Weekend Football Review (11/8/10)

By Paul Bessire

Monday, November 8 at 9:02 PM ET
I will always recap the weekend in football each Monday afternoon. It is very important to us to be transparent and to honest about our picks. Overall, it was a huge week for us in the NFL - our third straight big NFL week - and below average week in college - admittedly our second straight week of that. In something that I have alluded to, but never specifically devoted a section to in the past, please see my notes below on managing expectations for college and NFL performance. There are specific, logical performance curves that I have seen in the past and seem to be holding true again this season.

The Football Numbers (after College Week 10 and NFL Week 9):

  • ATS Locks of the Week: 1-1 (LaTech +1 lost to Fresno State 40-34; NYG -6.5 defeated Seattle 41-7)
  • Week 9 NFL All Games ATS: 8-2 (80.0%)
  • Week 10 College All Games ATS: 21-17 (55.4%)
  • Year-to-Date ATS Locks of the Week: 12-7-1 (63.2%)
  • All-Time ATS Locks of the Week: 61-18-3 (77.2%)
  • YTD Daily Top ATS Plays: 36-14 (72.0%)
  • Paul's Picks ATS Week: 3-4 (with one game remaining)
  • YTD Paul's Picks ATS: 51-25 (67.1%)
  • YTD ATS All Games: 56.0%
  • YTD O/U All Games: 54.2%
  • YTD SU (NFL and FBS vs. FBS College): 74.1%

Performance Expectations:

I think that most of this will make sense based off of the comments that I have made in the past on this topic in conjunction with common sense and what we have seen with the picks recently. It is important to me to note that we have tremendous confidence in our ability to predict college games and have proven that by many facts, including that, in only one week, did we predict less than 50% ATS, and that was 48.8%. I would also like to note that, while I am about to admit that our performance naturally declines around this time of year, and, that it is more difficult to pinpoint top picks in college than in the NFL, these comments are in a relative sense and I am constantly doing everything I can possibly think of to improve our accuracy, particularly with top picks. In fact, with the tremendous performance of our weekday picks, I have a theory related to our Saturday picks that I will delve into with this week's picks. It can't hurt and may help. And lastly among my caveats here, in the last four weeks, our "normal" or better picks (57%+ to cover) in college football have hit 65%, 65%, 45% and 54%. Especially with the Customizable Predictalator and the ability to use the latest lines at info at all times, it is impossible to know if any individual is winning or losing with our information. But it is true that, over that time span, some have won and some have lost. Do we wager on our picks? Yes. Did we win in Weeks 7 and 8? Yes. Did we lose in Weeks 9 and 10? Yes. We get it. We didn't wager on all of our playable picks (what we would had to have done to get to the 55%+ accuracy this week) and we don't expect you to either because that is not the smart strategy we promote. Did we have a huge week in the NFL yesterday? Yes. Using the Predictalator, Customizable Predictalator and the Play Value Calculator, you will appropriately treat this as an investment, mitigating risk, winning big in the good weeks (more often than not) and not getting crushed in the few off weeks.

Anyway the traditional college football performance curve that I see is very different from the NFL. Our confidence is our confidence, but even our confidence should flow along the lines of these trends. In college, we do a tremendous job of figuring out who these teams are before the season. Then, everyone else kind of figures these teams out, so our success becomes less consistent. Then, we do very well again with the last couple of weeks of the season and particularly win with the conference championships and bowls. We have been talking about this in the blog for the entire season. We were probably victims of our own success for awhile (shoot, we hit our first 17 ATS and O/U college picks without getting one wrong). When we were doing well early, it followed expectations to do well, yet could not be maintained to that degree. Weeks 7 and 8 were great. Weeks 9 and 10 were not nearly as good and we saw our numbers come back to Earth more. For Week 11, we hope for something like Weeks 7 and 8, yet expect something in between. Performance should improve from then on.

In general, we should accurately make picks at the level that our confidence suggests we should, but that's in the long-run. In the short-term, college is far less consistent than in the NFL, so the curve gets blurred and our true performance is tougher to gauge week-to-week. Furthermore, as we have discussed in this blog, our performance (and confidence) is/should be better in the NFL overall. Think about it. Predicting college football games, we are dealing with 18-22 year old kids on both sides of the field. There are 120 teams (plus the FCS opponents those teams play) to manage 85+ players and less injury, depth chart, roster and statistical input information than in the NFL. With such short seasons and with every game mattering so much, predicting motivation after the first few weeks once teams start losing games can be difficult. The assumption is that every player is trying his best to win. That's most true in college football at the beginning of the season and the end of the season.

Plus, the impact of homefield is another element that is difficult for anyone to stay on top of in college. As we get into conference championship games and bowl games obviously that goes away.

