2013 Season NFL Football Past Picks

February 02, 2014

This pick was released to clients on December 31, 1969 at 9:00PM ET.

02

Seattle vs. Denver

Sunday 02/02 06:30 PM Eastern

2 units on Game: Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos (Sunday 2/02 6:30 PM Eastern) Pick: 2 units on Highest-Scoring Quarter = 4th vs. 1st -205 at Diamond (risk 2 to win 0.98) (risk 2 to return 2.98)  RESULT: LOSS

It’s been a long time since we’ve had two teams that were expected to make it to the Super Bowl actually reach the game. Recent years have seen lower seeded Wildcard teams go on a late-season tear and win the Super Bowl. Not this year. I have said for two straight years that Seattle was the best team in the NFL. That’s of course up to debate but I still believe it. Denver has come on extremely strong this year and they have rectified to some extent a bad defense. They deserve to be here as well. In essence we have the best two teams in the NFL battling it out for the title. Vegas oddsmakers opened this game at about Seattle -1. Some books had Seattle -2 while others had it a pick’em but the average open on this game was Seattle as a slight favorite. The reason for that is that these odds-making professionals felt Seattle was the slightly better team with a slightly greater than 50% chance of winning this game. The public has bet the Broncos heavily since then, pushing the line to Denver -2 to Denver -3 in some places. With over 70% of the bets coming in on Denver, there’s a chance this line will reach a -3 at most sportsbooks by kickoff. One reason the public is betting Denver is that they love offense and they know and admire Peyton Manning. Defense is boring. Russell Wilson is not a household name amongst non-NFL fans. The reason why the line could very well continue to move is that, unlike regular season NFL games, the line moves in the Super Bowl are driven by the public. The amount of public money dwarfs sharp money in this game. And, this effect only intensifies the closer you get to Super Bowl Sunday. I think the only way the line moves the other way is if the weather forecast makes it clear that the weather will be really poor (not good for Denver). Does the public know something that the Vegas oddsmakers don’t? My computer matchup for this game (not an official pick) has Seattle winning a very close game. The public is overwhelmingly on Denver and they are split on the total. By all accounts this is a tough Super Bowl to call as either team can win this game. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find some value. Let’s take a look at what is likely to happen… How many points will the Seahawks score?The Seahawks offense ranked 8th in points scored this season, averaging 25.7 points per game. They ranked 3rd in the league in rushing yards per game behind the power running game of Marshawn Lynch. Russell Wilson quietly put up great numbers this season and that was without the services of Percy Harvin, Seattle’s most explosive receiver, who will be back for this game. Wilson was ranked as the 7th best QB in passer rating during the regular season with a rating of 101.2. He threw for over 3,330 yards with 26 touchdowns to just 9 interceptions. On the season, Seattle owned the league’s best running game and the 6th best passing game. That’s pretty damn good! But, Wilson’s production really tailed off late in the season which has many people concerned about Seattle in this game (more on that later). Denver’s defense was ranked 18th in the league this season in points allowed. They will be without starting corner Chris Harris again here. When facing defenses similar to Denver’s this season, the Seahawks averaged 24.5 points per game. Even if we look at Seattle’s last six games (when their offense started falling off), the Seahawks scored 23 per game vs. defenses like the Broncos. Denver this season allowed 25.8 points per game to offenses similar to Seattle’s. So, as a starting point based on full-season numbers, we can say Seattle should score about 25 points in this game. But, we need to take into account how these teams are playing now.  Seattle’s offense has fallen off some lately and Denver’s defense has picked things up. In their last six games, Seattle’s point average has dropped to 20.5 points per game. Why is that? One reason could be that Russell Wilson for some reason has suddenly started to struggle. That may be true. But, another reason could be the quality of defenses the Seahawks have faced to close out the season. Here’s the list of their last six opponents: San Francisco (twice), Arizona, St. Louis, New Orleans and the New York Giants. San Francisco is a top 3 defense and Wilson and company had to face them twice. New Orleans is the #4 defense in the league. Arizona is #6. The Giants are the worst defense they faced during this stretch, but New York owned the 5th best defense when it came to opposing quarterbacks this year (they kept opposing quarterbacks to an average 78.3 passer rating which what top 5 in the league). So, Seattle’s offensive woes coincided with facing a killer lineup including four of six