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Surprise! Jets join teams on the rise

By Drew Dinsick  () 

NFL road teams continued to struggle in Week 11, going 4-9 against the spread and straight up. Sunday’s early games were almost a clean sweep for the Unders outside of the one overtime game in Baltimore. The hot sides did not fare well overall. Atlanta, Philadelphia and Green Bay were road dogs that saw decent action as the markets closed, and all three failed to win or cover. Market makers in the totals pools had a slightly better week with the Overs in Baltimore and Minnesota coming in after seeing strong support, while the Under in New Orleans was clearly the right side. The move down from 51 to 49 was justified. 

The current power numbers and rankings across the NFL are tabulated here. These are my rankings based on a weighted sum of offense and defensive efficiency as measured by EPA per play, with offense up-weighted relative to defense and passing up-weighted relative to running. These rankings reflect a two-thirds weight on 2020 game data and one-third weight on the market consensus win total prior, generally. They have also been adjusted for known injuries as we head into the Week 12 slate. The Bengals, who lost QB Joe Burrow for the season, are facing the steepest injury downgrade. 

  

Moving On Up!

The three biggest movers to the positive this week are New Orleans, the New York Jets and Pittsburgh.

New Orleans Saints: No Brees, no problem. The Saints put away the Falcons in dominant fashion Sunday. The defense for New Orleans continues to surge. Over the last four weeks it ranks No. 1 in the NFL, narrowly beating Pittsburgh and the Los Angeles Rams in defensive efficiency, conceding -0.218 expected points per play, while facing a more difficult schedule of offenses. The Taysom Hill experiment was not spectacular, but clearly the supporting cast on offense is so talented that clean play is still good enough to help the Saints beat the average teams in the league. The market was down on the Hill decision as Atlanta was strongly supported until kickoff, and it appears skepticism is still alive as the Saints head to Denver. We’ve seen the opening -6s bet down to -5.5 at the high-limit shops. A Saints team with a healthy Drew Brees would be the clear No. 3 at this time, but even with Hill at the helm, the Saints move up to No. 8 overall.

New York Jets: The Jets had nowhere to go but up, and they still have yet to record a win. But they are competing, and with a healthy set of weapons in the passing game and their offensive line finding some cohesiveness, they deserve an upgrade from historically bad to just bad. The Jets are still the No. 32 team in the NFL based on their full-season resume, but their recent efficiency has seen them upgraded from 17% win probability against an average team several weeks ago to 23% as we head into Week 12. Over the last four games, the Jets are league-average on offense with an EPA per play of 0.049, which is good for No. 16 in the NFL. The market has been looking for opportunities to buy low on this team all season, and we see the line for the Week 12 game hosting Miami at + 7.0, the shortest line we’ve seen for the Jets going back to Week 4. All the gains in the eyes of the market will be quickly lost if the Dolphins win convincingly, but sentiment remains that New York will eventually win this season and its reasonable opportunities to do so are running out.

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Chiefs remain No. 1 in power rank, earning 8.0 points over an average team on a neutral field. The Steelers, however, are closing the gap and distinguishing themselves as the clear No. 2 with a power number of 5.5 points over an average team on a neutral field. The last two weeks have seen them face truly inferior competition, but the Steelers have maintained focus and put forward solid efforts despite the talent gap, which is a credit to their coaching and their locker-room leadership. Their unblemished record and their remaining schedule set up well to give the Steelers the inside track for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, which would make the handicap for a potential Kansas City-Pittsburgh championship game very exciting. The market is high on Pittsburgh again this week for its rematch with the Baltimore Ravens. This has more to do with the Ravens’ injuries and player availability than it does upgrades on the Steelers, but nonetheless a win and cover in prime time on Thanksgiving would likely signal the top of the betting market for Pittsburgh in the coming weeks. 

Honorable Mention: Shuffling occurred at the top of the power rankings below the top two. Seattle, Indianapolis and Tennessee picked up impressive wins and moved up. Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Baltimore conceded ground. Denver also surged two spots off its home upset of Miami.

Slip-Sliding Away ...

The three biggest losers of the week were Cincinnati, Atlanta and Miami.

Cincinnati Bengals: The headlines are fairly focused on the loss of No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow for the season after his horrific knee injury. The downgrade to Ryan Finley is sizable, and to make matters worse, Finley will line up behind the worst offensive line in football and will generally be dealing with deficits as the Bengals defense has fallen to 25th in the NFL. With a healthy downgrade to the offense, the Bengals fall to 30th overall and would be 5.0-point underdogs to an average team on a neutral field. Interestingly, the Bengals find themselves as 5.0-point dogs at home to the Giants in Week 12. Given that New York is not an above-average team, the market is even cooler on the Bengals than my numbers would suggest. A poor performance by Finley would likely find them grading near or below the Jets next week in the eyes of the market. 

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons came off their bye with a thud. A promising resurgence was soured with an abysmal performance against the division rival Saints, who were missing their most important piece in Brees. The Falcons had their worst offensive showing of the season, which forced them out of the top 10 to 14th. Their defense remains poor at 20th and their overall rank has fallen to 18th, as they would be 1.0-point underdogs to an average team on a neutral field. The market was quick to adjust them down heading into their Week 12 contest against the Las Vegas Raiders. The lookahead line for this game was pick-’em and now sits at + 3 marketwide. It will be fascinating to see if Falcons support re-enters the market this week after getting torched in Week 11. Surely there is line value at + 3, but will anyone be willing to take it?

Miami Dolphins: A somewhat predictable letdown spot was in play for Miami in Week 11. On the heels of a solid winning streak against tough competition, the Dolphins struggled in all three phases against a Denver team without much to play for. Surely the altitude had an impact, and some gaps in the defense were well exploited by Denver. But a longer-term problem may exist with this offense, which keeps them from reaching their potential this season. The inefficient performance dropped the Miami offense to No. 22 in the NFL, with Tua Tagovailoa being benched based on his performance woes. A similar overall downgrade is warranted for Miami as it falls below average and would now be a 1.0-point underdog to an average team on a neutral field. Miami heads on the road again to face the Jets in what will be a decisive get-right game for the offense or a clarifying outcome that solidifies Miami as a below-average team. 

Dishonorable Mention: Baltimore is falling fast with no end in sight as the Ravens face the rival Steelers on Thursday night. Numerous unavailable players have put this game, and the Ravens’ season, in the balance. Minnesota took an enormous step backward, losing at home to the Cowboys as a touchdown favorite. The Vikings slide two spots to No. 13.

 

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