I’m going to be in Vegas this weekend, so the picks are coming up early this week. I’ll talk a little more specifically about each game, although there’s certainly already a lot of good content out there, some of which I’ll try to link to.
Bengals at Texans: The Texans were the best team in football for a long time until they lost three of their last four, including a road game against the Colts last week where they could have wrapped up a bye. The Bengals finished 3-0, and 7-1 in the back half of the season in fact. So I think some people would like to give the Bengals an extra push based on ‘momentum’. If momentum is important, you have to think that these Bengals are way more a team of destiny than last year’s Giants, who also finished 3-1 in their last four but only had two wins in a row to finish the season and were 3-5 in their last eight games. However, as best I can tell, momentum doesn’t exist. Here’s one article (Insider required) suggesting the same thing. If momentum were important, don’t you think the 18-0 Patriots might have won that Super Bowl? And if you want to say that win streaks don’t define momentum, go ahead and make a concrete definition and we’ll take a look. In the meantime, I’ll stick with the fact that the Texans played very well for a very long time, including a win on the road against Denver, an absolute spanking of the Ravens, and a win in Chicago back when the Bears were playing very well. Of course, they also laid some eggs against Green Bay and New England and had unnecessarily close calls with Detroit and Jacksonville. But on the other side, the Bengals didn’t have a win against a playoff team until last week against the Ravens’ back-ups, and they also have losses to Miami and Cleveland to go with a stomping by the Ravens back in week one. There’s obviously more to the game than wins and losses, but in sum the Texans have played better than the Bengals. Even if you thought they were closer to even, Houston gets to play at home. I think that gives the Texans the edge.
All three models like the Texans to win by 2.5 to 3.5 points. The line right now seems to be about -4.5 for the Texans, up from 4 when I looked a couple days ago. So I would lean toward the Bengals to cover, but it’s a close call. The moneyline is -210/+190, and all three models think that the Bengals have enough of a chance to be worth it. At +190, they would need to win a little over a third of the time to be profitable. My own opinion is kind of shaky; I could see this being a close one or I could see the Texans running away with it like they did last year even with Yates at QB. I think I’m going to leave this game alone unless the lines in Vegas are more favorable to the Bengals, in which case I’ll take them to cover.
Vikings at Packers: We have a little direct evidence to compare these teams on since they played each other twice already this season. The Packers won by 9 at home while the Vikings won by 3 at home last week. In both games, Adrian Peterson went crazy. In both games, Aaron Rodgers threw for over 8 yards per pass. Ponder played pretty well last week, but very poorly in Green Bay. For the season on the whole, the Vikings have something of a ‘momentum’ story since they finished 4-0, and they can boats wins against the 49ers, Bears, Texans, and Packers. They also have losses against the Colts, Redskins, Tampa, Seattle, and those Bears and Packers. The Vikings have had a tough schedule, playing 9 games against playoff teams, but they are essentially an average squad, I think. The Packers lost to the 49ers, Seahawks (kind of), Colts, Vikings, and the Giants but beat Houston, Chicago (twice), the Vikings, and the Seahawks (kind of). I think they’re an average defensive team with a good offense, but not as good as previous Green Bay editions. With the game being in Green Bay, the Packers definitely have the edge. The question is, how much?
The line has stayed about the same since I last checked, which is at about -7.5 for the Packers or higher numbers with better odds (like -9 at +110). Luigi and Yoshi 2 think this favors the Vikings, as they are only about 4 point underdogs. However, Yoshi 1 likes the Packers by 10. Predictions by some other sites out there are more in line with a Packer touchdown-or-more victory as well. I think I’ll be playing it safe and staying away from the line here. The current moneyline has moved towards the Vikings a bit and sits at -365/+328. If I see something like that, I might be tempted to put a little on Minnesota; all three models think that would be worthwhile. Not that I’d really expect them to win, but because I don’t mind floating the price of a meal to see if I can turn it into a really nice meal.
Seahawks at Redskins: This is perhaps the most interesting game because I think it matches up as the closest and because it has two clearly good teams involved. The Seahawks have demonstrated, especially recently, that they are a very strong team; both Brian Burke and I have them as 3rd in the league right now. The Redskins are no slouches either, as we both happen to have them at 8th. Seattle has taken an interesting route in losing only to non-playoff teams besides once against the 49ers, but has won against those same 49ers, Green Bay (kind of), New England, and Minnesota. They don’t pass a lot, but they are efficient when they do it. Like the Redskins, they run often and well. Washington’s offense is very similar, but a bit more efficient. They have some bad losses, such as to the Rams, Steelers, and Panthers (depending on how you feel about the Panthers), but they’ve also beaten the Vikings, Ravens, Dallas twice, and split with the Giants (the rest of the NFC East didn’t make the playoffs, but they were close). This game might come down to defense then, and Seattle has the advantage there. I have them with the best defense in the league while the Redskins are actually a little below average. They gave up over 30 points four times and over 25 another four times. Seattle never gave up more than 28, to the Lions, and only more than 20 two other times. So why will this be close? Because Washington is a tiny bit better on offense, and because Washington is at home.
The line has been pretty steady at Seattle -3, and I don’t think it can move much because the game should be so close that if it moves either way off the 3 many people will try and get that field goal number. But, with it expected to be so close and the Redskins at home, I’ll be tempted to take them to cover. I’ll also probably take the Redskins to win outright at most prices, since they’ll have to be an underdog of some sort but they can’t be too much worse than 45% to win even if you’re pessimistic.
Colts at Ravens: I think my post on the Colts got more comments than any other football post I’ve done. This is a case where the public perception is caught up on the Colts’ win total while ignoring who they’ve played and their numbers in those games. Every other piece I’ve read on the Colts has said the same thing; they’ve had a very easy schedule and at the same time put up less than impressive numbers against those teams. I don’t really feel the need to repeat myself, so I’ll go with the short version of the argument I make a lot: good teams beat bad teams convincingly, they don’t lose or let them stay close. Did you know the Colts only won two of their 11 games by double digits? One was last week against Houston and the other was against Jacksonville. They won three games by a field goal and another by two points. Yes, they won, but the Colts played games far too close all year. When they did lose, they tended to lose big; only by five but to Jacksonville and by 12 to Houston, 25 to New England, 26 to the Jets, and 20 to Chicago. Those four non-Jacksonville games were all on the road, where the Colts will be on Sunday. I don’t have the Colts quite as low as Brian Burke’s 24th, but I have them as below average. Now let’s be fair; the Ravens haven’t been super-impressive either. They lost to the Eagles and Steelers as well as playoff teams Houston, Washington (in overtime), and Denver. But they did beat the Patriots and Bengals and have decent wins over the Giants and Cowboys. We can look at common games if you’d like: the Colts beat the Browns 17-13 while the Ravens beat them 23-16 and 25-15; the Colts lost to the Patriots by 25 while the Ravens beat them by 1; and the Colts split with the Texans 28-16 and 17-29 while the Ravens lost to them 13-43. And once again, even if you think the Colts are closer to their record than their stats, Baltimore is at home.
This line is at Ravens -6.5 and I think it will stay around there since they won’t want to go to a touchdown but the Colts won’t get so much action that it moves down much. The moneyline has moved towards the Ravens though. As much as I’ve complained about the Colts, I think they can keep it closer than a touchdown. All three models have it as more of a three or four point game. I might even put a little bit down on the Colts to win if they have odds a bit closer to what the Vikings have; right now the numbers are something like -285/+255. Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ravens control the game throughout and coast to victory, but it would be worth that nice dinner to see if the Colts can prove people wrong.