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.
It is roughly the midway point in the NFL’s regular season, and slowly but steadily things are becoming more clear. Our top tier continues to feel right and remains unchanged from last week. However, the huge cluster in Tier 2 has now divided. A few weeks ago, it was difficult to separate Denver from Dallas or Miami from Minnesota. Now it’s obvious that six of the 19 teams who were in Tier 2 last week are a cut above the rest. They’re not elite, and they don’t deserve Tier 1 status. But, for example, New Orleans is clearly better at this point than their NFC South rivals Carolina and Atlanta.
Don’t be mistaken about the gap between those teams, though. Our new Tier 3 includes squads that are good enough to compete with anybody on any given week, but it would be a surprise to see them at U.S. Bank Stadium in February.
This exercise always errs on the side of caution when moving squads. But we can finally say that we have a decent grasp on most teams and, ergo, we can confidently move teams without feeling like it’s an overreaction to last week’s results.
As always, the new tiers (post-Week 8) are below, followed by the best value bets for Week 9 based on the current tiers.
These remain the four best teams in the league. It is tempting to include Seattle, particularly after the team acquired OT Duane Brown, but they have not separated from the Rams. LA and Seattle played a tight game in Week 5. Either or both may move up to the elite class at some point, but the Seahawks need to handle their business against Washington, Arizona, Atlanta, and San Francisco before a showdown with Philly in Week 13.
This sixsome worked its way free of the massive middle with strong showings the last couple weeks, and they should all be favored against the Tier 3 teams on a neutral field. All six are capable of beating Tier 1 teams, but appear a small step inferior at this point.
My faith in the Vikings and Saints is not as strong as the rest of the group. Both have great records and deserve to be here, but Minnesota’s four-game winning streak has come against mediocre or worse competition, and it is unclear if New Orleans has fixed their defensive issues. That unit has been much better than the historically bad defense we’ve seen the last couple seasons, but it’s also very turnover dependent at this point, and that’s not usually sustainable. (Also looking at you here, Buffalo.) Unfortunately, New Orleans’ next two games (vs Tampa; at Buffalo) may not give us a firmer answer, as both of those offenses have significant deficiencies.
Here we have the average teams. While they all have down-arrows next to their names, that’s a bit misleading. We don’t really think worse of most compared to last week, but they didn’t do enough to be lumped in with our new-look Tier 2.
Several of these squads will move up or down a level over the remainder of the season. For instance, with Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are obviously a Tier 2 team at worst.
It is easy to hate the Broncos at this stage, but remember they dominated the Cowboys and still have the key pieces from a once-impenetrable defense. If they can find average quarterback play, they are middling at worst.
In Week 8, the Tier 4 teams ran the gamut from great (Ravens) to mediocre (Bengals, Jets) to awful (Bucs, Dolphins). That said, it would surprise nobody if the Fins bounced back from their shutout loss to Baltimore with a solid effort against Oakland on Sunday. It also shouldn’t be a surprise if the Ravens lay a complete egg in Tennessee, since that 40-0 rout of Miami included multiple defensive touchdowns.
At bottom, these clubs lack consistency, and have no real reason for (excessive) optimism. The fact that they are competitive against higher-ranked teams some weeks makes them frustrating to wager on (or against). I have the least confidence in predicting the performances of this group.
The 49ers are a lot more interesting with Jimmy Garoppolo but that doesn’t make them anything other than hopeful for 2018. He won’t start in Week 9 and likely won’t be a huge difference-maker for the remainder of the year as Kyle Shanahan slowly works his new franchise pivot into the offense.
The Colts were more competitive than expected last week. Cleveland remains Cleveland; they might get their own tier soon.
This is a “be cautious” sort of week. While there are spreads that fit our formula, you’re looking a couple half-point edges. Carolina is laying less than a field goal at home against Atlanta, their Tier 3 brethren, so the Panthers have slight value. The same is true for the Packers, who are getting 2.5-points at Lambeau against Detroit on Monday Night Football. I understand that it’s tough to have faith in the Rodgers-less Packers, but they are worth a small investment. The offense should only improve as Brett Hundley gets more reps with the first team, and you’ve seen flashes (most in preseason) that portend better things to come for the UCLA product. The Packers will also have the edge of playing at Lambeau Field, which provides one of the best home-field advantages in the league.
The Bills, Raiders, and Rams also merit consideration as small road chalk, but generally professional gamblers stay away from short road favorites and prefer home teams when the spread is a field goal or less.
Featured photo: Cam Newton Under Pressure. Photo by Keith Allison via Flickr [CC License] via Wikimedia Commons
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