This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.Your Model Doesn't Have an Opinion
When I say "model" I don't mean the vapid arm candy with whom the majority of ECO readers travel to various society galas. For all I know they might well have opinions, some of which are no doubt more accurate than mine. Instead, I'm referring to algorithmic models that use data from prior games to generate predictions for upcoming ones. You'll hear people say things like: "The model likes the Cardinals as 14-point underdogs in Green Bay this week." But that statement is false. The model has no opinion on that particular game with those particular players.
What it "thinks" (and obviously thinking is a metaphor for what it does) is that based on indicators gleaned from the league's large sample of historic results, the teams' prior performances don't warrant that large of a disparity in predicted performance, given the venue. It isn't saying anything about this specific game between these specific teams, only something generally about teams of these particular strengths as measured by their indicators. It does not take into account, for example, that the Packers have essentially been eliminated from the playoffs and that Mike McCarthy - and the team - know he's probably not returning in 2019. The specifics are blotted out as "noise" or at least things the algorithm is incapable of measuring and therefore treated as such.*
In this sense, models can never be wrong, either. If you don't have a specific opinion, but only a general one based on what has usually happened, then the specific result is largely irrelevant. Pundits who hide behind "process" after getting something wrong are using the Robot Defense™. When you outsource your opinion to a robot, you move the goalposts from whether the output was correct to whether the inputs were correct. As long as the robot had the right inputs, your work is done. That's okay as long as you don't take credit for your model's correct individual outputs. You shouldn't thump your chest like a primate when you're right if you use the Robot Defense when you're wrong. Either you're a human with thoughts about this specific game, or a machine, indifferent to the specifics, aiming to perform well over the long haul.
It's important to understand this distinction because if a model that has a 60 percent ATS winning percentage over a decent sample likes a particular team, that does not mean that particular team has a 60 percent chance to cover in that game. That game could be one for which the model is missing crucially important hard-to-quantify information, making its prediction totally off base. I think a potentially fruitful angle to take is learning to identify unusual situations where the standard indicators don't hold up. To that end, if I had a successful model, I'd want to look at where it was most off base - not merely wrong but where the past indicators were not reflected in the skill-based metrics of performance - and see whether there were common threads.
Even without the benefit of a rigorous model to find good or bad "setups" I'll often pick my best bet of the week not on the basis of what I take to be value, but where the circumstances strike me as particularly favorable. It's a combination of timing, venue, travel schedule, league standings, matchup and the particular players, coaches and teams involved. Some weeks, there's nothing that jumps out, and I'll go with the best value, but more often than not there's something that seems right. While my overall ATS record has been poor the last decade, my best bets are 92-70 (57%) over that span. It's a small enough sample that it could be dumb luck (five percent chance you'd get 92 of 162 coin flips to come up heads, but it's done well enough (at least prior to this ill-advised jinx) that I feel confident sticking with it.
(*Whether it's the case people with opinions are likely to overweight or misread factors like the Packers' lost playoff hopes and McCarthy's imminent departure is a separate discussion.)
Apropos of Philip Rivers and Marcus Mariota having the two best single-game completion percentages in NFL history this weekend, can you name all the QBs to crack 90 percent on completions in a single game (including playoffs), minimum 20 pass attempts? (Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.)
Guessing the Lines
|Game||My Line||Guessed Line||Actual Line||ML-AL||O/U||Actual O/U||MO-AO|
|Saints at Cowboys||-3.5||-4.5||-7.5||4||53||53||0|
|Broncos at Bengals||-6||-4||-3.5||-2.5||42||42.5||-0.5|
|Cardinals at Packers||13.5||10.5||14||-0.5||46||44.5||1.5|
|Ravens at Falcons||3||3||-2||5||45||49||-4|
|Bills at Dolphins||3.5||4||5||-1.5||37||40.5||-3.5|
|Panthers at Buccaneers||-2.5||-2.5||-3.5||1||56||56||0|
|Bears at Giants||-3||-3||-4.5||1.5||44||45||-1|
|Browns at Texans||3||3||4.5||-1.5||48||45||3|
|Colts at Jaguars||-4||-3.5||-4||0||45||47.5||-2.5|
|Rams at Lions||-10.5||-9.5||-10||-0.5||53||55||-2|
|Chiefs at Raiders||-14.5||-13||-15||0.5||56||56||0|
|Jets at Titans||8||7||9.5||-1.5||44||40.5||3.5|
|49ers at Seahawks||13||10.5||10||3||45||46||-1|
|Vikings at Patriots||3.5||3.5||6||-2.5||55||48.5||6.5|
|Chargers at Steelers||3||3||3.5||-0.5||47||51.5||-4.5|
|Redskins at Eagles||4.5||4||6.5||-2||43||44||-1|
The NFL has gone insane this year. I really wanted to take the Packers and Chiefs, so I made the lines preposterously high, but it wasn't enough. I barely got there on the Rams even, and wouldn't be surprised if that line went up by tomorrow before I write Beating the Book. It seems like the books are getting killed with so many favorites covering, so they're jacking up the lines even more.
My biggest disparities are the Ravens, Cowboys (that's an insane road line), Seahawks, Broncos, Vikings and Buccaneers (it's only one point, but it passes through a key number.) Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind in Beating the Book.
(Note, I also guessed the over-unders and included them here, but I rarely bet them, so it's more just an exercise for me.)
Week 12 Observations
•Aaron Rodgers wasn't all that sharp Sunday night, holding the ball too long at times, getting an ill-timed delay of game and missing Davante Adams on the would-be cover-sealing TD at the end of the game. Then again maybe Adams was a little slow.
• Guarded by Xavier Rhodes much of the game, Adams (8-5-69-1) was mostly shut down except for a nice, short back-shoulder TD catch early. Adams' 36-yard catch on the team's final drive came on a play when Rhodes hurt his hamstring, and after a nine-yard catch against Rhodes' backup, Adams couldn't extend for the TD on third-down. As I said last week, Adams is a good but not great receiver.
•Aaron Jones was solid again – 17 carries for 72 yards and a score and 5-3-21 as a receiver. He'll be at worst a second-round pick next year if he stays healthy.
•Jimmy Graham, playing with a broken thumb, went 4-2-34, but he wasn't a major factor in the offense even when he was healthy. Equanimeous St. Brown calmly went 5-3-53, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught only one pass for three yards.
• The Vikings hardly ran the ball at all until late in the game to preserve their lead. Kirk Cousins threw for 342 yards (9.0 YPA), three TDs, no picks and took two sacks. He also scrambled for 17 yards. Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook ran ineffectively on obvious running downs, splitting the work 11 to 10, respectively, though Cook also went 3-3-47-1 as a receiver.
• With the Packers virtually eliminated from playoff contention at least Mike McCarthy, who punted on fourth and short from plus territory yet again, will almost certainly be canned after the season.
•Ryan Tannehill (204 yards, 8.2 YPA, two TDs, no picks, one sack, 14 rushing yards) played decently in his return, but keep in mind more than a third of his yards came on a 74-yard TD to Leonte Carroo that easily could have been picked.
•Frank Gore (14-for-67) ran well yet again, and the booth was impressed enough to declare him a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. His stat accumulation and popularity will probably prove them right, but it strikes me as far from obvious that a running back with modest pass-catching skills, no Super Bowl rings, no rushing titles, only 77 career rushing TDs and never having been considered the best back in the league during his tenure would get in. His one great season was 2006 when he averaged 5.4 YPC, ran for 1,695 yards and caught 61 passes, but it was the year LaDainian Tomlinson had 1,815 yards, 28 TDs and 23 more receiving yards that Gore on five fewer catches. Gore never cracked 1,250 yards, 5.0 YPC or 55 catches in a season since.
•Kenyan Drake had only eight carries but 32 yards and a TD and went 6-5-64-1 in the passing game. He left with a shoulder injury late, but returned to the game.
•Andrew Luck had another monster game – 343 passing yards (9.3 YPA), three TDs, two picks – and he took his first sack in six weeks. Luck also got drilled on a four-yard reception from Jacoby Brissett, but seemed fine when he got up. Luck now has 32 TD passes in 11 games.
•Marlon Mack (15 carries for 85 yards) ran well before leaving with a concussion. Nyheim Hines (9-for-28) took over for Mack late and caught two passes for 22 yards. T.Y. Hilton (10-7-125) did his usual as did Eric Ebron (7-5-45-2). Ebron is now tied with Antonio Brown and Tyreek Hill for the league lead with 11 receiving TDs and unlike Hill and Brown, also has a rushing TD. (Hill has a return TD, however.)
