Week 9 was very solid for the market-makers and influential bettors as hot sides including the New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and Las Vegas Raiders came through with flying colors. The Colts were the only well-supported losers.
Significant moves in the totals market were also generally rewarded with Overs in Atlanta, Arizona and Kansas City as well as the Tampa Bay Under making it home comfortably. Middles landed for totals bettors in Minnesota, Jacksonville and Dallas after early action shaped those markets. The average total in the NFL continues to come in north of 51 points, while home-field advantage is MIA for the second straight season. The winning percentage for road teams is back up to 50.4% for 2020.
The current power numbers and rankings across the NFL are tabulated here. These are my rankings based on a weighted sum of offensive and defensive efficiency as measured by EPA per play, with offense up-weighted relative to defense and passing up-weighted relative to running. At this point in the season, 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 Week 10.
New Orleans Saints: “Sunday Night Football” was an all-time great performance by Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, so unsurprisingly they are the biggest movers as we head into Week 10. The Saints jump six spots to No. 5 in the NFL and would now be favored by 3.5 points over an average team on a neutral field. It was mentioned that New Orleans was the hot side heading into its Week 9 game, and we saw the moneyline price shorten Sunday from + 220 (break-even probability of 31.3%) to + 156 (39.1%).
Some of this was influenced by positive injury news for the Saints’ wide receiving corps, but it is increasingly likely that their slow start to the season was not a long-term signal and they are rounding into form as a top team team in the NFC that the preseason market expected. In the last two weeks we’ve seen their futures price to win the NFC come in from + 700 to + 300, and their Week 10 line hosting San Francisco has been adjusted up from -6.5 to -9.5, though some of this adjustment reflects a downgrade of the 49ers.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings move up for the second straight week. They’re now No. 13 in the NFL with a power number of + 2.5, a one-point increase. Their Week 9 market is complicated to evaluate because most of the movement was based on the incorrect speculation that Matthew Stafford of the Lions would be out when he was placed on the COVID list due to contact tracing. The result of their game is far less complicated to evaluate. They manhandled Detroit, particularly with their outstanding rushing attack, and as the young defense continues to improve, Minnesota can climb back into the playoff picture in the murky NFC. At first glance, it is shocking to see the Vikings as 2.5-point favorites trending toward 3 in Chicago for Week 10. This is a massive adjustment off the lookahead line of Chicago -2.5, and it is completely fair to wonder if the market has overreacted based on two straight solid performances. It will not be surprising if market support shows up for the Bears as “Monday Night Football” approaches.
Green Bay Packers: The Packers avenged their NFC title game embarrassment with a solid thumping of the beleaguered San Francisco 49ers in prime time Thursday. This superlative performance vaulted them up five spots to No. 4 in my power rankings with a + 4.0 advantage over an average team on a neutral field. The market has a very solid read on this team, and short of a surprising injury, I would expect Green Bay to stay relatively unchanged in this range for the rest of the season. The schedule gods have gifted the Packers with an extremely favorable path down the homestretch, and they will likely be favored in all eight upcoming games, beginning with a 14-point spread against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars this week.
My power numbers have only 10 points separating these teams, but a Florida-based squad with a rookie quarterback at Lambeau Field in November is one of the few cases in which I’m fine with a four-point adjustment for home-field advantage. Best of luck to whomever wants those points.
Honorable mention: The Giants earned a decent upgrade after completing the season sweep of the Washington Football Team. The Las Vegas Raiders also moved into the top half of the league after picking up a vital division win over the Chargers. The Raiders’ offense now ranks sixth in the NFL thanks to the newly aggressive play of quarterback Derek Carr.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Yikes. Tampa was outplayed in every phase Sunday night. While the focus is on Tom Brady’s abysmal performance, I am willing to ascribe some of that to the absence of All-Pro guard Ali Marpet, which allowed interior pressure, Brady’s known kryptonite. The much greater long-term concern is the defense. The unit looked completely unprepared to face Drew Brees and Sean Payton’s offense, an attack the Bucs play regularly, including once already this season. The Bucs’ efficiency was so poor it warped their statistical profile for the season and dropped them six spots to No. 8, with a downgrade from + 6.0 to + 3.5 in terms of power number. Barring a stumble by the Saints, the path through the playoffs now goes on the road for Tampa, which has significantly impacted its futures prices, fairly reflecting its diminished likelihood of making a run to the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers need help to realize the potential they showed earlier this season.
Indianapolis Colts: The soaring upgrade the Colts earned last week came crashing down as Indianapolis fell from No. 5 to No. 11 with its power number down to + 3.0. The Colts had significant market support in Week 9 against the Ravens. We saw their moneyline odds move from + 140 (41.7%) to -115 (53.5%), one of the most significant swings in implied win probability across the slate. The game was messy, and costly mistakes prevented the Colts from playing with a solid lead, which is where they are the most comfortable. The Ravens made superb halftime adjustments, and it became clear the Colts lack the means for a comeback against a top-tier team as they failed to mount a meaningful comeback. The Colts have moderate support again this week as they prepare to face the Titans on a short week, but I’ve seen enough. The Colts might make the playoffs, but they are not explosive or dynamic enough to compete with the elite teams in the AFC.
San Francisco 49ers: The defending NFC champs are practically unrecognizable this season due to cluster injuries across the roster. They’ve been the most volatile team in terms of power ranking, and the fall down the chart continues coming off their convincing loss to Green Bay. The 49ers slid four more spots to No. 19 and are now -1.0 in terms of power number. After two straight weeks of downgrades, one wonders if the bottom is in for San Francisco. But with help unlikely to come in the near term and the white-hot Saints on deck, little enthusiasm exists to buy low on the 49ers as the market quickly settled on + 9.5 as a fair price. The 49ers get a much-needed bye after this game, and then if players like Richard Sherman and George Kittle can return, San Francisco might trend back upward again.
Dishonorable mention: Despite their clear spot at the pinnacle of the power rankings, the Kansas City Chiefs earned a downgrade from + 9.5 to + 8.0 after displaying a pattern of playing down to their opponents and showing some cracks in the defense. Even after downgrading, the Chiefs are still three points clear of the next-best team. Speaking of the next-best team, the Seahawks hold on to an elite No. 2 ranking despite a downgrade after their defense was embarrassed in Buffalo. I’m willing to give Seattle a bit of a mulligan due to the terrible situational spot, but a loss to the Rams this week would precipitate a meaningful fall. The No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers also get a small downgrade after sleepwalking to a narrow win over the weak Cowboys.