NFL play in Week 12 was sloppy as penalties and turnovers were up, and we now have backup quarterbacks starting across nearly half the league. Road teams had a nice week, going 9-5 straight up and winning by 3.5 points on average, including two road teams winning on Thanksgiving. The average total in the NFL is settling in around 48 after reaching 51 earlier this season. Unders carried the day Sunday after both indoor games Thursday flew Over the total. Professional players and informational handicappers did well on the weekend, cornering New Orleans and the Under in the Denver quarterback debacle. Houston, New England, Carolina, Tennessee and San Francisco took late influential money and rewarded their backers. Las Vegas, Chicago and the Los Angeles Chargers were the hot sides that were letdowns in Week 12. The most interesting result of the week was the comeback cover by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were backed from + 3.5 to + 3 on the close, dug themselves a 17-point deficit and then came back to get inside the opener of + 3.5.
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. These rankings reflect a two-thirds weight on 2020 game data and one-third weight on the market consensus win total prior, generally. They also have been adjusted for known injuries as we head into the Week 13 slate. Notably the Giants, who replace Daniel Jones with Colt McCoy, face a reasonable downgrade.
MOVING ON UP!
The three biggest movers to the positive this week are Atlanta, Washington and Houston.
The market was lining up to fade the Falcons hosting the Raiders on Sunday, but the game played out with one-way action in favor of the underdogs. The moneyline for Atlanta was bet out from + 115 (46.5% break-even probability) to + 158 (38.8%) with the only injury news being Julio Jones ruled out midweek. It did not matter, as the Falcons went wire to wire, chalking up the most lopsided final score of the week at 43-6. Even in the win, there were characteristically poor red-zone possessions and play-calling decisions, but the Raiders put up their sloppiest performance of the season, which brings into question if the Falcons deserve as much credit as the Raiders deserve blame. Regardless, the Falcons move up from No. 18 to No. 16 in the NFL with a new power number of + 0.0, slightly better than league average. Fascinating market on deck for Week 13 as the Saints come to town and the Falcons again find themselves as 3-point home dogs.
Washington Football Team
There was fairly little market support for Washington on Thanksgiving, but the Football Team completed its season sweep of the Cowboys in impressive fashion, pulling clear in the second half after solid halftime adjustments. Washington is now 4-7 and tied atop a very poor NFC East and has by far the best overall point differential in the division at -2 for the season. On the back of the efficient performance, Washington earned a 3% upgrade in win probability against an average team. This brings it up to a 42% win probability on a neutral field, which equates to -3.0 power number, good for 24th in the NFL. The most shocking development is that through 12 weeks, the Washington defense is now the sixth-most efficient in the league. Washington will host the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 13, which will be its toughest test of the season.
The Texans drew significant support in Week 12 at the Lions, largely based on the Lions’ injury report, but clearly the market has developed some respect and affinity for how well Deshaun Watson is playing. The Texans defense did its job creating turnovers, and Houston’s offense was efficient, especially the passing offense. That earned the Texans a 2.4% upgrade in win probability over an average team, which moved them to 46% (a little better than a 7-9 team). This is close to what was expected of the Texans before the season, so it has staying power in terms of their market rating. However, it will be tested with two games to come against the Colts and the loss of Will Fuller, their No. 1 wide receiver, to suspension. Outside of the top-five quarterback play from Watson, the Texans are still a high-volatility team and will be downgraded quickly if they regress to their early-season form in the absence of their key passing game weapon.
Green Bay and Tennessee get small upgrades based on solid performances. Jacksonville was much more competitive than expected with Mike Glennon at quarterback and also earned a small bump.
SLIP-SLIDING AWAY ...
The three biggest losers of the week were Las Vegas, the Los Angeles Rams and Denver.
Las Vegas Raiders
After several weeks of solid play capped by a near-upset of the mighty Chiefs, the Raiders laid an egg on the road, out of conference as 3.5-point favorites against the Falcons. The Falcons earned a 3% upgrade, but the bigger story was the Raiders’ futility, which resulted in a 6.7% downgrade for them. Nothing went right for the Raiders, and I fully expect a bounce-back game this week at the Jets. But in the meantime they slide four slots to No. 18, putting them slightly below the average team with a power number of -1.0. The defense is clearly the problem as it ranks 28th in the NFL, while the offense flies high at No. 10. It’s a decent buy-low spot for a team with a manageable schedule and an offense that is good enough to make the playoffs, assuming the defense can show some improvement.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are another potential buy-low coming off a tough loss against the 49ers. Sean McVay has consistently failed to get his offense going against the 49ers, and this was a potentially costly loss as they dropped a game back in the tight NFC West standings. The Rams slide two spots to No. 9 overall with an adjusted power number of + 2.5. As with most of their losses this season, the blame for the underwhelming performance falls at the feet of the offense, which is 22nd in the NFL and needed a score from the NFL’s No. 1 defense to even be in the game Sunday. Thankfully for the Rams, while they have struggled to find an answer for the 49ers, they have consistently throttled the Cardinals under McVay and they head to the desert as small favorites.
The Broncos game was a one-off and shouldn’t dramatically change their market number because it is unlikely they will have to go into a game with no quarterbacks again this season. But they continue to suffer key losses on both sides of the ball and draw the Chiefs on the road on “Sunday Night Football,” which likely will extend the nightmare that has been their 2020 season. Based on the numbers, their offense slides to No. 31 in the NFL, but their defense remains respectable at No. 9. Given that the number has been bet out to + 14 for their game in Kansas City, the Broncos might also be a buy-low candidate this week.
Indianapolis, Dallas and Detroit took meaningful steps backward. All three could point to injuries, and these teams will need healthy bodies to right the ship. Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Chargers also performed below expectation and were docked to the tune of 1.5% win probability against an average team.