It was fascinating Week 8 overall in the NFL. The weather-predicting market-makers were well rewarded with speculation on the impact of wind across the Midwest as numerous totals were bet down between three and seven points. Four of the five games circled came in Under their opening totals -- in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Green Bay and Buffalo. Chicago would have made it a clean sweep for the opening-line Under bettors had Cairo Santos not sent the game into overtime with a 51-yard field goal at the end of regulation.
The late steam on the Unders did not fare nearly as well with Cincinnati, Green Bay and Buffalo landing squarely in the middle, over their closing totals. Quarterback injuries for San Francisco, Dallas and Jacksonville are the most significant impacts to team power numbers this week based on the adjustments between the lookahead lines and the openers.
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 generally reflect a two-thirds weight on 2020 game data and one-third weight on the market consensus win total prior. They have also been adjusted for known injuries as we head into Week 9.
Moving on up!
The three biggest movers to the positive this week are Minnesota, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
Minnesota Vikings: After the shocking upset in Green Bay, the Vikings have moved up five slots to No. 14 with a power number of + 1.5, meaning we would expect Minnesota to be favored by 1.5 points against an average NFL team on a neutral field. Much of this adjustment is a return to the preseason for the Vikings, who were expected to win 8.5 games. This move was supported by the return of Dalvin Cook to full strength as well as the emergence of their strong rookie class, whose inexperience likely shaded the team’s perception during its slow start. The Vikings were a strongly backed team coming off their bye in the matchup against Green Bay, and with that support being rewarded, this is likely a move that has staying power as we head into the second half of the season.
Indianapolis Colts: As short road favorites in Detroit coming off their bye, the Colts were well supported by the market in Week 8. We saw the moneyline for the Colts get bet out from -149 (break-even probability of 59.8%) to -190 (65.5%) on Sunday morning. This move was in some ways influenced by the return of star defensive playmaker Darius Leonard as well as a reasonable sell-high spot for the Detroit Lions. Indianapolis’ outstanding performance Sunday solidified the positive trending opinion of the Colts as they moved from No. 10 to No. 5 with an improvement in their power number from + 3.0 to + 4.0. Early money in the market is backing Indianapolis again in Week 9 as the Colts take on their most difficult opponent to date, the Baltimore Ravens. The opening spread of Ravens -4 is currently -3 marketwide.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals were not considered especially likely to upset the visiting Titans on Sunday as their moneyline was one-way action away from Cincinnati from + 214 (31.8%) to + 281 (26.2%). With Cincinnati having suffered a cluster injury to its offensive line, the movement was unsurprising. However, the replacement-level players fared well, and the result was a solid win for the young team, which has moved up to No. 25 and now has a market rating of -3.0, up from -3.5 before Week 8. With their bye in Week 9, this perception of the Bengals has lasting potential, as the market now views the Bengals as a team that can compete with the middle of the pack and should defeat the bottom tier of teams on any given week.
Honorable mention: The New Orleans Saints and the Las Vegas Raiders are on the rise after road wins in challenging conditions. The market opinion of New Orleans is especially worth watching because its preseason prior was among the highest in the league, and the Saints will reintegrate healthy wide receivers in the coming weeks. The Steelers did not get an upgrade despite their win in Baltimore. Even though it was a high-leverage game and they are now primed to compete for the top seed in the AFC, their performance was lackluster compared with the rest of their 2020 showing from an efficiency standpoint.
The three biggest losers of the week were San Francisco, Detroit and the Los Angeles Rams.
San Francisco 49ers: The season is on the brink for the 49ers, who have lost All-Pro TE George Kittle and starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo, likely for the rest of the campaign. They are the 18th and 19th players added to injured reserve for San Francisco, which is on the wrong end of historically bad injury luck after its Super Bowl run. Heading into Week 8, the 49ers were ferociously backed on the road against the Seattle Seahawks. Their moneyline was bet from a high of + 149 (40.2%) to + 100 (50.0%) at the close. Injuries aside, the 49ers were not especially competitive in that game, and without their key pieces, they have been downgraded from ninth to 15th, with their power number down from + 3.5 to + 1.0. The market has reopened for their Thursday night contest against Green Bay (Packers -2.5 was the previous consensus and now has been adjusted to -4). But this ranking could fall even further as the market continues to evaluate the strength of this beleaguered team.
Detroit Lions: Just when it looked like the Lions had turned their season around, they put together their worst performance of the year with a staggering -0.20 EPA per play at home while at relatively full strength. One week after reaching league-average status, the Lions are back down six slots to No. 24 with the 20th-ranked offense and 28th-ranked defense. Their power number is down to -3.0, and they would be expected to win only 43% of the time against a league-average team. Early indications suggest few if any players are interested in backing the Lions this week, with their spread for Week 9 against the Vikings having been bet out from + 3 to + 4 since opening Sunday night. This suggests the downgrade has staying power.
Los Angeles Rams: The Rams were apparently due for regression, as most of the betting community believed their 2020 efficiency through seven weeks had outpaced their true power rating. The situation was far from ideal for Los Angeles in Week 8, given how much it has been asked to travel this season, but the Rams were not competitive against a Dolphins team that started a rookie quarterback and failed to generate much offense. It is difficult to pinpoint whether the betting activity that pushed down the Rams’ moneyline from -211 (67.8%) to -173 (63.4%) was based on the situational spot or reflected a downgrade of the Rams. They did not live up to their previous top-5 ranking and have slid three spots to No. 8. The Rams’ power number has been downgraded accordingly from + 5.0 to + 3.0 as they head into their bye.
Dishonorable mention: In addition to the Rams falling out of the top tier of NFL teams, the Packers have also fallen to the second tier of contenders in the NFC with their blazing 4-0 start seeming like a mirage. The Ravens were nearly in the bottom three in terms of downgrade, as their passing offense continues to underwhelm the lofty preseason expectations. They are now the 23rd-best offense in the NFL in terms of efficiency. Despite blowing a 21-point lead in Denver, the Chargers’ statistics actually supported an upgrade, and they continue to be the most significant underperformers in the win column relative to their team strength, which is an indictment of their coaching but also may regress as the season continues.