Contest games worth a look

December 7, 2021 07:47 PM

The regression in contest play continued in NFL Week 13 as the leader in the Circa Millions is now down under 71 percent after being at 76 percent just three weeks ago. The leader in the Westgate SuperContest is at 68 percent. The Circa Millions top five consensus plays went 2-3 in Week 13, and those in the Westgate went 3-2. My guess is the winners of each contest will finish between 68 and 70 percent. With five weeks left in the contest season, if you are hovering in the low 60 percent neighborhood, you have a very good chance to cash a ticket. You’re very unlikely to grab an overall win but have a good shot at finishing in the money.

As we begin to make the final turn for home, remember these contests have three types of winners:

1. A winner everyone is on.

2. A winner nobody is on.

3. A winner that is the opposite side of what everyone is on.

Most importantly, one needs winning picks. Don’t overthink it and try to get too cute, looking to outsmart everyone with a contrarian move that turns out to be a stupid pick. But if you have conviction about plays you figure nobody will be on, or are the opposite side of what you guess everyone will be on, these are the most powerful winners for advancement up the leaderboard. It’s a tough balancing act, for sure, and a little luck goes a long way with these difficult decisions that will likely determine who cashes in and who does not.

When the pressure is at its height and a golfer is trying to hit a shot to win a tournament coming down the stretch on a Sunday, sticking to his pre-shot routine is paramount. The same holds true, I believe, in trying to win a football contest. A golfer might make adjustments — being more aggressive or more conservative with a shot — but once committed to the shot, the routine mustn’t change. Have a game plan, be decisive and execute the same way you have been for the last 13 holes — or weeks.

Here are three games that catch my eye early heading into Week 14:

Seattle Seahawks at Houston Texans (+ 8)

We often discuss underdogs that win outright the previous week and then move into the favorite’s role the next week. That applies to the Seattle Seahawks this week. I made this line 6.5 in favor of Seattle, and when I dove deeper into the numbers, I came up with the Seahawks -5.5. Seattle is in a division sandwich spot, having just beaten San Francisco and facing the Los Angeles Rams next week. The Seahawks also snapped a three-game losing streak with that win over the rival 49ers. Being better than a touchdown favorite on the road against the bottom-feeding Texans could be an easy spot for Seattle to overlook its opponent. The Seahawks rank dead last in the NFL in passing defense, and Houston is average at 15th in the league. Seattle also ranks 29th in sacks, so Houston should have time to throw and exploit that poor pass defense. It’s the proverbial “hold your nose” play here and pray the Texans show up on their home turf.

New York Giants (+ 10.5) at Los Angeles Chargers

Same situation here as the Chargers won outright as underdogs last week and are now installed as favorites — double-digit favorites, at that. The Chargers have been fickle all season, having lost two straight only once and putting together consecutive wins just once as well. If that pattern holds, they are due to slip this week at home. Giants running back Saquon Barkley has been held in check for the last three weeks, facing above-average defenses against the run in Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Miami. In the Chargers, he will go up against the 31st-ranked run defense in football. I made this number Chargers -6, and my deeper numbers crunch spits out Los Angeles -5.5. The Chargers are also nearly dead last in the league in third-down defense. New York is 10th in defensive passer rating and 10th in red-zone defense. Moving the ball on the ground and converting third downs combined with defending the red zone and holding Justin Herbert in check may be just enough to keep Big Blue inside this big number. Take that clothespin that was used to plug your nose for the early game in Houston and reapply it here for the late contest at SoFi Stadium.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings (-3)

This game is less about the numbers and more about the situation. I made the line 2.5 in favor of the Vikings, and that is what my stats crunch produces as well. Minnesota is coming off an awful loss to the Lions, Detroit’s first win of the season, and because of that, many bettors are probably very down on the Vikings. Conversely, the Steelers pulled off a comeback win over the rival Baltimore Ravens in very intense, dramatic fashion last week. Knee-jerk bettors are likely running to the window to back Pittsburgh and fade Minnesota. Not so fast, my friend. We know Steelers coach Mike Tomlin put a ton of effort into practice last week to get his team ready for that big game coming off a tie and two straight losses, the last an absolutely embarrassing 41-10 loss to Cincinnati, the largest margin of defeat in Tomlin’s career with Pittsburgh. Now the Steelers must catch their breath on a short week and get ready for a team that was also just embarrassed and whose coach, Mike Zimmer, finds his job hanging by a thread. Minnesota is the better team. The Vikings rank seventh in the league in yards per play to Pittsburgh’s 27th. I expect the Vikings to rebound and take advantage of a difficult situation for the Steelers.

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