games vs. top-6 defenses. Denver’s defense is improved, but it’s still suspect. The Broncos defense allowed an average of 26.6 points per game through their first 14 games. In their last four games they shaved that to 15 points per game. Why was that? It’s a tale of two reasons. The first two of those four games came against Oakland and Houston – two of the absolute worst offenses in the league. So, holding those two offenses to 13 and 14 points really doesn’t mean a whole lot. After that, the Broncos faced an average offense in San Diego (ranked 14th) and a great one in New England (ranked 2nd). They held the Chargers to 17 and the Pats to 16. That’s impressive, but it’s a very small sample. What does it all mean? My personal take on it is that Denver’s defense has improved, but not to the level of Seattle’s. I believe Denver’s defense to be good coming into this game, but not great. While Denver has the better quarterback, I have more faith than most in Seattle’s. Wilson put up a 101.2 passer rating this season with a 3-to-1 TD to INT ratio. He rarely makes mistakes. Combined with the best running game and the best defense in the league, that’s powerful. Now, back to how this matters. What will Seattle score here? Let’s just assume Denver’s defense has improved and look at how Seattle fared this season against elite defenses. Seattle played #2 defense in Carolina, #3 San Francisco (three times), #4 New Orleans (twice) and #6 Arizona (twice). That’s eight games against top 6 defenses. In those eight games, Seattle averaged 23 points per game. Denver’s defense is not as good as any of those teams. So, conservatively, we still get to a likely 23 to 25 points for Seattle in this game, no matter how you slice it. How many points will the Broncos score?Denver can score! This team set the NFL record for most points per game this season. The running game is solid and Peyton Manning was beyond amazing this season. On the season, including playoffs, the Broncos averaged 36.4 points per game. Denver can run the ball with their multiple running backs as well. But, as with the Seahawks, this offense has taken a pretty big dip as the season has progressed. As the mercury has fallen, so has Denver’s average points scored. In their last 4 games (coinciding with their improved defense), the Broncos have averaged 30.3 per game – a very nice big number, but not the world-beating numbers they were putting up earlier. Who did they play in those games? The #25 defense in Houston, the #29 defense in Oakland, the #9 defense in San Diego and the #10 defense in New England. Two above average defenses and two awful ones. So why do we see the dip? I believe it’s partly due to a conscious choice by John Fox to slow the game down. He doesn’t want to play the 51-48 type game vs. the Cowboys earlier this year. He knows that to win in the playoffs he needs to control the clock more and give his defense more rest. To get better defense, he has sacrificed offense. This has worked in the playoffs and as a result, I think he will continue with that strategy here. How has Denver fared this season vs. elite defenses? They haven’t played any! One reason I feel Denver’s offense is a bit overrated is the fact that they played a very soft schedule from a defensive point of view. They mostly played defenses like Houston and Oakland – bad ones. Peyton Manning this season has really benefitted from the schedule this season. He was able to tee off against some of the worst defenses in the league. He scored 37 and 34 vs. Oakland (the worst pass coverage team in the league). He put up 28, 20 and 24 against the second-worst (San Diego). He scored 45 vs. Washington (5th worst), 37 vs. Houston (6th worst), 52 vs. Philly (11th worst), 35 vs. Jacksonville (12th worst), 51 vs. Dallas (14th worst). The only two top 10 defenses they faced this season were Kansas City (#7) and San Diego (#9). The Broncos faced no defenses in the top 6 and in this game they face the clear #1. So, we are at a bit of a loss here on data. But we need to make some assumptions. How did Denver fare vs. KC and San Diego? The Broncos averaged 26.8 in five games this season and 22 per game in the last two (at the end of the season when the offensive strategy shifted). So vs. an average defense of #8, it seems we could expect them to score around 22-27 points. Let’s say 25 for now. But, Denver isn’t facing a #8 defense here. They are facing the #1 defense. And, the weather won’t be optimal. So let’s knock that 25 down a bit to say 22 or 23. Now, let's dig more into Seattle’s defense. This defense allowed just 14.6 points per game. They held seven teams to 10 points or less and gave up more than 24 just once (thanks to a blocked field goal returned for a TD vs. Indianapolis early in the season). The Seahawks own the 6th best run-stop unit, the best pass rush and the best pass coverage unit in the NFL. Denver feasted this year on RAC (run after the catch). I think this Seattle defense will give up completions but I don’t think Broncos players will be breaking big runs that often. Instead of a short catch and a run for 15 yards, that