If you haven't looked at the point spreads for this week's NFL games, how close can you come?

Schedule for Week 11 is here. I’m working on my guesses now, but I wanted to see how I did compared to others, and where people tended to make mistakes. Will post my results when I’ve finished.

Spoiler space.

I did pretty well, all things considered.

– My average error was 1.28 points (median: 1.25).

– I got four games exactly right: Hou (+7) @NYJ, GB (-3) @Min, TB (+3) @SF, and Ind (+3) @NE.

– My biggest miss, technically, was Sea (+12) @NO; I had it at only +9.

– In one game I got the favorite wrong: I had Cleveland favored by 1 @ Jacksonville, but JAX is actually giving the point. Still pretty close; any line under 3 points isn’t far away from any other sub-3 line.

– Philly is only giving 3 points at home to the Giants? Jeez, I thought at least 4, and my actual guess was 5.5. Definitely the biggest head-scratcher for me (though this line is something of a rough draft; see below).
Some notes:

  • I used Pinnacle as my source for lines. It was the site I used when I was betting sports regularly, and they have a reputation for being a “sharp” book (i.e., for using lines that are close to “true” and are hard to exploit, instead of occasionally dealing “square” lines intended to lure casual bettors into making sucker bets).

  • As of right now (Tuesday morning), the two games featuring last night’s contestants are off the board almost everywhere. But if you need to dig up some hard to find odds, covers.com is a good place to look. Off course, the lines they list for these games – Redskins (+6) @ Titans, and Giants (+3) at Eagles – are somewhat speculative, and might be a couple of points away from where the lines are in one or two days.

  • Using raw averages to judge how well you did is a little bit misleading, since not all gaps on the number line are equivalent. For instance, if you guess 4 and it’s actually 5, you were very close, while if you guessed 2.5 but it’s actually 3.5, you missed pretty badly; 3 is a key number (as so many NFL final scores land on exactly that margin), and it takes quite a bit to move the line from one side of it to the other. 7 and 10 are also key numbers, though to lesser degrees.

You might be able to correct for this by adding weight to these key numbers (e.g., add two points to your margin of error if you’re on the wrong side of the 3, one point of you’re on the wrong side of the 7, etc.), but that gives an incentive to make guesses of exactly 3 or 7 and never just slightly off, so there’d have to be some way of counterbalancing that incentive to get back to an equitable and accurate measure for comparison.

Not that this is a competition or anything…

My guesses off the top of my head, not informed by DVOA comparisons or the like:

HOME
(Miami -4.5), (Cincy -5.5), (Dallas -6), (Tennessee -7.5), (KC -8.5),
(Minn +5), (NYJ -7), (Pitt -7.5), (CAR +10.5), (JAX +3)
(SF -2.5), (NO -9), (STL +5.5), (NE -4.5)
(Philly -3), (SD -5)

There’s a reason I don’t do this for a living, as my “performance” in the SDMB Yahoo contests is showing…

The washington game, for some reason, isn’t in the Pinnacle list that Varlos cites. Vegas.com’s list of books lists the game, but not the line for some reason.

The Giants-Eagles game isn’t listed there, either. It’s just because Philly and Washington played last night, and sportsbooks generally take some time to consider the results of the game and/or any injuries that occurred before posting a line. Try this.

Man, I can’t do squat picking this year and you want me to predict the spreads? I do admire how well you and others have done, but this year I’ve just lost my mojo.

Miami by 1
Bengals by 4
Dallas by 7
Titans by 5
KC by 8
Minn. by 1
NYJ by 9
Steelers by 6
Baltimore by 8
Jags by 4
SF even w/ TB
NO by 9
Atl. by 2
NE by 4
Phila by 5
SD by 6

Nailed:

Dolphins/Bears

Off by 1/2:

Dallas/Detroit

Off by 1:

KC/Ariz
Bengals/Bills
Falcons/Rams
Pats/Colts

Off by 2:

Titans/Skins
Jets/Texans
Ravens/Bengals
Eagles/Giants (I originally had it nailed, but then I took into account the “Vick” effect as this guy, whatever his past sins, has really kicked it into overdrive now-what they did with Kolb at the helm doesn’t matter much anymore.)

