If there was one right way to bet on sports then everybody would do it. While not every strategy is successful, winning handicappers are all looking for the same thing, a way to finish with a strong ROI (and, of course, a trusted sportsbook at which to place their wagers).
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 so that we have as firm a grasp as possible on all 32 teams.
The number of stunning results in Week 3 was, in a word, stunning. Underdogs not only covered 12 of 16 games, but won eight of them outright. That said, only one of the big upsets occurred on the road (New Orleans over Carolina). In addition to the shockers, there were close calls too. Green Bay, New England, and Philadelphia all barely survived inferior opponents at home. So where does that leave us in our tiers? Our philosophy is firmly to err on the side of caution and not overreact to the most recent results. Now that every team except Miami has played at least one home game and one road game, we are slightly reworking our groupings, but not in a dramatic way. Let’s look at the new tiers and find the best value bet for Week 4 action.
The Patriots have looked good in only one of three games and nearly losing at home to Houston and rookie QB Deshaun Watson is certainly a red flag. That said, they found a way to win, Houston does have a good defense, and Tom Brady was incredible leading New England on a game-winning drive to cap a five touchdown day. The Patriots have problems — especially with their own D — but the bottom line is they are 7/2 favorites to win the Super Bowl and and the big gap to the runners-up (Atlanta, Green Bay, and Pittsburgh at 10/1) is justifiable. This team has yet to play its best, but is still a near lock to win the AFC East, very likely to get a playoff bye, and filled with experienced veterans with winning pedigrees, not to mention helmed by the best coach the league has ever known. That’s how you get your own tier, even if the results haven’t been perfect thus far.
More than half of last week’s second tier has been dropped to make this the clear group of upper-echelon contenders. The league clearly has a vast middle right now, but the AFC West seems like the best division, and even though Pittsburgh and Green Bay weren’t good on Sunday, any reasonable accounting must recognize they are top-10 teams. Several third-tier squads could fit in this group, particularly the Seahawks, who remain 6/1 to win the NFC (level with Dallas). That said, Seattle has looked either bad or mediocre in all three of its games and has arguably the worst offensive line in the league, a problem that isn’t going to fix itself during the season. Every other team that is 20! or better to win the Super Bowl is in this elite group.
Here is that “vast middle” I was alluding to earlier. Tier 3 contains 19 of 32 teams. Interestingly, there is not a huge amount of debate to be had on this group. Chicago, Jacksonville, and the Rams have showed enough that it wouldn’t be a shock if they beat anyone else in this pack. The Bears, for example, have a win over Pittsburgh, a tight loss against Atlanta, and a stinker on the road at Tampa Bay. That’s the kind of inconsistency you can expect from the middle tier.
There are sure to be teams that move up and down as the weeks continue, but this tier is a case-in-point that the NFL is succeeding in its quest for parity.
Two of these four bottom feeders won in Week 3, and the other two easily could have. That said, the Colts and Browns played each other, while the Jets and Niners were at home against Tier 3 squads. Indy has moved into the bottom group because they clearly don’t belong with the middle teams. They played a tight game at home against Cleveland and, without Andrew Luck, are one of the worst teams in the league. Remember their blowout loss to the Rams, and home setback against Arizona? Even the tanking teams aren’t bad enough to play non-competitive contests each week, but they are indeed a step below the rest.
There are several games worth considering in Week 4 based on our tiers. Worthwhile options include well-rested Cincinnati (-3) at Cleveland, Miami (+3) versus New Orleans in London, and Pittsburgh (-2.5) at Baltimore. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a ton of success in Baltimore in the Ben Roethlisberger era, but the Ravens are travelling back from London, and therefore the Steelers are a bit more intriguing than normal.
There’s one game that stands out above the rest for us, and that’s Tennessee getting points in Houston. It’s difficult to understand why the Titans are the underdogs. The Texans got clobbered against the Jaguars at home, won 13-9 at Cincinnati, and gave away a win at New England on Sunday. After falling to Oakland in their opener, the Titans won big at Jacksonville and handled the Seahawks. They are the bet of the week at +1.5.
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