Ready, Set, WEEK 1!!!
NFL Pools are a great hobby. Getting lost in the data for fantasy, spreads, season win totals, and on and on is wonderful work to me. In preparation for NFL week 1 survivor pools, which can be brutal, let's use sportsbook.ag's recent season win totals (from Sunday Sept. 2, 2018) to take a brief snapshot of each game.
With all the potential changes in the offseason, I am assuming a win total this close to game 1 generally (not exactly, but generally) represents what the market feels about each team this season. A mere guidepost for which games to look into more or begin to eliminate (and thus save us some time! This blog does have Industrial Engineering aspects to it after all).
To begin, here is each team's season win total, their week 1 opponent, and the difference between the team's total and their opponent's (green means a good match-up for the team in the first column):
This quick approach yields 8 games where there is greater than 1.5 season wins between the two teams ( I chose 1.5, its arbitrary based on my gut feel):
Buf @ Bal -> Bal 2.5 (NOT a Spread, but difference in win totals)
Chi @ GB -> GB 3.5
JAC @ NYG -> JAC 2
LAR @ Oak -> LAR 2.5
SF @ Min -> Min 2
Hou @ NE -> NE 3
TB @ NO -> NO 3
Pit @ Cle -> Pit 5
Pit stands out as 5 game difference and in all likelihood will smash the browns, but NOT SO FAST MY FRIENDS! Pit is loaded and even starts the year with the highest Super Bowl projection on FootballOutsiders.com (great site, it will make you smarter). I am not a huge fan of a taking a Pit team that drops one dumb game a year, that has new coordinators on both sides of the ball, and is playing a good defense. The spread is Pit -4.5, and if possible, I recommend staying away.
NE and Min
Along the lines of Pit mentioned above, NE and Min are both simply better than their respective opponents but there are concerning issues (which is a common thread in NFL survivor pools; each week is a lesser of two evils decision).
Starting with NE, the are obviously good but their D may not be. I am a Lions fan from youth and the Matt Patricia hiring scares the hell out of me (Warren Sharp's analysis says it all regarding total points versus efficiency). I am a bit concerned that this turns into another 36-33 game, like last year when Watson went to NE in only his second start. A coin flip of who has the ball last I something I would rather avoid (although Bellichek knows a thing or two about that...), but it may be worth one or two pending how many picks you have / pool-rules.
Like NE, Min is playing a team that did is full of optimism after a huge upgrade at QB came through last year. SF is still not a great overall team and the Min -6.5 is higher than the NE -6. When Kyle Shanahan was with Atl, they took a huge leap in year 2 (Ryan's MVP season). Min is good but we don't exactly know if SF will be below, above, or simply average this year. I can't disagree with taking them, but will stay away if I can and learn more about SF.
JAX and LAR
Take road teams at your own risk in week 1. JAX is praying to get out to a big lead and a favorable game script (Bortles may be there weakness but come on... GO KNIGHTS!!!). It's a 3 point spread for a reason, it'll be tight and expect to sweat ("hold on to your butt" pick of the week: jags -3)
I feel more confident with LAR, but then again, it's the opening MNF game, LAR is on the road, and it's that weird LAR -5 "Vegas-zone" line. Maybe the Oak fanbase will cheer on the Rams in protest to the Mack trade and in pre-protest of the Vegas move.
Speaking of Mack. As a Lions fan who knows there O-line is perennially bad, I'm not thrilled he is coming to the NFC North. I imagine Rodgers isn't either. Even with the recent addition, Rodgers is awesome at home (worth dividing into that statement sometime later; I wonder if it's simply a small sample size / misnomer that his stats are much better in Lambeau).
With a line of GB -7.5 and thought that Chi will need time to gel, it's hard to argue a GB pick.
Bal and NO
Bal (-7) hosts Buffalo and NO (-9.5) hosts TB. These games are worth more detailed analysis but to keep it short. I recommend both of them, with a lean towards NO as the top choice of the week.
This is more of a fade Buffalo and TB pick, although we know NO is good and I think Bal is solid (outside of Flaco). FootballOutsiders.com's DVOA (thanks to Aaron Schatz) puts these four teams' 2018 win total projections as:
NO - 9.4
Bal - 8.4
TB - 7.0
Buf - 5.4
A 2.5 and 3 game difference between the two games (weird how that is similar to the season win total differences; caution: risk of circular logic). FO's projections tend to stay conservative, in the 7 to 9 win range, which is telling that TB is on the low-end and even more telling for Buf's 5.4.
With NO being in a tough division and this being the chance to use them in a home game against a far inferior opponent (who is playing their backup QB in Fitzpatrick), I recommend NO as the top survivor / suicide pick on the week. Baltimore is the #2 pick due to playing a weaker AFC schedule (NFC projected to be much more competitive).
What do you think?