may be a catch and tackle for 5 yards in this game. But, the problem is that they didn’t face any elite offenses. So we have the same “missing data” problem here. As a result, their numbers are bit inflated too. The best offenses this team faced were New Orleans (#11), San Francisco (#13) and Minnesota (#15). Against these teams, the Seahawks allowed 15.8 points per game. Obviously they are facing a much better offense in this game in Denver, so we can’t expect Seattle to hold the Broncos to 16 points. Maybe 20 to 25 is a more reasonable assumption. So, trying to estimate what Denver will score is hard given the lack of data we have, but based on best guesses here, it looks like it will be in the low 20s – probably around 23. So, based on analyzing these two teams, the game should in fact be very close. It’s roughly a pick’em. Both teams are capable of winning this game and it could very well come down to a bounce of a ball or a referee call. So, getting either team +3 would result in quite a bit of value. If Denver were +3 in this game, I’d likely take them. But that’s not happening. If you can get Seattle at +3, there’s value there. To me this is Seattle at +3 or pass. In addition to getting points, there are other reasons to give Seattle a slight here: 1. Injuries: Denver’s starting cornerback Chris Harris is out of this game. Seattle’s best and most explosive wide receiver (Percy Harvin) will play in this game. 2. Defense usually wins Super Bowls. The #1 defense in the league has made it to the Super Bowl 15 times. In those 15 games, the team with the #1 defense is 12-3. Great offenses in the Super Bowl don’t fare as well. Since the start of the decade, we have seen six #1 offenses make the big game. Those power offenses scored an average of 19.5 points per game in the Super Bowl. Only one of them won the game (the Saints in 2010). The #1 offense has faced the #1 defense five times in the Super Bowl with the better defense winning four of the five games. Let’s also not forget the 2003 Super Bowl in which the #1 scoring defense in Tampa Bay soundly defeated the #1 scoring offense in Oakland. Seattle’s defense shut down the best offenses they faced this year in New Orleans and San Francisco. They kept the powerful Drew Brees to 7 points and 15 points. They kept the Niners to 3, 19 and 17 points. Last week they shut down San Francisco’s passing game and running game. The only thing that hurt the Seahawks was Kaepernick’s legs and Manning isn’t going to be running the ball. The best pocket passers that Seattle faced this year (Brees, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning and Andrew Luck) for the most part were ineffective. 3. The weather: It’s unclear if weather will be a factor, but it's either neutral or negative for Denver. If it isn't an issue, I feel this is a virtual toss-up game. If the weather is cold and/or windy, then it only gives Seattle (the defensive team) an advantage. Peyton Manning has won about 70% of his games in his career. But, when the game-time temperature is below 41 degrees, he’s just 10-11. And if it’s below 32 degrees, he’s 4-7. If it’s windy, then that hurts the passing game which is Denver’s most important weapon. 4. History based on expected points scored: If Denver doesn’t score 30+ they could be in trouble. I believe they will most likely score in the low 20s (although 30+ is certainly possible). But keep in mind that Super Bowl favorites that score under 30 points are just 3-15 ATS the past 21 years. And, if Seattle scores over 19 points, they are in good shape to cover the spread. I do believe Seattle should get to 20+ in this game. The last 20 Super Bowl underdogs that scored 20+ points have gone 16-3-1 ATS including 14-1 ATS if the line is 7 or less as it is here.
The bottom line is this: The oddsmakers got the line right when they opened Seattle as a tiny favorite, with weather unknown. But, in this game the public has shown its love for Peyton Manning and a big-time offense. Their heavy betting on Denver has moved the line to +2 to +3 at this time. On top of that, if there’s bad weather, it further favors Seattle. In the end, getting 3 points in a game that is very close to even spells value. Take Seattle at +3. Right now you can get this line at Bovada. At other sportsbooks, you will need to either buy a half-point. Or wait until closer to game time. As more and more public money comes in on Denver, especially on Saturday and Sunday, this line could reach +3 at more sportsbooks. If you can’t get +3 then there’s a little value still in my mind on Seattle at +2 or better, but the real value is at +3 or better. I also think there’s value on the UNDER as I see both teams scoring in the low 20s here in good weather. Again, you may want to wait until closer to game time to bet the total as public money will come in late on the OVER, likely pushing the line up.

FINAL SCORE
TEAM 1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q FINAL
Seahawks 8 14 14 7 43
Broncos 0 0 8 0 8

NFL

 

Last 20.4 years

Wins Losses Units
2443 2157 +189.24

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