Off by 3:
Steelers/Raiders: are the Raiders the team we’ve seen for the past month, or the mediocrity they were before then? 9 is too many to give Oakland IMHO (and if the line drifts a bit past the 7 point mark, bet on the underdog because many games end w/ 7 point margins, the points you get for a touchdown). In any event I’m psyched to play these guys again when it actually means something. If this isn’t down by -6/-7 Steelers by the weekend I’ll be surprised.

San Fran/TB: Again records don’t quite match the talent, but San Fran isn’t pick 'em on a neutral site with the Bucs, sorry. And if you give the Niners a boost for going 3-1 over their last 4 games (84-67 in points), then why no boost for the Raiders for the same reason (125-37)?

Jags/Browns: Yes, the Jags aren’t as good as their record, Browns better-but only -1 on their home field against a 3-6 team who is in the bottom 1/4th of the league in both offensive and defensive yards?? And, again, if the Browns’ massacre-ing of New England counts for so much, then again why screw the Raiders? [I’m a native Clevelander too along with living in Jax now and being a long-term Raider fan, but that’s too unbalanced a line]

NO/Seattle: Yeah, I can buy -12 Saints (they are the Champs after all).

Off by 4:

Vikings/Packers (Vikes are @ home, Vikes are better than their record, Pack about wjhere they should be, but Vegas doesn’t see it like that)
Chargers/Broncos (yeah SD is better, but 10 points better?)

Bill Simmons used to do a weekly “guess the spread” game with a friend on his podcast. I haven’t listened to the podcast in a couple years, so I don’t know if they’re still doing it, but it gave me insight into how a line is set.

They still do it, and after a half-season or so of listening I was basically as good as they were. That is, I would be within 2 points for more than half the spreads, and within 4 points for all of them.

Still doing it, listened to the podcast yesterday and therefore can’t participate in the thread.

I consistently underestimated the spread in each game by 1.5-2 points. I was only off by more than 2 points on 3 games.

Only read the first paragraph of the OP before going out to guess the spreads and post.

Bears 3½ DOLPHINS
BENGALS 3 Bills
COWBOYS 5½ Lions
TITANS 10½ Redskins
CHIEFS PK Cardinals
Packers 9½ VIKINGS
JETS 9½ Texans
STEELERS 8 Raiders
Ravens 14½ Panthers
Browns 1 JAGUARS
Bucs 4½ 49ERS
SAINTS 13 Seahawks
Falcons 10 RAMS
PATRIOTS 4 Colts
EAGLES 7½ Giants
CHARGERS 6 Broncos

It’s been years since I regularly followed spreads, so I’m guessing I’m a little rusty. I used to be pretty good at it. My buddy and I would both guess the spreads, then bet on whichever games had the biggest disparity.

EDIT: Ugh, now that I read the thread, I have to check my own performance? Not sure I’m that motivated. heh.

Yeah I listen to the Sports Guy podcast and love to follow along with them as they make their picks. I usually come pretty close, but this week I was way, way off. My average difference was just over 3 points, and I only got one game exactly right. Some of these spreads seem mind boggling to me. I expected a bit of an overreaction to Dallas’ getting a win, but not that much. I thought Chicago would be favored going into Miami where the Dolphins haven’t had much success, and potentially against their 3rd string QB. I thought 6-3 TB would be favored against 3-6 SF, but I got that completely wrong too. I also thought there might be an overreaction to Denver’s convincing win, and there wasn’t one. Not at all.

Bad work by me, all in all.

Dallas v Detroit leaves me completely at sea. How can you rate that game? Two erratic teams who look good sometimes and horrible others. The Lions don’t win but they cover fairly well. The Cowboys are in disarray. Will the good cowboys or bad cowboys show up this week?

You know, Ellis, in some ways you and I are very different people. I mean, you don’t want to check your answers, or calculate an average? That’s the fun part! I was mostly bored with the actual process of guessing the point spreads, but I did it for the opportunity to get out my legal pad and mechanical pencil and make some columns of data.

I’m just busy at the moment. You’re talking to the guy who spent hours and hours writing >2000 lines of code on a FF score analyzer. Me likey data.

I’d be much more motivated if there were spreads posted to the thread. Little help?

Fair point, I probably should’ve posted the lines here.

