a headache, my wallet was reasonably full and I knew where I was. It was weird.

It was my first time back in Copenhagen since being a dumb study abroad student, and in this metaphor, I was the 2014 New York Giants.

Two years earlier, the same Matt Rudnitsky — same height, similar build — arrived in that city and proceeded to play a Danish drinking game with his new Danish friends. The Danes are a happy people… but if you are told to drink something during a drinking game, they remember how cold it is outside and transform into members of the KGB.

I was told to chug the rest of my Captain Morgan. I remember smiling with a perverted sense of accomplishment as I took the last gulp.

I woke up, paralyzed, in my bed 10 hours later. Imaginary slugs were eating my brain cells and the floor was covered in puke, especially the mesh trashcan. I immediately incepted it into a dumpster and lived for five months without one.

I, like the 2013 New York Giants, may have impressed on paper (I went to a Big 10 school! I have some likes on my profile picture!), but I was an incomplete entity who had no business considering himself a serious contender in the world of Danish drinking games.

When I returned to Copenhagen recently, my friends expected a repeat my first night. But I woke up in my bed and there was no puke.

My point: Every year, fans and “experts” assume that nothing crazy will happen — that last year’s results are highly predictive and if you just factor in some roster changes, boom, you’re Miss Cleo(n Jones).

NFL results are highly luck-based (it’s a short season, oblong ball, etc.), and the mental side is important and fluid.

Last year, the New York Jets were permanent-markered in to the “Clowney Bowl,” guaranteed to be “rolled over” by the upstart Bucs in Week 1, led by the estimable Josh Freeman.

The Jets went 8-8 and Freeman, Greg Schiano and the Bucs became the punchline the Jets were assumed to be.

The Panthers were supposed to be trash. They went 12-4. The Cardinals went 10-6. The Falcons were common Super Bowl picks; they went 4-12. The Super Bowl Champion Ravens were lucky to go 8-8.

I could continue, but please, children, put those permanent markers away; they could stain your clothes.

Some teams will look the same and play different. Some teams will look different and play the same. Other combinations will surface.

We can predict and analyze all we want, but we will be wrong.

The only way you can avoid looking like a complete fool is assuming that some crazy shit will happen, because it ALWAYS does. Teams will surprise you, in both directions.

(Oh, but on Day 2 in Copenhagen, I woke up on the couch, confused, and when I returned to my bed, there was a lake of puke. Some things never change, like the awfulness of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns.)

Ok… now it’s pick time!

Seattle Seahawks (-6) over Green Bay Packers

Last Year’s DVOA stats: (Note: DVOA is an imperfect stat, but it’s a great way to roughly estimate a team’s results in each facet of the game. It’s 10,000-times better than dumb counting stats like “passing yards,” which are deformed by styles of play and game situations. You can read an explanation, HERE.)

Seahawks: Offense (7th), Defense (1st)
Packers: Offense (9th), Defense (31st)

The Packers had a top-10 offense despite starting Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien and Seneca Foster Wallace for seven of 16 games. And Randall Cobb played just six games.

But their defense did (and does) suck. They added Julius Peppers and a man named HaHa. Haha. That won’t hurt, but they will be the same team, needing to outscore people.

The Seahawks, as the wordsmiths say, are different animals at home (so I suppose they are real, live hawks, the murderous ones, not the ones that have Jeff Teague). They were “just” 6-4 ATS at home last year after the market adjusted to their one-ATS-loss 2013 season, but only twice did their opponent stay within six points. They held Drew Brees 22 points in two meetings, and only the Bucs and Vikings (wtf?) topped 17 points on offense.

Aaron Rodgers plus six points is scary, but the Seahawks are the far superior team, this should probably be over a touchdown, and Pete Carroll’s smile is a scientifically-proven Super Bowl Hangover cure.

Also, if you’re into teasers, you can tease Seattle through the key number of 3 (though it’s preferable to catch two key numbers, 7 and 3), and Russell Wilson is 17-1 at home in his career.

P.S. Last time Rodgers visited Seattle, the Packers lost 14-12.
P.P.S. The Seahawks were favored by 10 at home over the Saints in the NFC Conference Championship.

BETS: Seahawks -6, $110 to win $100
Seahawks team total OVER 27, $110 to win $100
Packers team total UNDER 21 (-115), $230 to win $200

New Orleans Saints (-3) over Atlanta Falcons

Saints: Offense (5th), Defense (10th)
Falcons: Offense (14th), Defense (29th)

The Falcons were shit last year; the Saints were not.