The NFL curve is pretty simple. Actually, it's almost the opposite. As we learn more information about each team and player, we get better. The public's perception about teams is skewed by names and what teams and players do early in the year. When the public does react to a team, it often overreacts. With so few games each week, it's hard for our performance to appear better and better each week, but we should remain pretty consistently strong from now on... until, the final week or two of the season when motivation is tough gauge for teams. Then, we should be strong again in the playoffs.

So what? If possible, we recommend playing at least as many NFL games as college games during these weeks. Play our top picks and you should be good. Our records are still very, very good with Paul's Picks, Locks and Top Plays of the Day. We expect those to stay that way.

College Best and Worst:

Best Wins: Our picks on games of national relevance did very well. In fact, if you heard me on the radio, chances are you only think we got Alabama-LSU wrong straight-up and against-the-spread. In total, we hit 55.3% of our sides in college picking every Week 10 game... TCU crushing Utah was one of our top plays and our biggest individual win. Aside from homefield advantage, every number I looked at favored TCU in that game. The general public probably feels one of two ways after that game 1) Wow! TCU is a great team, the best non-AQ team, capable of hanging with if not winning over any team in the country or 2) Wow! The rest of the Mountain West is horrible. There are probably more people who think the latter than the former. The problem is that the Mountain West is not too bad and TCU is a great team, but the Horned Frogs do not have the best non-AQ team. Boise State used a similar score and performance to blow out a Hawaii team that was a legitimate top 25 squad going into that game. The Broncos have the slightly better team. Both Boise State and TCU belong in top three teams in the country. If Auburn and Oregon play poorly in a game and lose and Boise State and TCU play well and remain undefeated, TCU and Boise will not only have the two most deserving teams of playing for a national championship in the country, they will have the two best teams. In a system that so rarely allows us to see both the best and most deserving teams in the nation play from the national championship, it would be a grave injustice not to allow them to play each other for the title. We are a few steps away from that happening, but that result is also very possible... UCF, another generally underrated non-AQ team, seemed like a very smart choice to come out well ahead of Houston. The Golden Knights were a very strong 60%+ play ATS on Friday night, a rare weekday pick with that much confidence. With Arkansas State's (predicted) win out-right and Rutgers keeping it close against South Florida, weekday plays again had a tremendous showing (even the MNF game covered - for the sixth straight time)... Despite what happened at Cincinnati and Morgantown two and three weeks ago respectively, Syracuse is not a very good football team. I hate to say it, but the Big East is down even from some mediocre previous seasons. Unplanned synergy after my first two "best wins," I think Villanova makes more sense than UCF, but it's clear that the Big East will need to add quality football programs like TCU and UCF to stay relevant - at least for a couple of years until super conferences take over (and the Big East is not one of them)... Remember last week's blog where I wrote a paragraph professing my love of Robert Griffin? Well, we loved Oklahoma State more and that covered easily... Our two big upset picks that just about everyone asked me about, Texas A&M over Oklahoma and Arkansas over South Carolina both covered and won straight-up easily. Big wins for the Predictalator that has not loved the Sooners or the Gamecocks much all year... Boston College, NC State, Kansas State, Maryland and Louisiana-Monroe are five other teams that the Predictalator has loved ATS more often than not and helped us to some pretty easy covers in each game... I did not get to see all of the games from the Breeders' Cup on Saturday, but I was obviously following along with scores all day. Early in Big Ten games, it seemed like Wisconsin had no chance to cover and Illinois (not to mention Northwestern) would pull the upset. The second halves (and beyond) in each of those games were very different than the first halves, yet those games each went the way that we expected ATS to make us undefeated in the Big Ten for the week... And for the second week in a row, our "Weak, but playable" picks did very well. Picks between 53%-55% are 21-9 ATS and O/U in the last two weeks. As we mentioned last week, that's obviously good and bad news. We have the right angle, just not the right confidence. I have a theory... Lastly, Cal fell all the way from favorite of the Predictalator's to an ATS underdog against Washington State. The Bears came through and only won by half the spread!!

