• Bet Seahawks (+180) at Saints: Seattle can stay on pace and pull upset against the struggling Saints defense that played overseas in Week 4.
• Bet Bengals +3.5 at Ravens: Inconsistent offenses create variance, making it sensible to take a Bengals team that has defended Lamar Jackson well.
• New users who bet $10 or more at BetMGM will receive a free year’s subscription to PFF+ — a $79.99 value.
Last updated: Wed. Oct. 5, 2:00 p.m.
Estimated reading time: 8 mins
Roughly one-third of all games in the NFL are won by the underdog. This means that on any given Sunday, we would expect roughly five or six underdogs to win outright. The hard part, of course, is figuring out before the fact which teams will manage to upset their opponent.
Last Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs won as underdogs, exactly hitting the expectation of six underdog wins. Obviously, the expectation of the number of underdogs wins can vary from week to week.
When the Bucs are playing the Chiefs, and the Bears are playing the Giants — as happened last week — we are basically expecting that one of the two underdogs will win in these games because the difference in team strengths within the two games isn’t large. If the schedule had put the Chiefs against the Bears and the Bucs against the Giants, most would have been shocked if an upset happened.
In this weekly column, we will compute the expected number of underdog wins based on the implied win probabilities from the betting market and then make an informed attempt at predicting the underdogs which will win outright this week. We will track both our success when betting these underdogs against the spread and moneyline.
As of today, we will work with the following moneylines or spreads from BetMGM. The column “win percentage” is the implied (vig-removed) win percentage deduced from the moneylines.
These lines lead to the following expected distribution of the number of underdog wins this week:
The labels above the bars are the cumulative probability, i.e., there is a 58% chance that we will see five or fewer underdog wins. The median number of underdogs wins this week is five (the first number with a cumulative probability over 50%) and here are my five favorite underdogs this week:
Seattle Seahawks at New Orleans Saints
Seattle's implied win probability: 34%
• The top-down view on this game: The Seahawks have a good offense but terrible defense, and they’ll face a Saints team with a bad offense and very good defense.
weekly update of the moving the chains chart on offense.
Are the Seahawks for real or is that just the effect of playing the Falcons and Lions back-to-back? pic.twitter.com/pNcGCmYJh5
— Timo Riske (@PFF_Moo) October 4, 2022
• Conflicting Angles: First of all, offense is generally more stable than defense, so we’d generally tend to ride with the offense in such a game. However, we are only four weeks into the season, hence priors from before the season still matter — and we certainly expected the Saints defense to be good, but we didn’t expect the Seahawks offense to be good.
• Market expects Seahawks offense to regress to the mean, but New Orleans has the second-lowest pass-rush rate in football through four weeks: I’m not agreeing with the market because I don’t think the Saints defense is built to stop the Seahawks. One of the most stable parts of defense is performance when rushing the passer, and the Saints have disappointed, generating pressure at the second-lowest rate in the NFL through four weeks (21%).
• New Orleans' defensive line doesn’t look much better when rated individually: When averaging the assignment-adjusted pass rush grades of their defensive linemen, the Saints' pass rush ranks 29th in the league after four games. Teams that also rank that low are the Lions and Falcons, the two teams the Seahawks offense just scored on at will.
• With Geno Smith replacing Russell Wilson, Seattle finally has a quarterback who tries to execute within the offense and makes plays in structure: Under Sean McVay, the Los Angeles Rams have the strongest correlation between offensive efficiency and pass protection in the past five years. Seahawks OC Shane Waldron is a McVay disciple, running an offense that copies a lot of ideas from McVay and isn’t far away schematically. We’ve already seen some evidence that the pairing of Smith and Waldron will go as far as the offensive line carries it: the offense broke down against the San Francisco 49ers (-0.29 EPA/play) and in the second half of their game against the Denver Broncos (-0.49 EPA/play), when Seattle's pass protection broke down against the likes of Nick Bosa and Randy Gregory, among others.
• Against the struggling Saints pass rush, I think the Seahawks offense can stay on pace and help pull up an upset in New Orleans: The fact that the Saints come back from an overseas trip to London and still have major injuries on offense only helps us make this pick. The Saints offense has been bad so far, and a lot of evidence points in the direction that the loss of Sean Payton hurts them more than we might have thought.
Cleveland's implied win probability: 41%
• Browns are currently 3-point underdogs in a matchup with two bad run defenses: The Browns allow 0.06 EPA/play and the Chargers allow 0.02 EPA/play on the ground, ranking 26th and 29th in the league, respectively. The difference is that the Browns are uniquely equipped to take advantage of the Chargers questionable run defense, featuring the best rushing attack in the league. The Browns rank 1st in EPA/play on the ground, fifth in yards per carry and they’ve already forced 46 missed tackles — by far the highest number in the league.
• Conversely, the Chargers rank bottom five in EPA/play on the ground, rushing success rate and yards per carry: Their run blocking grade of 52.6 currently ranks 27th in the NFL. The Chargers are still favored because they have the better quarterback in Justin Herbert, but that hasn’t stopped them from losing games against inferior teams before.
• Surprisingly, the Browns offense has outperformed Chargers': Miscues at the goal lines were what stopped the Browns from scoring a lot more points against the Atlanta Falcons last week, when Cleveland came away with a total of three points on two different drives that reached the one- and two-yard line, respectively. If they find better luck in high-leverage situations vs. the Chargers, the Browns have a good chance of winning outright as a home dog.
Arizona's implied win probability: 34%
• At +5.5, the Cardinals essentially are considered a full touchdown worse than the Eagles on a neutral field: In a vacuum, I’d agree with that assessment, but the Cardinals defense likes to do the one thing that might hurt the Eagles: They blitz 44% of the time against the pass, the second-highest rate in the league. While that turned out to be disastrous against the Chiefs in week 1, the Cardinals defense has quietly looked much better over the last three weeks, allowing -0.16 EPA/play, the 5th best mark in the league.
• The Eagles offense had answers for everything defenses threw at them so far — except the blitz: When facing extra rushers, the Eagles passing offense ranks 24th in EPA/pass play (-0.17 EPA/play) and 19th in success rate (45.2%). I like the chances that the Cardinals end up playing better in this game than the market expects.
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
Bengals implied win probability: 39%
• SNF matches offenses with a low schematic floor: The Bengals offense is currently built almost exclusively on its elite wide receivers winning matchups against single coverage, and the Ravens offense is mostly built around Lamar Jackson's abilities to create plays out of nothing. So far, that's led to offenses alternating between struggling and realizing their huge potential. The thought process here is that this adds a lot of variance to this matchup, making it harder to predict. It makes sense to ride with the 3-point underdog in such a case.
• Bengals defense is probably a bit overrated right now after almost exclusively facing backup QBs: However, the unit is almost equal to a very solid defense last year, when Cincinnati certainly had a good plan to stop Lamar Jackson's Ravens, holding Jackson to a 69.2 offense grade and -0.17 EPA/play throughout the game.
• Honestly, the last pick in this column will never be my favorite pick — and there is a real chance that the Patriots will simply run over a Detroit Lions defense giving up 0.17 EPA/ rush: What I like about this matchup is the Lions has the better offense right now, even though you never know when the inevitable eventual implosion of Jared Goff will happen.
• Unlike the Seahawks did in Week 4, the Patriots don’t have a receiver who can simply line up against Jeff Okudah and win: That's what D.K. Metcalf did a couple times last week. This should allow the Lions to at least limit big plays through the air and avoid another shootout.
• Lookahead line was closer to a pick’em, then it moved to Patriots -3: It could very well be that the market overreacted to the Patriots almost winning against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday.