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Weekend Football Review (12/6/10)

By Paul Bessire

Monday, December 6 at 8:02 PM ET
I will always recap the weekend in football each Monday afternoon. It is very important to us to be transparent and to honest about our picks. Late start to the blog today and it will be a pretty short one, though more so because I don't have much to bitc... worry about this week other than the end to the college football season. Picks did well pretty much across the board this week and there are very few hot topics worth delving into right now.

Bouncing back from a tougher week with the Paul's Picks, we are 5-2 ATS for the week as we head into Monday Night. Even with an uncharacteristically frustrating Sunday in the NFL last week - where our top three picks all lost, by a combined seven points - the Paul's Picks are 15-8 ATS (65%) in the last three weeks. That includes two undefeated Saturdays in the last three weeks to close out the season on a high note. And as we have mentioned before, our expectation is that college performance (as well as our confidence in the picks) improves during bowl season when several of our assumptions about a team's desire to win are most valid and homefield advantage is irrelevant.

The Football Numbers (though College Week 14 and NFL Week 13):

  • ATS Locks of the Week: 2-0 (Nevada -10, which moved to -7.5 as a 65%+ play by kickoff, defeated Louisiana Tech 35-17; St. Louis -3.5 defeated Arizona 19-6)
  • Year-to-Date ATS Locks of the Week: 19-8 (70%)
  • All-Time ATS Locks of the Week: 68-19-3 (78%)
  • YTD Daily Top ATS Plays: 54-21 (72%))
  • Paul's Picks ATS Week: 5-2 (with one game remaining)
  • YTD Paul's Picks ATS: 70-40 (64%)
  • YTD ATS All Games: 56%
  • YTD O/U All Games: 55%
  • YTD SU (NFL and FBS vs FBS College): 73%

Bowls: Tomorrow afternoon, we will make our bowl package picks available, which will include ATS, O/U and SU picks for all 35 bowl games, plus Paul's analysis on every game with a "normal" or better (57%+ to cover) ATS play. We are targeting December 13th to post the initial picks for each bowl and will update those throughout bowl season as information warrants. The Army vs. Navy game on December 11 (this Saturday) is free to all. The Customizable Predictalator has only been updated for those two teams. For those who purchase the bowl package, the rest of the teams will be updated and accessible when the picks become available. We look forward to continuing our college football picks success in the bowl season. Bowl picks will be sold all together or by individual day. Check back tomorrow for more details.

College Football Playoffs: Beginning next Monday, I will use Twitter feed @predictmachine to unveil the results of our college football playoff. To me, the most logical approach to a college football Division IA playoff includes 16 teams. This ensures that the 11 conference champions each make the playoffs. It also allows for four weeks of playoff football - which happens to be the exact duration of the bowls. We'll use our power rankings to seed teams (bracket below). I wanted to use the actual BCS rankings, but that would leave our #3 team, Boise State out of the bracket, which is ridiculous.

PredictionMachine.com Playoff Bracket (results coming Monday):
1) Oregon Ducks
16) FIU Golden Panthers

8) Arkansas Razorbacks
9) Alabama Crimson Tide

5) Stanford Cardinal
12) Nevada Wolf Pack

4) TCU Horned Frogs
13) UCF Golden Knights

6) Wisconsin Badgers
11) Virginia Tech Hokies

3) Boise State Broncos
14) UConn Huskies

7) Ohio State Buckeyes
10) Oklahoma Sooners

2) Auburn Tigers
15) Miami (OH)

I wish we could see all of these games and that they would mean something. For now, I will "play" out the first round matchups on Monday; second round Tuesday; semifinals Wednesday and championship on Thursday (followed by an article for Friday). Each matchup will be played in two different ways: 1) Results of 50,000 simulations of the game and 2) Results of one simulation of the game. I will advance teams based on the latter in order to illustrate what one playoff possibility could look like (and to differentiate the results from our power rankings or actual bowl results).

College Best and Worst:

Best Wins: Even though our Lock of the Week again, the best ATS win included a game in which we exploited a coach's completely irrational approach to the end of a game - in a rivalry game nonetheless. Oregon, a 16.5-point favorite, was our second strongest play of the day on Saturday, covering that line 59.8% of the time on average. Trailing 37-13, Oregon State scored a touchdown with 1:18 left to pull within 18 points at 37-19. Rather than go for a two-point conversion, which if successful, could have turned a three possession Oregon lead into a two possession lead, Oregon State opted for the extra point. There is absolutely no logical rationale for doing that. If Oregon State had simply given up, then why try to score the TD to begin with - let alone then attempt an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff? Mike Riley probably just lost track of the score, assuming a loss and never thought through the decision. That's not smart coaching, but it secured us the cover (or a at least a push for those who saw the line move to 17 after opening at 15 in some places). After our Week 13 Lock of the Week, Stanford -14, covered over Oregon State by 24 points, I feel like we owe Coach Mike Riley and the Beavers' staff a Christmas card...

