The beauty of being in the Owl Hive is that there is never a moment of complacency.
And in our newest roll out, the “Give a Hoot” Best Bet rating system, we have discovered a gem.
Using that marker, you could have managed to steer yourself away from some of the Best Bets last week and should have plenty of money left in the coffers for this week. That’s good news because I LOVE this week.
I’ll roll out the official Hoot rating in the Best Bet article, but it feels like at least a four across the board. For reference, last week was probably a two overall and the week before was as close to a five as one can get (at last before the monsoon hit DC).
But, even as we just explore this territory, we here at OEF are trying to bolster the Hoots already. Currently I am collaborating with a crack statistician to develop an algorithm that can help us make these Hoots more than just my gut.
Giving a Hoot is better than nothing, but “Giving an Analytically-driven Hoot” is best.
Most likely, this will be tested this week and next and hopefully debuted around Week 11 or so. That doesn’t mean this week and next are wasted, in fact this week I can’t wait to get by Best Bets up, but it is just a reassurance to you that every week you log on to Owl Eats Football, you are getting a better product.
Plus, with the adoption of a formula-based system, it gives us an opportunity to dust off one of rap’s greatest lines: “We got an algorithm, you got Al Gore rhythm”.
And with that, here are the Early Best Bets for Week 9:
GB -4 @ LAC
I know this line is a little fishy, I know that recency bias is probably overinflating the Packers and under-inflating the Chargers, I know the Chargers have kept all their games close.
I don’t care.
I am HAMMERING this line as we speak because I have absolutely no faith in the Chargers and the Packers have repeatedly earned my trust by showcasing an offense that prays on bad defenses and a defense that capitalizes on offense’s mistakes.
Let’s break that down.
First, the Chargers. I don’t want to go overboard here, but the way this football team is coached is one of the biggest misuses of player talent in the league. This starts at the running back position, where through the first four weeks of the season the Chargers ranked 18th in the league in rushing yards per game were averaging 103.5 with Austin Ekeler as the lead back. Now, after four games of Melvin Gordon getting the majority of the carries, LA is ranked 28th at 69.5 yards per game. Do you know how hard it is to cut 40 yards per game off of your total in just four weeks?!
But when you look at Gordon’s numbers it all makes sense. In those four games he has 44 rushes for 112 yards, averaging just 2.2 yards per carry.
It’s not just the rushing, though, it’s the scoring. Currently the Chargers are 21st in the league in points per game, nestled in between the Cardinals field goal based offense and the Browns turnover based offense. The Chargers have scored more than 20 points just twice this season and the last time was in Week 4 against the Dolphins. In their last four games they are averaging less than 17 points per game.
All of this led them to fire Offensive Coordinator Ken Wisenhunt this week, but the problem goes deeper than coaching as well. This is an injury plagued team that isn’t getting healthy anytime soon.
The losses of Brandon Mebane and Melvin Ingram have ravaged their defensive line and their offensive line was ravaged before getting Russel Okung back last week and transforming to just devastated. Currently, their depth chart goes two deep for center and both guard positions. Ryan Groy is the backup in all three cases.
When it comes to holding onto the ball, the Chargers also struggle. They are 24th in the league in turnover margin at -.4 per game, tied with Washington.
But maybe a new OC will change things, and maybe getting healthier will make a difference, and maybe this team will be mad about all the losses they have given away. That still doesn’t change the fact that there is a steamroller coming to town.
Green Bay is clicking. It may have been against the Raiders and the Chiefs, but the offense that was new in Week 1 now feels as though it is fully installed. In their past for games the Packers are averaging over 32 points a game and are 4-0. They have a hundred yard rusher in three of those games and Aaron Jones has seven touchdowns in that span – including a four rushing touchdown game against Dallas and a 150 yard two touchdown receiving performance against Kansas City.
Oh, and they have been without Davante Adams who is slated to return this week.
To return to the same stats we used to roast the Chargers, the Packers are sixth in points per play, seventh in points per game, and fourth in turnover margin.
Which brings us to their defense. The unit has certainly regressed since their torrid start, but they continue to be opportunistic and tough in the red zone. They have held their last four opponents to 24 or under and that includes offenses like the Cowboys, Lions, and Chiefs.
I could go on about the Packers’ strengths and I could go on and on and on about the Chargers’ weaknesses, but the bottom line is that this is a matchup of a good team and a bad team. Given that the home team plays in a stadium bereft of fans and with a DJ who plays opposing teams fight songs (see the Steelers game) then the line being four instead of seven is a gift we need to snatch up.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but gear up for a potential five-Hooter here.
