With three weeks of regular season action in the books, we are now able to more reliably plot where each team fits in the three categories I establish each year. The first category is top teams that are good enough to overcome negative situations and consistently take advantage of good spots. On the other extreme are the bottom teams, five or so, that simply don’t win despite positive situations that even average teams would capitalize on with point spread triumphs.
Most of the league, around 22 teams, fall in the middle. Teams that are good enough to win when the situation dictates it, and not good enough to overcome bad situations that end in defeat. This middle group are my favorite teams.
We know who the worst teams are; New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, New York Giants and Detroit Lions. The best teams by our calculations are; Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There are teams from the middle who have underachieved. The once highly thought of Indianapolis Colts have not won a game straight-up and are 1-2 against the point spread. This can be interpreted as either the Colts being worse than most assume, or value lies in the future with a better than average team that opened with three losses.
Many would consider the Kansas City Chiefs a top team, but from my bookkeeping they have been the worst team in the NFL since last November. They haven’t beaten a regular season point spread since November 1, 2020, and are now riding a two game straight-up losing streak. Not top team credentials.
Without looking for a win from the bottom five, or trying to beat the top five, we can find sweet spots with the middle teams. Get a middle team in the right situation to win against a middle or bottom squad not good enough to overcome the trap, and we’ve got an investment opportunity.
There is also an advantage to taking a top team when they meet a bottom team. We have that situation in Buffalo this week when the Bills host the Houston Texans. Only thing is, this game is so lopsided that the point spread alone precludes a wager on the talented Bills. Buffalo is favored by 16½ points in this game, and over the past 20 seasons teams in the NFL favored by more than 15 points are 63-4 straight-up … but before you rush to make a bet on the Bills, know those same games have a point spread record of 29-35-3.
The point spread is the great equalizer for mismatches.
Books have to set a point spread that both takes into consideration what their research and knowledge indicates balanced against public perception. Their first objective is to set a number on a game that will generate equal wagering on both sides of the contest.
Sometimes, they have to forgo what they know in favor of what the public thinks. The public is often driven by the most recent result, and when they react to one week more heavily than the entire picture dictates the books are forced to post a point spread that is in response to public action.
This week, we have that situation in Chicago where the Bears host the Detroit Lions.
The Lions just missed a huge upset last week when they were edged by virtue of a 66-yard field goal as time ran out that gave the visiting Baltimore Ravens a 19-17 win over the still winless Lions.
The Lions haven’t yet won a game straight-up for first-year head coach Dan Campbell, but they have twice beaten the point spread in the first three weeks. In addition to beating the Ravens on the line last week, the Lions opened with an eight point loss to the San Francisco 49ers while getting 9½ points on the spread.
Last week, Chicago Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields made his first NFL start, and it didn’t go well. He ended the game with 1 net yard passing after having 67 of his 68 passing yards wiped out by nine sacks.
It was almost unfair that Fields had to make his first start on the road against a defense as special as the Cleveland Browns. Now, off that loss, the Bears are at home and only favored by three points over the winless Lions.
What we get here is Chicago meeting the Lions with their lowest point spread price of the year and fully loaded motivationally in response to last week’s crushing loss.
This is a middle team over a bad team in a good spot.
Qoxhi Picks: Chicago Bears (-3) over Detroit Lions