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. 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 so that we have as firm a grasp on all 32 teams as possible.
One of the biggest mistakes that bettors make is succumbing to recency bias, i.e. overreacting to what they saw most recently. We all watched the Patriots lose to Kansas City on Thursday at home. That doesn’t mean KC is better, or even as good as New England. The Pats were roughly 3/1 to win Super Bowl 52 before Week 1, and now are 9/2. The Packers are currently second at 7/1. Our tiers this week remain very much based on preseason expectations, last year’s results, and off-season moves, with a very small dose of what we saw in Week 1 mixed in. Remember, the Eagles and Vikings were the best two teams in the NFL last year on October 1. Neither made the playoffs.
The Pats were on their way to a 14-0 lead on Thursday but failed to convert several short third and fourth-down opportunities. The defense was weak down the stretch (giving up 21 unanswered in the fourth quarter) and New England ultimately fell 42-27 at home to Kansas City, suffering several injuries in the process.
Here’s why you shouldn’t panic: (1) Linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s injury looks like it isn’t serious, and that is huge; he’s the heart of that defense, which is better than it showed on Thursday, ranking first in the league in scoring just last season (15.6 PPG). (2) Tight End Rob Gronkowski will not be shadowed by a player as good as Eric Berry the rest of the season.
Yes, the Super Bowl champs are 0-1, but their level of talent is enormous, and we’ll start doubting Bill Belichick and Tom Brady if they string together six bad weeks, not one. (Anyone recall this 2014 game? Guess who won the Super Bowl that year. Hint: it wasn’t Alex Smith and the Chiefs.) As we head into Week 2, recognize that the Bills are leading the AFC East. Like the Cubs, New England could be bad in the regular season, win their division, and be very dangerous come playoff time.
It is very tempting to split this category after developments in Week 1. Arizona played poorly in Detroit and lost running back David Johnson. The Bengals were horrible against Baltimore. Houston looked like the worst team in the league falling at home to Jacksonville. Meanwhile, the Chiefs, Raiders, Packers, Eagles, and Vikings were impressive. Again, that was one week. Though a reasonable person could break this tier up right now, we prefer a steady hand, and we have reasons to like the team’s in this group. We will start making more significant adjustments after a second look.
Three of five teams in this group won, and the Bears had every opportunity down the stretch to beat NFC Champ Atlanta. Before the season, the Colts might have been in Tier 2, but without Andrew Luck, they aren’t just bad, they are terrible. All that said, most of these teams aren’t really trying to win the Super Bowl this year. The Rams are allowing Jared Goff to learn on the fly; Chicago lost Kevin White and Jerrell Freeman in Week 1 and are just waiting to hand the reins to Mitchell Trubisky; Jacksonville saw top receiver Allen Robinson go down and continues to be a work in progress; while the Bills merely beat the awful Jets and are still planning on a rebuild and angling for a high pick in the 2018 draft. Rating any franchise in this group too strongly is ill advised.
This trio did not embarrass themselves during the Opening Week, though none came overly close to winning either. All three are committed to losing in the short-term to get the best draft picks and rebuild as quickly as possible. They will alternate between competitive weeks and blow outs. Unless Deshone Kizer is special, these three will likely remain in the bottom tier all season.
If you can get the Patriots at -6.5 against New Orleans, it is worth a serious look. New England has a long week to prepare and will be seriously motivated, while the Saints played on Monday night and, once again, looked awful on defense.
Cincinnati and Houston are in the same tier and the Texans have, historically, given the Bengals all sorts of problems. Taking the Texans +5 on Thursday is reasonable, but approach with caution: it is a short week, they’re on the road, and rookie Deshaun Watson is making his first career start. Some of the same concerns apply to both Philly +4.5 at Kansas City and Minnesota +6.5 at Pittsburgh. It isn’t advisable to take teams on short weeks on the road.
Detroit fits our formula, sitting at +4 against the Giants on Monday. But, for my money (so to speak), Miami +4.5 at the Chargers looks like the best bet outside of New England. Los Angeles is on a short week, and the Fins had last week off. (I delve deeper into why Miami is a good play right here.)
Best bets of Week 2:
Featured photo: By Paul Keleher (via Wikimedia Commons [CC License]).
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