IND PK @ PIT
The Early Best Bets come before I do a lot of my research, and often involve my first reaction to a line. Well, let me give you my first reaction to this line:
“Honey, put the down payment on the mega-yacht”.
Honestly, I know there are warning flags here, but I could not feel more differently about these two teams than I do right now.
Let’s start with the Colts. This is not an analytically driven argument, but the Colts just flat out win games. Watching them win with Marlon Mack running the ball, Jacoby Brissett throwing the ball, and their defense suffocating opposing attacks makes me feel confident in picking them to win most games.
But since we need some evidence to back this up, the Colts have held their last three opponents to a combined 49 points. That becomes 100 times more impressive when you realize that included the Chiefs with Mahomes and the Texans with Watson (oh, and um, the Broncos with Joe Flacco).
Perhaps the best stat to summarize their intangible success, though, is time of possession. They are eighth in the league in average time of possession/opponents time of possession, which is an incredibly meaningful stat. The top five teams in the league are Baltimore, New England, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Green Bay. That would be a pretty good short list for the super bowl right now.
Another good short list would be the top teams against the spread this season. Indianapolis comes in sixth in that at 4-2-1 while the five above them are New England, Green Bay, New Orleans, San Francisco, and the LA Rams.
Indianapolis has my respect and the fact that they are repeatedly undervalued by the lines makes me feel confident in them.
The Steelers are the exact opposite. This team appears to be mediocre at best, yet they keep getting respect in the lines they are assigned. One week after Buffalo was favored by 16.5 over Miami, Pittsburgh was favored by 14.
I don’t get it. This team is 3-4, but their three wins have come against the Bengals, Chargers, and Dolphins – three teams that are playing some of the worst football out there. Meanwhile, their four losses have been to the Patriots, Niners, Ravens, and Seahawks.
The trend is clear: when this team plays a bad team it wins, when it plays a good team it loses.
Also factoring in here are the injury concerns that are plaguing Pittsburgh. Mason Rudolph is filling in as the Steelers’ QB, but he looked rusty against Miami this week after a brutal concussion two weeks prior. All three of their RBs happen to be dealing with injuries as well, and given their propensity for being injured even if they play they could find themselves limited quickly.
There is plenty of data that suggest Pittsburgh will be a tougher opponent than I am giving them credit for, but the algorithm isn’t up yet and my gut is telling me Indianapolis is a winning football team while Pittsburgh is just middle of the road.
For Early Best Bets that’s enough to make the list.
NE -4 @ BAL
I circled this game on my calendar weeks ago because I knew Vegas would be chomping at the bit to give the Pats a line below 10, and they delivered.
I LOVE the Patriots here for so many reasons, but the biggest is that I do not think Baltimore represents the challenge that they seem to. Let’s unpack that.
To begin with, the Ravens have a habit of underperforming in relation to the spread. This season, the Ravens are 2-5 against the spread, and that becomes even worse when you take out their Week 1 dismantling of the Dolphins. They have performed particularly poorly against the spread at home, going 0-3 with close wins against the Cardinals and Bengals and a blowout loss to the Browns.
Looking at why this might be, Baltimore is being kept afloat by Lamar Jackson. Without their number one receiver, or any receiver for that matter, and with Mark Andrews playing inconsistently, the running game has been the focus. Except that the running backs have underperformed. So that leaves just Jackson.
Take for example their last game against Seattle, a 14-point win. In that game Jackson had 116 yards rushing on 14 carries. The next best rusher was Mark Ingram who had 46 yards on 12 carries. The Ravens leading receiver was Miles Boykin with 2 catches for 55 yards. No one else on the team had more catches.
What this means is that A) My Lamar Jackson for MVP bet is looking great and B) Bill Belichick and the best defense in the league have one very centralized weapon to focus on.
And in thinking about the X’s and O’s I think this is a classic Patriots game plan spot.
For years the Hooded Genius has won games by controlling the ball and taking away an opponent’s best offensive weapon. This is how he dominated the Steelers for years, this is how he beat the Chiefs twice last year, and this is how he will beat Baltimore.
Add in the fact that Jackson is a second-year QB in his first start against Belichick and the evidence gets even more damning.
There is reason for pause, as the Patriots have been susceptible to the run and Baltimore’s D has been improving all year, but this pick comes down to a veteran coach facing a team built around a single player.
It is hard to imagine the Ravens winning without Jackson dominating, and it is hard to imagine Jackson dominating with Belichick aware of that fact.
SF -9.5 @ ARI
This is an Early Best Bet, but is guaranteed to not be a Best Bet because it is this week’s Thursday Night game.
I’m including it, though, because I do like it at least a little (3 Hoots) and because I can get credit without risking anything other than money (credit>money all day).