But the Falcons were 3-5 at home and the Saints were 3-5 on the road. Before we knew the Falcons were garbage, they nearly beat the Saints on the road in Week 1, and once we knew they were garbage, they nearly beat them at home in Week 12.

Still, the Saints’ strength is their secondary — especially after adding Jairus Byrd — and though the Falcons beefed up on defense, I still think this is a massive mismatch and a good matchup, so there’s a bit of value, even in Atlanta.

BET: Saints -3 (-103), $51.50 to win $50

St. Louis Rams (-3.5) over Minnesota Vikings

Rams: Offense (22nd), Defense (11th)
Vikings Offense (21st), Defense (27th)

The Rams were genuinely good at home last year (wins over Arizona, New Orleans and Chicago, all by double-digits), Shaun Hill can’t possibly be a downgrade from Kellen Clemens and might be an upgrade from Sam Bradford (seriously, stop shitting on the guy), and their rush defense is their strength.

Analysis for Vikings games the past two years: Don’t let Adrian Peterson run for 752 yards. The Rams are (probably) good enough to do that.

Also basic home-field advantage math: HFA= ~3 points. The Rams are only one point better than the awful Vikings? Bet.

BET: Rams -3 (-120), $240 to win $200

Cleveland Browns (+7) over Pittsburgh Steelers

Browns: Offense (26th), Defense (24th)
Steelers: Offense (12th), Defense (19th)

I think the Steelers were the best bad team in the league last year, but that neither of these teams made much sense, and I still don’t understand them. There is no Johnathan Football and I don’t want to watch this game, so all I will say is:

1) I don’t know why Markus Wheaton is basically given away in fantasy drafts; he’s gonna be good.
2) All recent, unsung Michigan State quarterbacks go through the same process (Drew Stanton, Kirk Cousins, Brian Hoyer):
a. This dude is a passable college quarterback.
b. Oh, he graduated. He will become a successful car dealership owner in the fine state of Michigan.
c. Wait, someone drafted him? He has no shot.
d. Wait, he’s totally the perfect backup.
e. Wait, he looks better than the starter! Get him in there!
f. Holy shit, WHAT HAVE WE DONE?!
g. He’s a career backup. (Hoyer will be at this stage again in ~5 weeks.)

Jacksonville Jaguars (+11) over Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles: Offense Offense: (3rd), Defense (23rd)
Jaguars: Offense (32nd), Defense (28th)

The Eagles were an underwhelming 4-5 at home, and the Jaguars stealthily went from “worst defense in NFL history” territory around Week 10 to “almost passable” by the end of the year. At that rate, Chip Kelly will be baffled on Sunday.

New York Jets (-5.5) over Oakland Raiders

Jets: Offense (27th), Defense (12th)
Raiders: Offense (29th), Defense (26th)

The Jets look like they might have an acceptable offense and their run defense will again be fantastic, but they’re starting Tim Tebow, Michael Sam and Vinny Testaverde’s cryogenically frozen left Testaverdicle at cornerback.

Fortunately, though, Rex Ryan is gameplanning against the Raiders and Derek Carr.

If you can’t throw on the Jets (though ~30 of 32 teams can), they will look very good, for the first time since Mark Sanchez was slingin’ it in the AFC Championship (yes, we have to be reminded every year that this was a real thing, in 2011).

If you’re into fancy stats, “Rex Ryan is 8-1 against rookie quarterbacks making their first start against his defense.”

BET: Jets (-5.5), $55 to win $50

Cincinnati Bengals (+1.5) over Baltimore Ravens

Bengals: Offense (17th), Defense (5th)
Ravens: Offense (30th), Defense (7th)

Betting rule of mine: All NFC North games end in 3-point wins in which both teams looked equally mediocre, and the total and point spread were decided in the last two minutes on a fluky play and fuck this division they’re all going 7-9 or 9-7. Will the Ravens EXTINGUISH the Janky Flamethrower? Will Flaccid harden up?

Buffalo Bills (+7) over Chicago Bears

Bears: Offense (6th), Defense: (25th)
Bills: Offense (25th), Defense (4th)

The Bears sort of addressed their laughable defense, which gave up 936 yards rushing to Jared Lorenzen last year. If they approach defensive competence, they could be quite good.

DVOA assuredly overrated the Bills defense last year (though it certainly wasn’t bad), and they lost Jairus Byrd.

Washington Potato Skins (+3) over Houston Texans

Texans: Offense (29th), Defense (18th)
Potato Skins: Offense (23rd), Defense (21st)

I bet on the Texans like 300 times last year, and lost every one. The Potato Skins are not as delicious as they sound. And they’re filled with trans fat. That’s why RG3 has acne.

