By Steve Rieder
"The difference between sharps and squares is that sharps bet numbers and squares bet teams."
Most successful sports handicappers use a quantitative standard for assessing the game. In order to do that, it is imperative to use power ratings, also known as 'power rankings,' to identify the point differential between opposing teams. By comparing two teams’ power ratings and accounting for home field advantage, the bettor can objectively determine what the point spread should be and take advantage of any difference in the actual line.
NFL WEEK 3 POWER RATINGS
Measuring success in NFL handicapping is a convoluted process. In a given weekend, is it better to have a higher win percentage or closing line value? In the long run, the answer is obvious. We want money in our pockets, but if we are talking about a given day, closing line value may be a better indicator of future success. Although we went a profitable 4-3 on NFL Week 3 sides and totals best bets, we had closing line value on 6 of our 7 contests and the one that didn’t move in our favor didn’t move at all. As long as we continue to consistently beat the closing line, the rest will take care of itself. Let’s hope the same is true for our live and derivative bets moving forward. On to Week 3...
We now have two sets of data points to combine with our preseason perceptions of each team. More information should make for more accurate power ratings, but the NFL had a plethora of injuries. Correctly calculating their impact and the health of these players provides opportunity. However, this early in the week, when information on each injury is not fully known, it is difficult to truly gauge the impact for Week 3. We will do our best, but certainly reserve the right to update our Power Ratings as the week progresses.
NFL WEEK 3 POWER RATINGS
WEEK 3 POWER RATED SPREADS
POWER RATING DISCREPANCIES
Washington Football Team @ Buffalo Bills
Buffalo finds themselves as my third-best team in my Power Ratings after rebounding from the opening week loss to the Steelers. The Bills have been dominant with the exception of the 2nd half of the PIT game. We can’t throw away those two quarters, but BUF has the ability to compete with the NFL’s elite. In a matchup with a division rival, the Bills won 35-0 over the Dolphins in a contest that was seemingly over before the opening kickoff. It could be said that this is a letdown spot for the Bills after last week’s drubbing, but the Bills will look to get their first win at home and they have the lowly Houston Texans on deck. With no look-ahead to be concerned with, the Bills look to be a play on team in Week 3.
The Washington Football Team could easily be 2-0 or 0-2. However, they find themselves 1-1 heading into a contest with their greatest opponent yet. After Ryan Fitzpatrick went down, there were serious concerns about the WFT’s offense. Taylor Heinicke has stepped in and performed admirably ranking #26 according to PFF. However, the Bills' opportunistic secondary will be his greatest test yet. Trying to keep pace with Josh Allen, who hasn’t had a statement game to date, should be a losing endeavor in Week 3.
We have 2 points of value according to our Power Ratings, but the best play here is to tease BUF down to -2. WAS’s defense can be solid, the Giants game notwithstanding, which may make it difficult to get margin in the game. Considering this might be Josh Allen’s 2021 coming out party, the Football Team just doesn’t have the offensive firepower to keep pace. Now, we just need the second leg of our teaser.
Chicago Bears @ Cleveland Browns
Chicago was embarrassed in the opener on Monday Night, but came back with a strong performance in a Week 2 win over the Bengals. The Bears turned the Bengals over 4 times in their 3 point victory. Only winning by 3 points despite a +3 turnover margin might actually be cause for concern rather than a reason to back the Bears. With a potential switch at quarterback, maybe the Bears get a boost from Fields that they never get from Dalton. Fields was just as ineffective in relief against the Bengals however, only tallying 60 passing yards on 13 pass attempts. If Fields upgrades the Bears, his legs will be the added dimension where he ran 10 different times on Sunday. Chris and I mentioned hitting his over rushing props at the opener on our podcast last night. Ultimately, Justin Fields does give the Bears an added boost this week, but the team just isn’t very good, ranking T-26 in our Power Ratings.
The Cleveland Browns lost Jarvis Landry and saw Baker Mayfield hurt his non-throwing shoulder in their win over the Texans on Sunday. The Browns may have looked past the Texans after losing to the Chiefs in Week 1, yet they were still able to win by double digits. Mayfield seems to be good to go against the Bears, but Landry is definitely out. What remains to be seen is if Odell will be able to suit up for the first time this year as he has been out recovering from an ACL injury. There is reason to be optimistic of his triumphant return at a time with CLE could definitely use help at the WR position. Having the threat of Beckham should open up the run game for Chubb and Hunt, and vice versa.
Despite the dearth of WR depth, CLE makes their living on the ground, off of play action, and taking care of the ball. If Chicago can’t turn Cleveland over, they may be drawing dead. Both teams are in the top half of time of possession, so I expect a lower scoring, ball-controlled game. The team that wins the turnover battle, will win this game. I trust Mayfield’s accuracy to win both this Sunday.
LEAN CLE -7 (Teaser option)
Carolina Panthers @ Houston Texans
Carolina has been one of the most impressive teams and the biggest mover in my Power Ratings. Sam Darnold has been a reclamation project leading the Panthers to victory against his former team the New York Jets in Week 1. As if the opener wasn’t enough, the Panthers won by 19 points against a New Orlean Saints team coming off their own dominant performance in Week 1. Matt Rhule has a history of turning programs around in year 2. This team certainly looks to be trending positively.