Before diving into this game, though, I am kicking myself for not taking the Niners with more conviction last week. After the rain dampened (nailed it) expectations heading into the week, the Niners at home against a backup QB and an East Coast team should have been the lock of the week. This team has covered the spread by the second largest margin on the season and this game against the beat up Cardinals should be the same.
However, there are certainly somethings to be wary of. First and foremost is the dreaded Thursday Night game between a good team and a not good team. In these affairs often times the good team does enough to win, avoid major injury, and then packs up and hits the road.
I am not saying the Niners are going to enter this game thinking they are guaranteed victory, but I am saying that they will be just as happy with a sloppy, 7-point victory on a short week as they would be with total domination.
With all that in mind, though, I do not see a lot of paths for the Cardinals to perform well themselves. They currently plan on starting a running back they acquired Monday, play with a sub-par offensive line, and are coming off an embarrassment in New Orleans.
This San Francisco D shares a lot of traits with the New Orleans’ one, and could give the Cardinals equal difficulty.
One more thing to keep in mind that I heard this week in regards to the Cardinals-Saints game was that Arizona is a team who plays into the hands of a blowout when they can’t get first downs. Because they run such a high volume of plays and because their identity is wrapped up in their tempo, they will give opposing offenses more opportunity if they cannot hold onto the ball.
If I was to predict a script for this game it would involve a lot of Cardinals passing with little success, a high volume of plays for the Niners, and a lot of rushing success for their terrifying backfield. If that comes to pass, then this spread should be an easy cover and San Francisco should buck the trend of sloppy Thursday Night games.
DET +2 @ OAK
So here is our fifth road team of the week, with the difference being that the Lions are a road underdog.
I’ve spoken relentlessly about how home field is disappearing in the NFL and that is backed up by the numbers. So far this season, the road team is seven games OVER .500 (64-57) straight up. Modern travel, amenities, and sports science have all contributed to this.
But this bet isn’t about any of those things, it is about results and quality.
So far this season, the Lions have lost to the Vikings Packers and Chiefs. Any of those three teams could make the Super Bowl this year and in all honesty the Lions should have beaten Green Bay and Kansas City.
In fact, if we dive deeply into the Lions season, it is staggering where they could be. Two blown calls in the Green Bay game cost them a win there, some questionable coaching cost them a win instead of a tie in Week 1, and against KC they were up 3 with under two minutes left and the Chiefs at 4th-and-8 from their own territory.
If even two of those transform into wins, the Lions would be 5-2 and on pace with the Packers and Vikings in the NFC North. Instead, they are .500 and are an afterthought for the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Raiders might be 3-1 in their last four, but they have a point differential over that span of -5. They have shown the ability to score, but do not have a consistent threat on their team to depend on.
No matter how you slice it, though, this is a close game. My theory, however, is that the underlying statistics should tilt this in favor of the Lions.
Take their record against the spread, for instance. Both teams are 4-3, but the Lions are outscoring those spread by an average of .5 points while Oakland is neutral at 0 points. In margin of victory this season, the Lions are -.9 points per game and the Raiders are -5.9 points per game.
What this tells me is that Oakland is performing at or just below its 3-4 record and Detroit is performing above its 3-3-1 record.
Again, this is early, and there could easily be more value that opens up as the week goes on, but right now I am seeing a Lions team that is offering value.
Other Early Best Bets
JAX +2 vs HOU in London
London games are crazy, but if anyone knows how to do them it’s Jacksonville.
I like this game mostly because Houston has no secondary, no defensive line, no offensive line, and a lack luster run game. The loss of JJ Watt means that the Houston D is now bereft of talent and the only person who can win games for them is Deshaun Watson.
That is a distinct possibility, but not one that I foresee given that the Jags have actually been serviceable on offense.
CHI +5 @ PHI and Under 43
This game is fascinating because Philadelphia is going to force Chicago to throw the ball and Chicago will do anything to prevent Mitch Trubisky from throwing the ball.
The reason I like this line, however, is because I feel strongly that this will be a defensive, low scoring battle. If that’s the case, it may be difficult for anyone to open up a lead as big as this.
Then again, Trubisky makes molehills out of mountains, so this could easily be a 30-0 Eagles win.
DAL -7 @ NYG
It wouldn’t shock me if this transforms into a Best Bet by Saturday, but right now I just don’t fully grasp this Cowboys team.
They lost to the Jets, played terribly against the Packers and Saints, and then dominated the rest of their games.
In this situation, I think the Cowboys are significantly better than the Giants, but I just can’t fully understand their inconsistencies. If I can by Saturday, then this could be a prime spot to load up.