Not a bad first weekend in terms of picks, but what was notable in my mind was that the results once again demonstrated the biggest lesson I've learned from making picks as a whole this football season. When I focus on a specific theme supported by stats (even with small sample size), they turn out to be fairly good picks. When I make picks based on a general idea of a team (they are good/bad, they score a lot/very little), it doesn't work out so well. For example, I went 3-1 on my Sunday picks last weekend. Of the three winners, I provided stats that supported a situation-specific theme. For the loser, the Pitt-Den under, my main reasoning was that they tended to be good defensive teams and bad offensive teams. Again, too general. So I'm going to try to keep identifying more specific themes going forward.
Line: NO-3.5, o/u 47
The old unstoppable force versus the immovable object. But are they as unstoppable and immovable as they seem? The Saints' offensive production drops off significantly outdoors on the road versus at home. But it's hard to go against a team with such an electric offense, so let's be more specific. During their recent 9 game winning streak, the best defense that the Saints played was Tennessee. They were also favored by 3.5 on the road that game and won 22-17. In fact, the Saints have failed to score more than 26 points on the road if you don't count the first week against Green Bay and their two games against Carolina and Minnesota, two of the worst defenses this year.
The 49ers have the best defense in the league and are probably the healthiest team in the playoffs right now. But they've only played a top 10 defense three times this season, and none with the consistent explosiveness of the big 3 offenses (GB, NO, NE). So what to make of this game? The thing that seems to get forgotten in the analysis is the San Francisco offense. They ranked 11th during the regular season, and in fact, averaged more points at home (27.6) than the Saints averaged on the road (27.2). It seems to me that considering all the factors, the 49ers are comparable to the Saints, and certainly not a team that should be getting 3.5 points at home. What is probably more interesting is that they might take care of business not by completely shutting down New Orleans, but by scoring more.
SF+3.5, Over 47
Line: NE-13.5, o/u 50.5
The key to this game will be passing. Over their last ten games, New England has failed to cover every time their net differential per pass play has been below +1 yard (0-5 ATS, 5-0 ATS when differential greater than +1 yard per play). Even though Denver is mostly known as a running team, they've actually had a positive net differential per pass play in 5 of their last 10 games, going 4-1 ATS in those 5 (and 2-3 ATS otherwise).
Clearly, the key for Denver has been the big pass play (hence greater yard per pass differential) off play action, as evidenced by last week's win against Pittsburgh. Given what happened in that game for all to see, it will probably be much harder for Denver to repeat that performance. The Patriots might give up a few more first downs, but as long as they can stop the big play, I doubt Denver can keep up. But Denver will try though, and Denver has actually gone over every time (5-0) their o/u line was higher than 43.
NE-13.5, Over 50.5
Recap of bets that I really like:
I started off looking at this weekend's games really liking the 49ers +3.5. I still like that bet, but the over seems an even better bet. No matter how much confidence Harbaugh has in his defense, I doubt he is so arrogant that he expects to shut down New Orleans and win with a conservative offensive gameplan. In fact, I think taking both bets makes a nice semi-hedged pair. It's hard for me to imagine an outcome where the Saints win in a low scoring affair. Given the likely key stat for whether the Patriots will cover, I think it's more likely that the Patriots will gameplan correctly after seeing Denver's win last week. As far as the total goes, Denver has gone over all their higher totals. The only cause for hesitation would be that the 50.5 line is 3.5 points higher than their previous highest line this season.
NO@SF Over 47 heavy on both as a pair bet
DEN@NE Over 50.5