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    NFL Picks - 1/13/2013

    Last Updated: 1/9/2013 at 8:00 PM ET

    NFL Picks Pages:
    January 12: Predictalator Picks  Paul's Analysis
    January 13: Predictalator Picks  Paul's Analysis
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    Paul's Pick: Seattle +2.5 @ Atlanta (Covers 60.4%)

    Even at 1 PM ET/10 AM PT, the Seattle Seahawks are the better team and have the most exploitable advantages in this matchup with the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons. Such advantages should ultimately lead to an outright, "upset" victory for the Seahawks.

    Seattle is 12-5 straight-up and 11-5-1 against-the-spread versus the sixth toughest NFL schedule to-date. En route to that impressive record and the top Wild Card spot in the NFC, the Seahawks won five of their six games against NFL playoff teams, including upset wins against Green Bay (whether they truly "won" that game or not, they were in position to have a chance to win it at the end), New England and San Francisco. Also, upset victories by Seattle over Dallas and at Chicago ultimately kept those teams out of the postseason. It is obvious to note that Seattle is 8-0 at home and just 4-5 on the road, but, as we discussed last week, the team had the ball with a chance to win each of those games in the final two minutes and, as crucial rookies like Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner have improved over the course of the season, the Seahawks have now won three straight games away from home. 

    The Seahawks win in the best way possible - they do everything right. At this point, Seattle has a top ten offense running and passing, the best overall defense in the league, a top five special teams (assuming Ryan Longwell does not ruin that - at the very least the Seahawks are tremendous in the return game) and they are healthy for this time of the year. Seattle finished third in yards-per-play margin (+0.76) and first in points-per-play margin (+0.16) - against a very difficult schedule. 

    Atlanta is 13-3 SU and 9-6-1 ATS against the 26th ranked NFL schedule (by our metrics - purely by opponents' wins and losses, it was the easiest NFL schedule). Even given the league's best record, Atlanta finished seventh in our NFL Power Rankings, which is essentially where the Falcons spent most of the season. Led by Matt Ryan and his trio of weapons in the passing game - Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez - Atlanta has the fourth most efficient passing offense in the league. That certainly means something - especially at home on turf. It means less, though, when facing the league's best and deepest secondary (which Seattle has) and when that is the only elite element to Atlanta's team. In fact, even with that schedule, Atlanta was out-gained on a per-play (-0.12 margin) basis over the course of the season. The Falcons were not incredibly efficient over the course of the season, but they did win their close games (two wins by fewer than three points is not a terrible sign) by winning the turnover battle and forcing opponents to hurt themselves. That will be difficult to do against a team that does more things better and is equally adept winning the turnover margin in a game. Atlanta looks like a version of the Indianapolis Colts from this season that played in a more winnable division to get an extra win or two and secure home field advantage. That's not really a good thing.

    Ultimately, the scariest number for Falcons' fans should be 4.8. Atlanta has allowed 4.8 yards-per-carry on the ground (fourth worst in the league) and Seattle has averaged 4.8 yards-per-carry on the ground (fifth best in the league - while running the ball a league-high 55% of the time). Teams averaged 4.3 yards-per-carry this season. When one of the relative best that proved it could move the ball against the best faces one of the relative worst that struggled to stop weaker teams, the resulting outcome is not that Seattle will run for 4.8 yards-per-carry, it's that they have a really good chance to top five yards-per-carry and put this game away with big plays on the ground.

    According to 50,000 games played by the Predictalator, Seattle wins outright over Atlanta 54.6% of the time and by an average score of 22.1-20.0 As 2.5 point underdogs winning straight-up, the Seahawks cover the spread 60.4% of the time. This warrants an $84 play from a normal $50 player. The UNDER (46) is almost a normal play. At 56.7% to cover, it would justify a $45 play from a normal $50 player.

    Paul's Pick: Houston +9.5 @ New England (Covers 60.1%)

    On December 10, the Houston Texans took one of the most beat up teams in the NFL into Foxboro, MA for a Monday night tilt with the New England Patriots. New England was just more than a field goal favorite to win the game. We projected a six point win for the New England Patriots to give us a "normal" (greater than 57% chance) pick on the Patriots to cover. New England won the game 42-14. Patriots win and we win. 