For our Lock of the Week, Nevada -10, won by 18, 35-17, over Louisiana Tech on the road. The most notable fact about this pick is that the line moved against us so much that our confidence went from 60.6% at -10, to about 65% at -7.5. The general betting public likely feared a letdown by the Wolf Pack after a program-defining win over Boise State the previous week. But Nevada still had a WAC title to clinch and we have to assume that every team is trying its hardest to win. Plus, in early November, we learned that Louisiana Tech was not very good at home when it lost convincingly to Fresno State. That being said, it took a bit of a fluke/lucky play to get Nevada into range to cover. Leading 21-17 in the fourth quarter and facing a fourth-and-nine from the LaTech 28, Nevada decided to go for it rather than punt or attempt a 45-yard field goal. Senior quarterback Colin Kaepernick took the snap and scrambled right while looking downfield, then backtracked to his left and ultimately scampered for a 28-yard touchdown run to put Nevada up 28-17, a cover at any line from the week. Nevada made a stop and then scored another TD before the game ended, but there are no guarantees that would have happened without the great Kaepernick run.

And in the last of our Paul's Picks for Saturday, Auburn did not just win by double-digits, the Tigers destroyed South Carolina 56-17 in the SEC Championship. All year, the Predictalator has loved Auburn and not South Carolina. Auburn's offense has consistently ranked in our top three in both pass and run efficiency, while the Tigers' defensive line improved greatly throughout the season and was a provided an area for Auburn to exploit a South Carolina weakness. On the other hand, Stephen Garcia had been efficient all season, but that's all the Gamecocks really had going for them - and he was banged up. Averaging just over four and a half yards-per-carry, Marcus Lattimore was/is vastly overrated and the South Carolina defense was/is mediocre across the board. Ultimately, the blowout did not just give us an easy cover for an undefeated day in Paul's Picks, it also gave us a win on the OVER (61.5), which was our strongest total of the day Saturday.

Some quick hitters now: Speaking of totals, the UNDER in the Illinois @ Fresno State closed as one of our strongest college opinions of the year. Posted at 60.3% confidence against a 57-point line, the UNDER looked like a 2-3X play by kickoff with posted lines at or above 60 points. Bettors got a little too excited over the 106 total points that these teams put up last season. A 25-23 Fresno State win later we have an easy cover... We actually hit our top seven Over/Unders of the week and 11 of 14 picking every game this week in college... UConn responded well to our Upset Watch, earning the Huskies a BCS bowl berth... Congratulations to Miami (OH), the closest DI team to where I am right now, on a very unique MAC Championship season... My alma mater started a guy named Munchie Legaux and had its mascot arrested at the game. Despite losing by 18 points at home, I count that as a win... Washington and USC both covered in their rivalry games in similar ways to our expectations...

Toughest Losses: The Arizona-Arizona State game could have made for a great "best wins" breakdown, but finished as a loss, our only Paul's Pick blemish of the college week. Despite being just 57.8% to cover, Arizona at home against its in-state rival and as a six-point favorite turned out to be our top weekday college pick. The Wildcats were facing sophomore quarterback Brock Osweiler in his first ever start. By my count, Arizona dropped at least six likely interceptions that hit Wildcat defenders in the hands. And with 30 seconds to go in the game, Arizona trailed, not led, by six, 20-14. Yet we still had a chance for a cover. An late Arizona TD was followed by a blocked extra point to send the game to OT. Our best case scenario saw Arizona getting the ball, scoring a TD and then stopping ASU. Arizona got the ball, but mustered just a field goal. Now we want ASU to tie, the teams to force a third OT and to see Arizona score an unanswered TD. The game lived up to that and looked like it was going to a third OT - until Arizona had another extra point blocked for the outright loss. So close...

Quick hitters: The Sun Belt was not good to us on Saturday. I guess with the fact that the championship and bowl ties were already locked up, those teams had questionable motivation going into those games... Remember when I told everyone that Florida State over Virginia Tech was an Upset Watch pick because of how well the Seminoles played with Christian Ponder at quarterback? Ponder didn't end up playing. Word broke very late (about an hour before kickoff) that he wasn't going to start, but reports still mentioned that Ponder was warming up with no issues. I tweeted about it as soon as I found out, but I was unable to update the site with such little time. Either way, something seems very odd about that chain of events... UCF is on a 9-0-1 ATS streak. We went against the Golden Knights - and lost by half a point. That's a team that seems to consistently win by more than it should...