•Ben Roethlisberger threw for 462 yards (8.3 YPA) but lost the game on a terrible pick near the goal line. And Roethlisberger's YPA was largely driven by a 97-yard TD to Juju Smith-Schuster, though it was an amazing throw under pressure. Roethlisberger finished with two picks, took two sacks and rushed for 18 yards.
• James Connor had a modest game – 13 carries for 53 yards, four catches for 42 yards – and lost another key fumble, this one after a long catch and run. He also got stuffed near the goal line the play before Roethlisberger threw the game-sealing pick.
• Smith-Schuster (17-13-189-1) went crazy in this game and while Roethlisberger's throw on his long TD was perfect, Smith-Schuster outran and out-shoved the chasing DB or another 50-ish yards on the play. Antonio Brown went 13-9-67 and Ryan Switzer 8-6-67.
•Case Keenum played another mistake-free game with 197 yards, two TDs, no picks and only two sacks. The Broncos have now beaten the Chargers and Steelers in back to back weeks and largely hung around against the Chiefs twice and the Rams.
•Phillip Lindsay went 14-110-1, but didn't catch a pass. Lindsay has good vision and hits the hole at full speed, which is fast – 4.39 40 at his Pro Day. At 5-8, 190, he probably won't have many double-digit carry games, but he gets the most out of the carries he gets. He's the AFC's Matt Breida.
•Emmanuel Sanders (12-7-86-1) led the team in receiving, and no one else was close. Jeff Heuerman (3-2-44) is involved, but Matt LaCosse (4-3-34-1) caught the TD. Courtland Sutton (4-1-14) was a non-factor.
• The Chargers were down 10-0 and won 45-10. Josh Rosen had 105 passing yards (5.5 YPA), one TD, one pick and two sacks, despite game-flow that should have favored passing.
•Philip Rivers broke the NFL record for completion percentage, going 28 for 29, but had only 259 yards (8.9 YPA.) While 8.9 YPA is good, you'd expect a lot more on 97-percent completions. Of course, Rivers wasn't throwing deep much with a massive lead, and he had three TDs and no picks, though he took four sacks.
•Melvin Gordon had 10 carries for 61 yards and two TDs before leaving with an MCL injury, putting his status for the next few weeks in doubt. Austin Ekeler had five carries for 35 yards and a TD in relief and went 11-10-68 as a receiver. Justin Jackson also had seven carries for 57 yards.
•Lamar Jackson threw his first TD pass and racked up 178 passing yards, but had two picks and took a sack. He also ran for 71 yards and a TD on 11 carries. It's unclear whether Joe Flacco will be back for Week 13 in Atlanta, and if he is, who will start or whether the two QBs will split snaps.
•Gus Edwards started in place of Alex Collins and had 118 yards on 23 carries (5.1 YPA), but didn't catch a pass. Ty Montgomery had eight carries for 51 yards and three catches for 13. He's passed Javorius Allen on the depth chart.
• Marc Andrews caught a 74-yard pass, but no other Ravens receiver cracked 25 yards. Willie Snead didn't receive a single target.
•Russell Wilson had 339 passing yards (10.9 YPA), two TDs, no picks and took two sacks in a comeback win over the Panthers. Even though Doug Baldwin (7-5-39) led the team in targets, Tyler Lockett (5-5-107-1) and David Moore (5-4-103-1) continue to be the playmakers.
•Chris Carson bulldozed for 55 yards and a TD on 16 carries and actually landed on his feet and kept running after being catapulted into the air for a 360 on a hit. Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny saw only four carries each.
•Christian McCaffrey had a monster game – 17 carries for 125 yards and a score and an 11-11-112-1 line as a receiver. Maybe Ron Rivera wasn't joking after all when he said 25-30 touches. McCaffrey is a top-10 overall fantasy player now, and you can make a case for top-five.
•Cam Newton had his usual big fantasy game – 256 passing yards (8.5 YPA), two passing TDs, one pick, no sacks and 63 rushing yards.
• The Nick Mullens era won't be a long one. Against arguably the league's worst defense, he managed only 221 yards (6.9 YPA) with one TD, two picks and four sacks. In his defense, he was without his top two WR.