Toughest Losses: Unfortunately, unlike last week, instead of getting the unlucky end of every close game ATS, most of our incorrect picks looked off throughout. That sucks. 55% ATS Replacing Cal on this week's list of frustration are Fresno State and SMU. We have featured SMU and Fresno State in Paul's Picks two times each and are 0-4 ATS in those games. In each case, SMU played significantly worse than expected and Fresno State played significantly better than expected (after spotting its opponents 14 points as it has both times its opponent has been our Lock of the Week). I'm on it. As of right now, I can 100% guarantee you that SMU will not appear in the Paul's Picks this week. And, very early indications make the Nevada @ Fresno State game look like a "no pick." Whew... LSU is the most surprising loss to me. No pick covered less than a third of the time, so no outcome should really be a surprise, but the numbers loved this year's version of the Crimson Tide almost as much as the 2009 Crimson Tide. Alabama appeared to be unlucky to have one loss. LSU, on the other hand, looked like the luckiest team in the country. Alabama was/is better than its record and LSU was/is the other way around. I watched almost all of this game and it's still hard to explain the outcome (especially with so many points scored)... I would qualify Virginia Tech as a very good-to-great college football team this year. In that respect, the Hokies have played a similarly frustrating brand of football to Alabama. They can look dominant at times or forget to show up. You can't get away with that for the long run in college football. Virginia Tech should just feel lucky it could get away with that on Thursday. The Hokies are more than two touchdowns better than Georgia Tech... I thought I had stayed up long enough into the game to feel comfortable that USC would cover... We were on such a roll with Kent State. Kent State is not even a very good MAC school, but Temple is not that good either. The Owls record is better than its numbers... I'd like to welcome the Navy offense to the 2010 season. Sure the Midshipmen were averaging 24 points before Saturday, but that's below FBS average and well below expectations. And to think that, in just about every other game Navy has played this season, we have loved the OVER (it was a "no pick" on Saturday)... Boise is still better than you think and better than we thought before Saturday... Utah State put 24 on Oklahoma, 31 on BYU and 42, yet could only muster 27 points at home against a New Mexico State defense that was giving up 37 points a game?... I'm putting this in the college loss section because it's definitely something I probably should have only attempted in college and I don't know if anyone really wins in this situation. Anyone want to put an over/under on how long it will take me to consume my first Wall of Fame Burger this week? The Predictalator spits out an average time of 23:17. If I'm going to make it - and if I have any chance at going for two, it's going to have to be quicker.

Most intriguing games of Week 11*: Pitt @ UConn, Iowa @ Northwestern, Georgia @ Auburn, Penn State @ Ohio State, Virginia Tech @ North Carolina, San Diego State @ TCU, Texas A&M @ Baylor, Oregon @ Cal, Stanford @ Arizona State, Oklahoma State @ Texas, USC @ Arizona, Tulsa @ Houston and Nevada @ Fresno State. *Tomorrow's Toledo @ Northern Illinois game is part of Week 10. Ohio @ Temple on Tuesday, November 16 is part of Week 11 (it's also an intriguing game).

NFL Best and Worst:

Best Wins: Uh, our Lock of the Week pretty much locked it up in the first quarter. The New York Giants -6.5 were still going off at -7 or -7.5 on Sunday, which remained one of our top plays, especially with Charlie Whitehurst making his first start at QB for the Seahawks. Seattle may have the best homefield advantage in the NFL, but that's about all the team has going for it right now... In all honesty, while I am always confident in our picks, with such strong opinions (nine 60%+ picks) and knowing that our information is only going to help us as we progress in the season, I felt as confident as ever going into this Sunday. It was in Week 9 last year, when we went 15-1 ATS to really burst onto the scene and we carried that momentum to winning weeks down the stretch and through the playoffs all the way to an ATS and O/U win in the Super Bowl... In none of our eight wins did we really have to sweat out the game. Sure, the Lions only covered by one point, but that was on a lucky Jets comeback that was most likely to result in a three-point win by New York even if/when it secured the victory. As we saw in the Browns win over the Patriots and the Lions cover over the Jets, there is not much that in the NFL separates some of the bottom teams from the top when the underdog is at home - especially when it a perceived bottom team that is actually comfortably outside of the league's bottom five and has a very talented and capable roster against a perceived top team that is very flawed, most notably on defense. The Patriots and Jets may have both ranked in the top three of our power rankings last week, but neither was nearly as good against the pass as most would expect. Of even greater note is that no team was winning or losing more than 70% of the time against the rest of the league. That's as compact as we have ever seen the NFL. Of course, that being said, projecting the rest of the season, sees essentially just three teams in the NFC Wild Card race (for two spots). With the Giants, Packers, Falcons and some sub-.500 team expected to win their respective divisions, it's really just down to the Eagles, Saints and Buccaneers for the Wild Card. The Chicago Bears have a distant chance. That's it (to get weekly updates every Monday on the rest of the NFL season follow us on Twitter @PredictMachine)... Given the unlikelihood of the Jets cover late in that game, the most stressful win was probably with the San Diego Chargers who covered as a Paul's Pick despite being without Antonio Gates. We even updated the site Sunday morning and the Chargers were still one of our top three picks at over 60% to cover. The offensive braintrust of Norv Turner and Philip Rivers is ridiculously good. Despite the fact that it's a pick we are already guaranteed not to lose, our preseason Over/Under wins "Lock" of San Diego UNDER 11 wins, had a lot to do with the Predictalator's biggest concern with the Chargers' passing game without Vincent Jackson, Marcus McNeill and LaDainian Tomlinson. That hasn't really been the case. It's Turner and his staff's decision making and propensity to make mistakes (who else threw something when another punt was blocked to start yesterday's game) that gives San Diego problems. And for what it's worth, after watching him in person against Wisconsin and Fresno State, I blogged about Seyi Ajirotutu around the draft and even included him in the fantasy sleeper watch. He's got prototypical size and playmaking ability... In the first 44 minutes of games this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been outscored 143-80. In the last 16 minutes, they have outscored their opponents 63-45. That means late-game, come-from-behind wins and back-door covers. Either way, they are wins for us... If you heard me talk about the KC-Oakland game last week, we thought it was a "no pick" against a 2.5-point line. But once it switched to favoring KC by 1.5, even with Nnamdi Asomugha out, we then liked Oakland to win and cover in a very close game that slightly favored Oakland straight-up (we updated the site at the same time as the SD-HOU game due to the major injuries). Going to OT gave us the win, cover and over in what turned out to be a big game... Go Pack Go! I can't say that I have had more fun watching a game since Super Bowl XXXI. We had Green Bay -8 as a very strong play. We had family in town to watch the game. It's rare that I get to root for my team to blow an opponent out and the outcome is even more one-sided than expected. We were already 7-2-1 ATS at the time and 2-1 in Paul's Picks, but that just capped off an almost perfect day all-around... In the first week all season where we predicted now upsets likely, there only was one. And in the game, Cleveland over New England, we only had the Patriots winning 52.6% of the time.