    I am glad that happened. I am glad that happened in the national spotlight of Monday night. And I really am glad that journalists that people have heard of write hyperbolic (that's the kind word for what this is) pieces like this. What was expected to be essentially a field goal matchup almost exactly a month ago is now considered, by NFL standards, an expected blowout. The line has moved six points. To be fair, I would like all of this even more if the line would move to +10 and this is still not even the strongest ATS opinion on a day that involves just two games, but we will take +9.5 as what happened on December 10 has directly led to value in the Texans to keep this game closer than perceived. 

    The Texans are actually healthier than they were December 10 - especially in the secondary, which aided in Tom Brady's 21-of-35 for 296 yards, four touchdowns and no interception day. They are not playing their third road game in a row (Houston was at home last Saturday). There is no doubt about the motivation that both teams have to win (Houston had already secured a playoff spot by that Week 14 game). And there is also the fact that New England's last six playoff losses (all coming since the Patriots' last Super Bowl win) have come in regular season rematches. We again project a six point win by the Patriots and this time we get value on the other side.

    Houston is 13-4 SU and 10-6-1 ATS against the 27th ranked NFL strength-of-schedule. The Texans finished the season as our sixth ranked overall team and are above average in each of our strength-of-schedule-adjusted efficiency categories. While being consistently better than average though not elite in just about everything may not be conducive to blowing opponents out, having few weaknesses also makes it less likely that a team will be blown out.

    One way that Houston has succeeded over the course of this season is in a facet that is of the utmost importance when playing the Patriots - they get to the quarterback. Houston ranks fifth in the league with a sack rate (sacks-per-pass-play-faced) of 7%. Each of New England's four losses this season and six of its seven failed covers came against defensive-oriented teams with above average sack rates. This continues a pattern we have seen for several seasons as the Patriots have struggled against teams like the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers (straight-up) and the Miami Dolphins (ATS) that are largely built around putting pressure on the quarterback. 

    On the season, New England is 12-4 SU and 9-7 ATS versus the 25th ranked NFL schedule to-date. The Patriots finished the season just one spot ahead of Houston in our NFL Power Rankings (fifth). With Tom Brady at quarterback they have a top five passing offense. They also, somewhat surprisingly given recent seasons' performances, have a top five run defense. However, New England is average in run efficiency (ranking 16th in our metrics) and 25th in pass defense. With an excellent pass rush and a more than adequate passing game (built around the play action), there are opportunities for Houston to keep this game close throughout.

    According to 50,000 simulations of Texans @ Patriots, New England wins straight-up 64.8% of the time and by an average score of 28.7-22.9. As 9.5 point underdogs, Houston covers the spread 60.1% of the time, which is confident enough to recommend an $81 wager from a $50 player. It is actually slightly more likely that Houston wins this game straight-up than that New England wins by two touchdowns or more. As it has in 73% of New England's games this season, the OVER (47.5) is more likely than not to hit. In this case, 56.5% of the time the total goes over, which warrants a $43 play value for a normal $50 player.

    NFL Playoff Odds Update

    The Predictalator uses current rosters and strength-of-schedule-adjusted team and player stats to play, one play at a time, the remaining NFL Playoffs bracket 50,000 times before it's actually played. For this analysis, we are tracking how likely a team is to make it to any level of the NFL Playoffs. The rest of the playoffs are played all the way through individually, with the team that wins each game in that instance advancing. The percentages in the table below represent the team's likelihood of advancing to that round.

    With a bye week in the Wild Card round and no real surprises (all of our favorites won last week) to-date in the playoffs, the Denver Broncos are still our favorites to win the Super Bowl, making the Super Bowl 50.2% of the time and bringing home the title 28.2% of the time. This suggests that Denver is a 56% favorite on average over its NFC opponent in the Super Bowl, which translates to just fewer than three points. Denver is followed by the AFC's second seed in the New England Patriots, which has the third best chance to win the Super Bowl overall (14.4%). The Patriots would be underdogs (by just 1.8 points) to San Francisco and favorites over every other team from the NFC in a potential Super Bowl. Denver or New England represents the AFC in the Super Bowl 77.5% of the time. Despite defeating Cincinnati at home last weekend, the Houston Texans are still a distant third in the AFC race. Houston makes the Super Bowl 14.8% of the time and wins it 7.4% (which puts the Texans at exactly 50/50 in the Super Bowl against the potential NFC opponent). The Baltimore Ravens played a memorable home game in an ultimately lopsided contest with Indianapolis last week. What was Ray Lewis' last home game, will likely also be his final game. Baltimore only makes the Super Bowl 7.7% of the time and wins it 3.6% of the time. The Ravens have the lowest remaining chance to win it all and are the only team not to be favored in at least one potential Super Bowl matchup. The Broncos win the Super Bowl more than the bottom four remaining teams - Baltimore, Houston, Atlanta and Green Bay - combined.  In general, the AFC is 53.6% likely to win the Super Bowl, but only the Broncos and Patriots would be favored to win over the average expected NFC Super Bowl participant.