On the other side of the ball, the Houston Texans were declared the worst team in the NFL to start the season. They dominated the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, much to the surprise of many, including myself. Tyrod Taylor had the Texans cooking and their defense looked willing to take the step above doormat level. Tragedy struck last week against Cleveland as Tyrod went down with an injury. Now the Texans turn to Davis Mills to continue the positive momentum.
A case can certainly be made that the Panthers should be a fade team. They exceeded expectations, are sitting fat and happy, and are playing a team they could be overlooking. But with the injury to Tyrod, the Texans have to feel deflated. Davis Mills is definitely not a starting quarterback despite being thrust into that role. On a shortened week against a defense that held Jameis Winston to just 111 yards, HOU doesn’t have the offensive prowess to keep pace with the Panthers.
BEST BET: BUF -1.5/CAR -2 @ Caesars (-110)
WEEK 3 BET REPORT:
We analyze our NFL Week 3 bets to identify if we have lost or gained value.
- NYG -2.5 (Lookahead Line): Giants are currently favored at -3 reduced juice, so we have a little value here. Russell Gage looks to be out for the Falcons, which adds some incremental value to the G-men. When we have 2 desperate 0-2 teams, I’d rather go for the one at home, if all things are equal. We have slight line value at the moment. I would not lay NYG -3 however.
- TB 8 / CLE -1.5 (Opening Line): Tampa Bay completely flipped favorites and now find themselves a -1.5 favorite over LAR in Week 3. We now have 3.5 points of line move, although it goes through 0, which has less value. Either way, we are sitting pretty. If the line moves even further, we may look to grab LAR in a teaser, as well. I expect a one-score contest between 2 teams I have in my top 5. The CLE line actually slipped against us as Landry was declared out for the contest. I’m curious if it goes back up to 7.5 if and when Odell Beckham is announced active. Regardless, I’m very comfortable with our position in this one and love our teaser.
- CIN/PIT U45.5 (Opening Line): This line has dropped 2 points almost across the board. With both teams relying on their defenses, the market expects this one to be a close contest. Barring something unforeseen, we should expect some solid CLV as this one hovers around 43.5 at the moment.
- CIN +4.5: We reacted expediently to the news that Big Ben was dealing with yet another injury (stop me if you’ve heard this before). With a couple of hours, the market has reset with PIT laying 3 with some extra vig. This is yet another contest where we find ourselves with great closing line value. If PIT kicks off at -3, we should consider it a victory even if CIN doesn’t cover. I wouldn’t be shocked if PIT does take some money before kick-off and closes at -3.5, however.
THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL PLAYER PROPS:
- Brandin Cooks OVER 4.5 Receptions @ Caesars (-150)
- Mark Ingram III UNDER 10.5 Longest Rush @ DraftKings (-110)
Many recreational bettors will be eager to bet on the weekend. However, if you are betting a side or a total on Sunday, then there is a good chance you are doing it wrong. Professional bettors and syndicates have been refining the line all week and, in Week 1's case, all summer. By game day, almost all value has dried up for sides and totals. However, there are still actionable opportunities that are available and ways to get at Week 1. There are derivative and prop markets that provide value and opportunities to fade the public.
COVID-19 BETTING OPPORTUNITIES
I mentioned previously that almost all of the value was dried up by the weekend, and I typically spend my Friday-Sunday scouring the player prop and derivative marketplace, nearly ignoring sides and totals.
However, as negatively impactful as COVID-19 has been in general, it can actually provide value throughout the week and even on game day. For instance, All-Pro Guard Zach Martin tested positive and will miss Thursday Night's contest. A lineman being scratched may not move the needle much (although in this particular instance with the skillset of the player, the health of Dak Prescott and the lack of continuity this offseason, I believe it is impactful), but imagine it was Tom Brady that was going to miss the game.
This line could immediately swing to a pick 'em. If you had your alerts set on your phone and got the news before the sportsbook could pull down the line, you would have a tremendous +EV bet.
If the sportsbooks beat you to the punch, however, that doesn't necessarily mean that you lost out on the opportunity. Some books may pull down the spread and total, but leave the derivative market open by mistake. Having multiple outs and shopping those lines can provide some of the best bets of the year.
Another area to attack is the player prop market. If a starting quarterback goes down, we can also expect the pass catchers' output to decrease. Maybe the air attack becomes a ground and pound. This would be a great opportunity to fade receivers and pound the running backs, especially in live prop betting. Some outlets let you bet on rushing attempts, as well as rushing yards, in this instance. If the defense knows the starting quarterback is out, then they will most likely look to stop the run, which may limit the production but not the opportunity of the running back. Playing over on rushing attempts would be more prudent than playing over on rushing yards. This is just a very specific/small example of how we can look to find an edge.
As the season progresses, we could also have certain states that limit the amount of fans at their stadiums. We will keep a close eye throughout the year and adjust our HFA when necessary on this.
The key to taking advantage of COVID-19 opportunities is being able to process the impact accurately, react expediently, and identify the best way to get down.
The Power Ratings may start the handicap, sure, but the situational factors will continue to refine the handicap as we construct it. Start with the Power Rated spread and then adjust for the following factors to determine your final game spread. These are key aspects we take into consideration each week at the Betting Predators when it comes to determining our most accurate power ratings and best edges for bets:
- Playing Styles
- Travel Distance
- Game Time
- Bye Weeks
- Days of Rest
- Divisional Games
- Letdown Spot
- Lingering Injury Concerns