Toughest Losses: Brandon Marshall. Last week, I led this section with Heath Miller's name, but made certain to note that I would not blame him for Pittsburgh's loss. Even though his team lost outright by more, it actually failed to cover by the same amount. It was Marshall who totally gave up on a ball he could have at least tried to catch that was then intercepted and turned into points to put the Dolphins away. With what we do, there is a general assumption that every player is trying to the best of his ability. Apathy can come through in the numbers, but it is very difficult to predict. When Heath Miller fumbles the ball when he is trying to make a big play, so be it. When Marshall takes a play off without telling the rest of his team and it costs big, that's not cool. I'm sure he does not care what someone in position thinks of the play. But that pretty general assumption - that every player tries - should be a fair one to be held by all fans, coaches and teammates... To get down by 14 points only to get the ball in the hands of the best skill position player in football en route to an OT win over the ARIZONA CARDINALS is not heroic. That the Vikings were down by 14 at all to the Cardinals could be reason enough to cost coaches and players their jobs in Minnesota. But to then celebrate the win speaks volumes about where things have gone for the Vikings. That being said, this game was essentially the prototype for an ATS loss by the Predictalator - two teams with minimal motivation playing a game in which one team returned a kickoff and a fumble for a touchdown, almost did the same with an interception, had a wide receiver throw a successful pass and was almost doubled-up in penalty yards despite being one of the league's least disciplined teams. Meanwhile, the favorite out-gained that team by almost 300 yards and three yards-per-play... That's it ATS. We hit six of ten over/unders, though in two blowout games, Dallas @ Green Bay and NYG @ Seattle, one too many meaningless TDs was scored for us to hit those under picks... And this is a loss for the NFL. When Austin Collie was knocked out by two simultaneously clean hits in yesterday's Eagles-Colts game, instead of having sympathy for Collie, his family, etc. all conversation and even all of the sympathy in our room, in many households across the country and clearly in the stadium went with the unfairly judged players on the opposing team who were flagged for an unwarranted penalty. It dawned on us that the NFL overshot with its ridiculous PR move to clean-up hits after one week of perceived brutality. As usual, a professional sports league, in a move to improve its public relations, over- compensated to mere perception and it played out very poorly. Nick Collins? Fine him. They would have done that six weeks or even six years ago. The Eagles? Let them play. And it's a complete shame that all anyone could talk or think about was how bad the call was and not about how Austin Collie was and would be. There are so many NFL rules that are silly - limiting challenges, moving officials in certain situations and not others, propensity to call pass interference on the defense, the complete lack of science to spotting the ball (yeah, I'm sure that the eight inch difference between the ref's hands is exactly the same as the distance from the ball to the front of the marker, which, of course, is exactly the distance that the ball was advanced toward a line that was spotted perfectly correctly to begin with), etc. - but no rule was even broken here. The refs just thought they had to respond because the NFL was making such a big deal out of the natural physicality of playing football.

Most intriguing games of Week 10: BAL @ ATL (Thursday), NYJ @ CLE, TEN @ MIA, NE @ PIT, PHI @ WAS

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