Actual Week 11 Point Spreads

@ Miami -1.5 Chicago

@ Pittsburgh -7 Oakland
@ NY Jets -7 Houston
Baltimore -10 @ Carolina
@ Tennessee -7 Washington
@ Dallas -6.5 Detroit
Green Bay -3 @ Minnesota
@ Cincinnati -5.5 Buffalo
@ Jacksonville -1.5 Cleveland
@ Kansas City -8 Arizona
@ New Orleans -11.5 Seattle
Atlanta -3 @ St. Louis
@ San Francisco -3 Tampa Bay
@ New England -3.5 Indianapolis
@ Philadelphia -3 NY Giants

@ San Diego -10 Denver

Close: (Within a point or two, not crossing any magic boundaries.)

STEELERS 8 Raiders - actual spread 7
COWBOYS 5½ Lions - actual spread 6½
PATRIOTS 4 Colts - actual spread 3½
SAINTS 13 Seahawks - actual spread 11½
Browns 1 JAGUARS - Jags actually favored by 1½


Pretty far off: (but not so much as to bet money on it straight up.)

JETS 9½ Texans - actual spread 7
CHARGERS 6 Broncos - actual spread 10
TITANS 10½ Redskins - actual spread 7
BENGALS 3 Bills - actual spread 5½
EAGLES 7½ Giants - actual spread 3
Ravens 14½ Panthers - actual spread 10
Bears 3½ DOLPHINS - 'Phins actually favored by 1½


Way off: (Meaning these are what I put money on.)

Packers 9½ VIKINGS
Packers only giving 3. What, the Vikings get 6 for home field advantage instead of 3? I love the Packers here.

CHIEFS PK Cardinals
Chiefs are favored by a staggering 8 points. Didn’t they just get their shit pushed in? Even on their best day they’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut. I’ll take the Cards here in a heartbeat.

Falcons 10 RAMS
Falcons only giving 3?! Helloooo, Falcons.

Bucs 4½ 49ERS
How are the 49ers favored by 3? That’s just nuts.


Based on this, I’d probably go conservative with two $50 bets:

$55 for 50 on Packers straight up, giving 3
$55 for 50 on 3-team tease: Cards getting 16, Falcons getting 5, Bucs getting 11

For whatever reason, every year there are teams that struggle unexpectedly at the start of the year, but still get a lot of respect from the point spread. Dallas was getting a huge amount of respect up until last week, when they were 13.5 point 'dogs (and, naturally, won outright). San Fran is also considered by Vegas (as well as “sharp” bettors, apparently) to be better than their record (they were 6 point favorites last week at home against the Rams, for example). And of course it works the other way, too, with some surprisingly successful teams getting no respect – Tampa’s is one of those teams, getting only 6.5 last week AT HOME against the worst team in the league (Carolina), despite being 5-3. Hence, Vegas implies that SF and TB are equal, and SF gets the 3 for being at home.

It’s worth noting that Vegas gets these things right at least as often as they get them wrong, and that the public, or “square” money is apparently pouring in on Tampa, so there’s a chance that the line is being pulled therefore in the wrong direction, and the Bucs are actually overvalued here. I’m picking Tampa this week, but IMO the 49ers are far from a sucker bet.
I’d also wager that DVOA has a non-zero effect on point spreads. Back when I was keeping my spread sheet, I noticed that, over the six years for which I had data, the correlation between the actual point spread and what DVOA thought the spread should be increased every single year. Part of this, no doubt, has to do with the DVOA formula being refined over the years and brought more into line with reality, but it’s also a case of wagerers and odds-makers taking it into account; it’s very frequently sited in the analysis of serious gamblers, and my (untested) impression has been that the kinds of teams I talked about above, getting seemingly too much or too little respect in the spreads, are very frequently the teams that DVOA thinks have played better or worse than their records.

For instance, you wonder how the Chiefs could be 8 point favorite against Arizona. Well, part of it is simply that KC is at home and has a record of 5-4 to Arizona’s 3-6. Also, however, Kansas City was, until the last two weeks, a favorite of DVOA (now they’re down to 15th), while, more importantly, DVOA says that the Cardinals are terrible – better only than Carolina, and much worse than the team that’s third from the bottom (Buffalo). Likewise, DVOA has San Fran as a little better than Tampa (both being very mediocre).