In a little bit over an hour the Rams will be hosting the 49ers. This match-up was surprisingly competitive last year. Ignoring their two games against each other the Rams were 6-8 while the 49ers were 11-3, yet the Rams managed to take the series 1-0-1 with both games going to overtime. This year they have the same record, both teams coming in at 1-2. Does that make tonight’s game a toss-up?
The Rams played two somewhat close games, winning at home against the Cardinals and losing on the road to the Falcons, before getting blown out in Dallas last week. San Fran started the season with an impressive home win over the Packers, but then lost handily in Seattle and at home against the Colts. I think most people would say they roughly expected this from the Rams; they’re an ok team, so they’re capable of beating Arizona but should probably lose to Atlanta and Dallas (particularly on the road). The 49ers have been more surprising, particularly the loss last week and exactly how badly they lost to the Seahawks.
The models don’t know anything about expectations; they don’t even really know which team is which. They just get numbers that describe a team, so San Fran was a bunch of stats that had a poor showing against a bunch of stats that Seattle has put up so far. That being said, each of the models actually picked Indy to win last week. And in Luigi’s rankings after last week, the 49ers are one of the worst teams in the league, lower than the Rams. Basically, the 49ers are not putting up winning numbers, and neither are the Rams, but the Rams’ crappy numbers are a little less crappy than the 49ers.
On the other hand, the Rams get to play at home tonight. Home field advantage is sort of a nebulous number, perhaps changing over time and perhaps being different for different teams. But the broad consensus is that home field is worth 2.5 or 3 points. If two teams are close, that can make quite a difference. The 49ers are favored by 3, which means that the market thinks San Fran is a much better team; on a neutral field, they should win by 5 or 6. That’s quite a difference from the description in the opening paragraph and from Luigi’s account.
So how about the models? As you might guess, Luigi thinks the Rams are a favorite, but only barely. The Yoshis also have the Rams as a 1 or 2 point favorite. So each model picks the Rams not only to cover but also to win, although that’s a close call. Bill Simmons is in the same neighborhood, taking the Rams to cover but lose.
How about the SuperContest picks? The top five disparities for Luigi are Oakland +5, Chiefs -4, Minnesota +2.5, Seattle -2.5, and Colts -7.5 (meaning Luigi likes the listed team to cover the listed line). There are a couple of potential red flags; the Raiders may not have Pryor available and the Vikings are ‘at home’ in London. If you subtract 2 or 3 points from Minnesota’s predicted score (which the model fits with the Vikes at home), then obviously it isn’t as clear a pick but would still actually be in the top 5. Luigi’s predicted winners for the week: Rams, Ravens, Bengals, Lions, Chiefs, Vikes, Bucs, Colts, Seahawks, Titans, Broncos, Raiders, Chargers, Falcons, and Saints.
Yoshi 1’s top 5 picks are Raiders +5, Browns +4.5, Eagles +10.5, Vikes +2.5, and Rams +3. Accounting for Minnesota being in London, you would swap that game for Jaguars +7.5. Yoshi 1 has a fairly strong home team bias, so it’s leaning towards a lot of home underdogs. This is sometimes a good idea, but I have to say I’m dubious about some of these. I guess we’ll see how it goes. The Colts and Seahawks are the only road teams that Yoshi 1 thinks will win this week.
Yoshi 2, which typically puts out a slightly smaller estimate than Luigi (but occasionally goes a different way), has picks of Oakland, Chiefs, Vikes, Rams, and Cleveland. The Vikings would be swapped out for the Chargers when accounting for London. So in terms of the models agreeing, it looks like potential good picks would be Oakland, maybe KC, maybe Minnesota, maybe St. Louis, and maybe Cleveland. I don’t feel super great about any of those with the potential exception of the Chiefs, but these picks typically do relatively well.
Enjoy the game, and as a transplant to St. Louis, go Rams!