Most intriguing bowl games: Ohio vs. Troy (12/18), Utah vs. Boise State (12/22), Navy vs. San Diego State (12/23), West Virginia vs. NC State (12/27), Missouri Vs. Iowa (12/28), Illinois vs. Baylor (12/29), Oklahoma State vs. Arizona (12/29), UNC vs. Tennessee (12/30), Nebraska vs. Washington (12/30), Georgia vs. UCF (12/31), South Carolina vs. Florida State (12/31), Alabama vs. Michigan State (1/1), Wisconsin vs. TCU (1/1), Stanford vs. Virginia Tech (1/1), Arkansas vs. Ohio State (1/1) and Oregon vs. Auburn (1/10).

NFL Best and Worst:

Best Wins: The NFL week was fairly uneventful for us - which is totally fine and accepted. Brutal losses or miraculous wins were at a minimum. We were lucky to avoid the big upsets as picks for the OAK/SD, JAC/TEN and DAL/IND games were our bottom three picks with respect to confidence on the week (two of them were "no plays"). In total, we are 9-4 ATS going into Monday Night...

St. Louis -3.5 has to be our "Best Win" because, as the Lock of the Week, the Rams covered easily. It wasn't a pretty game, but the Rams still easily disposed of Arizona Cardinals. Arizona is neither talented nor motivated. St. Louis may not be a very good team, but the Rams are improving consistently and have a division title to play for. In fact, based on our rest of season simulations, the St. Louis Rams win the NFC West by getting to 7.6 wins on average. That's right, when rounded, the winner of the NFC West gets to eight wins!! Of course, St. Louis is only favored to win one more game straight-up (vs. SF in Week 16), but is very likely to win another along the way (about 50/50 vs. KC and @SEA). Also in those simulations, only six NFC teams get to eight wins or more...

Quick hitters: Thank you Drew Stanton. I'm glad we got in on that when the line was still -3.5 on the side and 44.5 on the total (a 61.9% UNDER play). Whew!... Pittsburgh won outright as our lone Upset Watch pick from Sunday. This was one of the few games we had to sweat down the stretch. The line was PIT +3, so we needed the late score to even cover. Of course, as a predicted upset, it doesn't hurt to get that game right straight-up as well... Our prediction for Thursday night's game had Philadelphia winning 33-22 and Michael Vick totaling 342 yards, 2.5 TDs and 0.7 INTs. The Eagles won 34-24 and Vick had 350 total yards, 3 TDs and one INT... The Bengals play exactly how they are built. Mike Brown, who publicly values turning a buck over winning (not a bad thing in general, but he has even stated that he did not like making the Super Bowl due to the bonuses and raises that he had to pay), specifically targets talented players with checkered pasts in character and health because he can get "value" in them. Put 45 of those guys on the field every week and you get what you see this season - far more talent than smarts or chemistry (on the field or off). Cincinnati found another/new way to lose a game on Sunday. We'll take the cover (unfortunately for her fandom, at this point in the season, that's all my wife concerns herself with when listening to Bengals' games on the radio with her dad - they aren't on TV anymore because not enough people want to go to the stadium to support that product, especially in December)... The Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not nearly as good as their records. When they play each other though, Atlanta has the significantly better team... The New York Giants have games where they can look like the most dominant team in the league. In every other game, they only really hurt themselves (with turnovers). Don't sleep on NYG come playoff time, especially with Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith healthy... Apparently Pat Bowlen does not respect the Denver cover. Kansas City had all the motivation to destroy the Broncos, yet couldn't. I think that says more about Todd Haley than Josh McDaniels... Go Pack Go! Green Bay (and Philadelphia) may be higher in tomorrow's power rankings than people expect - better than many very good AFC teams...

Toughest Losses: Someone tweeted at us that Jimmy Clausen is not an NFL quarterback. The Predictalator totally agrees. Clausen's breakdown by the numbers before the draft was pretty dismal and we never expected him to be very good. In fact, Clausen's name shows up more than any player in my NFL Draft Blog and it was never positive. The problem is that we thought Seattle was just as bad and that Carolina's defense was the best unit on the field. For almost three quarters, that all looked valid. Then Jimmy Clausen found a whole new level of poor quarterback play (beyond Derek Anderson, Max Hall and Brian St. Pierre). Oh well...

Quick hitters: We have had some really bad luck to lose a few of our free picks this season, but maybe none worse than when a batted Chad Henne pass lodged itself in Mike Adams' stomach for a crushing interception. It was a tie game and Miami was favored by 4.5, but that took away just about any chance of a Dolphins' win, let alone cover... LOL Brett Favre. Tarvaris Jackson may have made a few mistakes, but he also made several plays with his legs to extend drives - and his presence shifted more focus to the running game. Plus, it's cathartic to me to blame Brett Favre for our losses... Did I mention that isn't exactly how we thought Denver would cover? It wasn't a strong pick, but we did have the OVER in a game where 16 total points were scored. Dwayne Bowe and Matt Cassel fantasy owners can't be happy with that game (thought they may also be undefeated in the last seven weeks)...

Most intriguing games of Week 14: IND @ TEN (Thursday), NE @ CHI, KC @ SD, PHI @ DAL and BAL @ HOU

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