The Saints and Chargers have been getting most of the love in tonight’s Monday Night Football doubleheader. But are they the right NFL picks? Jason Lake investigates.
You win some, you lose some. We recommended the New England Patriots as 7.5-point home favorites Thursday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, but only because we were getting a very good price; they lost 42-27 in epic fashion. Then the Detroit Lions got it back for us on Sunday by putting away the Arizona Cardinals 35-23. We had Detroit at +2 (+104).
Now let’s turn our attention to Monday Night Football. The fine folks at ESPN present their now-traditional Week 1 doubleheader, and it looks like both the sharps and the recreational bettors are on the same side in both cases. They like the New Orleans Saints as 3-point road dogs against the Minnesota Vikings (7:10 p.m. ET), and they like the Los Angeles Chargers as 2.5-point puppies vs. the Denver Broncos (10:20 p.m. ET). Who are we to argue?
We’re journalists, that’s who. And after a little snooping around, we have to wonder about at least one of these picks. ESPN’s Football Power Index has the Vikings rolling over New Orleans 64.1 percent of the time, which translates to a spread of around Minnesota -4.5 according to NFL computer models. The Broncos are pegged to beat L.A. 61.5 percent of the time; that’s about Denver -3.5.
Good journalism is all about multiple sources, so let’s see what the statheads at FiveThirtyEight have to say. They’re a little less bullish on the Vikes at 59 percent (Minnesota -2.5), but they really like the Broncos at 74 percent (Denver -7.5). My goodness. Both of these projections are under the Disney media umbrella, but they use slightly different methods to arrive at their results – and they both agree that Denver is undervalued as a 2.5-point home fave.
Price check on juice
That’s if you can get the Broncos at that price. As we go to press, only a handful of books still have betting odds with Denver at -2.5, and that’s with -130 juice. You could also bet on the Broncos at -3 (+104) or -3.5 (+105). Which of these is the best price on the board?
It’s not the third option. Moving from -3.5 to -3 is definitely worth more than one cent in vigorish; according to Wizard of Odds, that half-point is worth 21.4 cents. So is the half-point moving from -3 to -2.5, of course. If you really hate pushes and you want to get away from Denver -3, you’re going to have to pay a premium in either direction. There’s some extra benefit to getting the Broncos at -2.5, since they’ll cover more often and lower your variance, but the reward is smaller than it “should” be by over 13 cents. I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar.
Hold the Line
So where’s the love for the Broncos? This is what happens when Trevor Siemian is your starting quarterback. Siemian had some good moments for Denver early in his 2016 rookie campaign, but he finished the year ranked No. 21 overall in passing DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) at Football Outsiders. That was one spot better than Cleveland Browns rookie QB Cody Kessler.
Then again, Philip Rivers (No. 18 overall) wasn’t all that for the Chargers. He made the Pro Bowl, sure, but Rivers also led the league with 21 interceptions. Having an entire offensive line in front of him might help; the Chargers signed OT Russell Okung away from Denver in the offseason, but he’s a shell of the player who won Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seattle Seahawks. And second-round OG Forrest Lamp won’t even get to make his rookie debut until 2018 after tearing his ACL. First-round WR Mike Williams (back) is out for Week 1 at the very least, as well. Let’s roll with Denver, shall we? Enjoy the games, and may the prolate spheroid be with you.