    The San Francisco 49ers still evaluate as the most likely NFC Super Bowl participant and winner, but the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers both closed the gap considerably after winning in Wild Card week. The 49ers are 35.4% likely to make the Super Bowl and 17.5% likely to win it. Seattle is one the best teams in the league right now (they would be second behind Denver in updated NFL Power Rankings of the remaining playoff teams). Though they would have to go on the road for their next two wins (including a 1 pm ET/10 am PT game in Atlanta this Sunday), the Seahawks are still 28.3% likely to make the Super Bowl and 14.2% likely to win it. That makes Seattle the only NFC team that wins more than 50% of its potential Super Bowls. Green Bay, which is undoubtedly rooting for Seattle to win at Atlanta this weekend so the Packers can get the NFC Championship game at home (if they win at San Francisco on Saturday), is 20.5% likely to make the Super Bowl and 9.2% likely to win it. Both the Packers and Seahawks saw increases in over 4% in their chances to win the Super Bowl from what we anticipated going into last week. Despite having home field advantage through the NFC Championship game, the Atlanta Falcons are the least likely NFC team to make it to the Super Bowl and only Baltimore is less likely of all the remaining teams to win the title. This week's biggest game appears to be the Packers @ 49ers. Even with the strength of Seattle, the Green Bay/San Francisco winner would be the definitive favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and may even become the top team overall in Super Bowl winning chances (especially if Seattle and/or Denver lose). In total, with three teams remaining that have never won a Super Bowl championship - Houston, Seattle and Atlanta - there is a 27.1% chance that a team wins its first ever title.

    Interesting Super Bowl matchups and their relative likelihood include: Most Likely - Denver Broncos vs. San Francisco 49ers occurs 17.8%; Top Seeds - Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons occurs 7.9%; All-Harbaugh - Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers occurs 2.7%; Biggest Projected Margin (9.0 points) - Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers is also the All-Harbaugh matchup; Former MVP Quarterbacks - Denver Broncos or New England Patriots vs. Green Bay Packers occurs 15.9%; No Franchise Rings - Houston Texans vs. Atlanta Falcons or Seattle Seahawks occurs 6.5%; Least Likely - Atlanta Falcons vs. Baltimore Ravens occurs 609 of 50,000 times. 

    Team Super Bowl Super Bowl Win
    Denver Broncos 50.2% 28.2%
    San Francisco 49ers 35.4% 17.5%
    New England Patriots 27.3% 14.4%
    Seattle Seahawks 28.3% 14.2%
    Green Bay Packers 20.5% 9.2%
    Houston Texans 14.8% 7.4%
    Atlanta Falcons 15.8% 5.5%
    Baltimore Ravens 7.7% 3.6%

    NFL Picks Pages:

    January 12: Predictalator Picks  Paul's Analysis
    January 13: Predictalator Picks  Paul's Analysis
    Play Analyzer - View Updated Picks on Current Consensus Lines
    Customize the Predictalator - Play the Games with Any Lines
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    12/15/2014 Highlight: Using the ResultsFinder for the Week of December 8th - 14th one could find that all Week 15 playable against-the-spread NFL picks went 8-4 (67% ATS), highlighted by the Lock of the Week, the Denver Broncos (-4 @ San Diego), covering by more than a touchdown.

    All playable NFL ATS and O/U picks in the last three weeks are a combined 45-22 (67% ATS and O/U). And over the last nine weeks, all playable against-the-spread picks have been .500 or better each week and are 65-37 (64% ATS) overall. This mirrors last season when all playable NFL ATS picks in the second half of the season finished 71-41 (63% ATS), culminating in a 9-1-1 (90% ATS) playoff record.

    With bowls starting at the end of this week, it's important to note that highlighted, "normal" or better bowls picks for the 2013-14 season went 14-9 (61% ATS and O/U). Playable college football bowl totals are also 48-35 (58% O/U) since the site launched.

    NFL and College Basketball halftime plays continue to provided great value. All normal or better against-the-spread plays in these sports combined to go 37-28 (57% ATS). And, lastly, "normal" or better NHL plays went 20-13 (61% ML, O/U and PL), the eighth week in the last nine that has been profitable for hockey.

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