Tiering teams is a tactic my dad has used for years. It helps bettors fit each squad within the big picture of the league as a whole. When teams in the same tier face each other, you should consider taking points if the spread is more than a field goal. When teams in different tiers match up, you should strongly consider laying points if the spread is under a touchdown. As for the tiers, themselves, that is where the work comes in. Each week, minor adjustments are made from the week prior (see the up/down arrows) so that we have as firm a grasp as possible on all 32 teams.
Below, we first tier the league and then look at the best ATS plays, based on those tiers, for the upcoming week.
There are minor tweaks to the tiers this week, with the Giants falling all the way to the bottom, and Carolina and Indianapolis moving up. Several teams are on the cusp of Tier 1, but we are waiting for a little more evidence. Keep a close eye on teams who have been playing either a very weak, or really strong slate. Bounce backs and returns to reality are often relatively easy to predict and can be profitable.
As always, the new tiers (post-Week 10) are below, followed by the best value bets for Week 11 based on the current tiers.
This foursome has occupied the top tier for a few weeks. Seattle threatened to join the group a couple weeks back but then lost at home to Washington. Dallas has looked good enough at times, but has endured several stumbles and is now dealing with multiple significant absences. Meanwhile, the Rams, Saints, and Vikings are just downright challenging to categorize. Los Angeles is 7-2 but has played the second-easiest schedule in the league. Their NFL-leading 19 takeaways is likely unsustainable and beating the decaying carcasses of the Giants and Texans the last two weeks is not enough to call them elite.
New Orleans has won seven straight, but none of those wins have come against playoff locks, and at least three of their opponents (Bears, Dolphins, Bucs) are going nowhere. Their best win is either at Carolina or home against the Lions. Those teams are solid, but not spectacular.
The kill-list for the 7-2 Vikings is even less impressive. Their only quality win was the season opener against the Saints, unless you count last week on the road in Washington. A 14-7 home loss to the Lions stands out.
This trio of teams could easily move up in the next couple weeks, as Minnesota hosts the Rams this Sunday, and New Orleans is in LA in Week 12. But until we see those games, our lead quartet remains unchanged.
The main questions with this tier are: (a) Do the Cowboys still belong? And (b) should Carolina have been moved up to this spot?
The Cowboys are 5-4 after getting dominated in Atlanta last week. Dallas was without arguably the best offensive linemen in the NFL (injured tackle Tyron Smith) and suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott. They also lost the lynchpin of their defense (linebacker Sean Lee) early in the game. Given that Elliott won’t be back for five more weeks and Smith and Lee could both miss more time, Dallas barely remains in Tier 2 for now.
The Panthers have flaws, and have been known to throw in a clunker, but their defense is strong, they have solid road wins over New England and Detroit, and two of their three losses came against the Saints and Eagles. They deserve to be here.
It is incredibly tempting to move 3-6 Denver down. However, should they be below a middling Chargers team that they have split two games with? The Broncos have dropped five straight, but no team in the NFL will play a more difficult three-game slate than Denver’s last three contests: at Kansas City, at Philadelphia, and home against New England. That said, if the Broncos lose to Cincinnati this week, they’ll immediately be moved down.
When the Giants lost seven of eight games to begin the year, they plummeted down our tiers. Still, there was reason to think they weren’t that bad based on their results from Week 7 to Week 9: a win at Denver, and losses against the Seahawks and Rams. But after getting beaten soundly in San Francisco, they have dropped all the way to the bottom. With games against the Chiefs, Cowboys, and Eagles still on the docket, it’s hard to imagine New York showing much improvement.
Meanwhile, the Colts past three games — close losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati sandwiching a win at Houston — are enough to move them up to this group.
Here we have the race for the first-overall draft pick. The Browns are winless, and their best chance for a W is either Baltimore at home in Week 15 or at Chicago in Week 16. The 49ers are coming off their first victory, and also have a date in the Windy City. The 1-8 G-men have two meetings left with Washington and a trip to Arizona as their best bets for a second win.
While there is a debate to be had about what tier the Saints should be in, Washington is perfectly respectable. They’ve lost three of four, but those games have been against the Eagles, Cowboys, Seahawks, and Vikings. Getting more than a TD with a squad that has wins over the Rams and Seahawks this year has some appeal.
One other lines that seems just a bit off are the Broncos laying less than a field goal at home against the Bengals. The Broncos have played a monster slate, and now find a soft spot to get well. But that game doesn’t quite crack our list.
Featured photo: Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC License]
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