I have no read on either of these teams, who were weirdly awful last year, and theoretically could be good this year, but who the hell knows? The right answer to the question, “Bet?” is often, “I don’t fucking know, so I will wait, observe and see.”

Tennessee Titans (+3.5) over Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs: Offense (15th), Defense (9th)
Titans: Offense (16th), Defense (22nd)

I never understand the Titans, I don’t know if Jake Locker is a freak with no quarterback skills or a guy with potential, but I don’t get why these teams would be considered almost equals.

I’m probably an idiot for backing the Chiefs without Dwayne Bowe, but you know what they say about idiots: (you should probably ask someone who isn’t an idiot).

BET: Chiefs (-3.5), $55 to win $50

New England Patriots (-5) over Miami Dolphins

Patriots: Offense (4th), Defense (20th)
Dolphins: Offense (18th), Defense (17th)

The Patriots got healthy everywhere (Gronk, Amendola, Wilfork, et. al), they were better even with those injuries and they got The Revis, Ryan Tannehill can’t throw a deep ball to the one of the best deep-ball receivers in the league, I’m typing a run-on-sentence, my armpits smell of garlic, and did you know the word, “fakt: (pronounced: Fahcked), means “really,” in Czech?

BET: Patriots -5, $110 to win $100

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-4) over Carolina Panthers

Panthers: Offense (10th), Defense (3rd)
Bucs: Offense (24th), Defense (8th)

I actually like the Bucs a lot this year, but I hate the matchup. You can’t run on the Panthers.

And why are people so low on the Panthers? They went 12-4 last year, were third overall in DVOA, and besides losing Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell and replacing them with Kelvin Benjamin and Jerricho Cotchery (not an upgrade, but not like the other two did much last year), they look like the same team.

I think both teams will be good, I think this will be ugly, I think even 39.5 is probably too high of a total for this game, but I know I hate totals, especially in Week 1 and thus I shall refrain.

Dallas Cowboys (+4.5) over San Francisco 49ers

49ers: Offense (8th), Defense (13th)
Cowboys: Offense (11th), Defense (30th)

I know the 49ers are good, but the Cowboys have one of the best offenses in the league, and they are not 7.5 points worse than the 49ers. No.

BET: Cowboys +4.5, $95 to win $86.36 AND ML (+190), $15 to win $28.50

Denver Broncos (-7.5) over Indianapolis Colts

Broncos: Offense (1st), Defense (15th)
Colts: Offense (13th), Defense (16th)

The Broncos team total will be 31 or 31.5, most likely. Last year, they scored 35+ in six of eight regular-season home games. The two misses were San Diego (barely, and they were the slowest team in the NFL), and the Chiefs, who played great defense. The previous year, the Broncos scored 30+ in seven of eight home games.

(They did fail twice in last year’s playoffs, and maybe I should be worried about no Welker and Decker, but in a revamped defense and Colonel Rahm Emmanuel Sanders I trust.)

If it’s 31, that number is too good to pass up with Home Peyton against a shitty Colts defense.

(I’ll tell you on Twitter if I bet it on gameday.)

(UPDATE: It’s 30.5… yummy.)

BET: Broncos team total OVER 30.5 (-125), $500 to win $400

New York Giants (+5.5) over Detroit Lions

Giants: Offense (31st), Defense (6th)
Lions: Offense (19th), Defense (14th)

I sort of like the Lions, because I blame their late-season collapse entirely on that maniac Jim Schwartz (who got the downside of the Schwartz, but I love the Giants and am betting on them to win the Super Bowl [at 66/1 odds]).


The short version: Their defense was good last year and they added DRC. Their offense was putrid, but they have weapons, addressed their offensive line and made a scheme change that should make Eli Manning not suck again. If he’s old and washed up and got the bad end of the gene pool while Peyton thrives, well, I’ll lose. But the defense was very good and could be better, and the offense has nowhere to go but up, and has serious potential.

BET: Giants (+5.5), $95 to win $86.36, AND ML (+218), $15 to win $32.70

Arizona Cardinals (-3) over San Diego Chargers

The Cardinals are banged up on defense and have Carson Palmer. The Chargers have no defense besides holding onto the ball forever. This game is stealthily unwatchable.

Futures Bets

(Déjà vu) Super Bowl: Giants (66/1), Patriots (8/1)

(Hypothetical) LVH Supercontest Week 1 Picks

Rams -3.5, Patriots -5, Saints -3, Giants +5.5, Seahawks -6