• With Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin out, Dante Pettis got the start and went 7-4-77-1, while George Kittle (12-6-48) was held in check. Matt Breida (NFC's Philip Lindsay) went 14 for 106 and caught three passes for 34 yards.
•Jameis Winston played under control with 312 passing yards, two TDs, no picks and only one sack. He also rushed for 24 yards. Peyton Barber led the team with 47 yards and a TD on 18 carries, while Jacquizz Rodgers was more efficient – 31 yards on five carries.
•Mike Evans (8-6-116) led the way, Adam Humphries (6-6-54-1) continues to be relevant and Chris Godwin (4-4-42) chipped in. With O.J. Howard on IR, Cameron Brate (4-3-26-1) got the start and the TD. DeSean Jackson, who hurt his thumb, had only three catches for 19 yards on eight targets. For whatever reason he doesn't seem to sync well with Winston.
• The Giants were up 19-3 in the first half before Eli Manning threw a senseless pick in field-goal range, and Pat Schumur stopped using Saquon Barkley en route to the loss. Manning was actually sharp early, leading his receivers on short passes and throwing a perfect ball to Odell Beckham down the sideline. But it was only a matter of time, and Manning did virtually nothing in the second half except overthrow Beckham on a pass in the end zone (Beckham was held, but the flag wasn't thrown.) Manning finished with 297 yards (8.0 YPA), one TD, one pick and two sacks.
• Barkley was a force out of the gate, but the Giants went away from him in the second half, and their offense disappeared. Barkley's lack of second-half use was so inexplicable, I assumed he might be hurt, but apparently that wasn't the case. He still finished with 101 yards and a TD on 13 carries and went 8-7-41-1 as a receiver.
• Beckham (9-5-85) led the team in receiving, while Sterling Shepard (6-4-37) was quiet. Rhett Ellison (6-4-77) saw extra work when Evan Engram was scratched in pregame warmups with a hamstring injury.
•Carson Wentz (236 yards, 8.4 YPA, one TD, no picks, three sacks) played passably, but there's something wrong with the Eagles offense. They never take shots down the field, instead opting for short passes to Zach Ertz (8-7-91-1) and Golden Tate (8-4-30.) Alshon Jeffery (3-3-39) was not a major factor, either. With the win the Eagles are back in contention in the NFC East, but they don't look like a team with any upside.
•Josh Adams had 22 carries for 84 yards and a score, and that's not counting a long TD that was called back on the hold (though the hold arguably sprung him in the first place.) Corey Clement (five carries for 45 yards and two catches for 31 yards) was more efficient.
•Tom Brady (283 yards, 9.1 YPA, two TDs, no picks and no sacks) played a clean game. Julian Edelman (5-4-84-1) and Josh Gordon (5-5-70) led the way, while Rob Gronkowski (7-3-56-1) showed he was healthier on a 34-yard TD catch in traffic.
• The Jets players are mostly not worth writing about except for Quincy Enunwa (4-4-73) showing he was healthy again, Jermaine Kearse (12-6-66-1) and tight end Chris Herndon (8-7-57) who has been quietly productive the last several games.
•Baker Mayfield had another strong game – 9.9 YPA, four TDs, no picks, no sacks. He spread the ball around to David Njoku (5-5-63-1), Antonio Callaway (5-4-62-1), Nick Chubb (3-3-44-1) and Jarvis Landry (5-3-30). Duke Johnson was a non-factor, but Chubb also went 28-84-1 on the ground and has taken over as the team's dominant workhorse.
• The Bengals have descended into abject barbarism, and they also signed Tom Savage after losing Andy Dalton for the year. New starter Jeff Driskel (5.3 YPA) wasn't especially inspiring, but Joe Mixon (14 for 89 on the ground, 7-7-66 through the air) and Tyler Boyd (8-7-85-1) produced.
•Josh Allen returned for the Bills and played well – 8.4 YPA, one TD, no picks and no sacks against a strong Jaguars pass defense. He also ran for 99 yards and a score. It's unclear whether he's a long-term solution, but his running ability gives him upside for fantasy.
•LeSean McCoy had 17 carries for only 46 yards one catch for seven yards. Robert Foster (3-2-94-1) led the team in receiving, thanks to a 75-yard TD, while no one else had more than 32 yards receiving.
•Leonard Fournette (18 carries for 95 yards and two TDs, three catches for 13 yards) was on his way to a gigantic day before being ejected early in the third quarter for his role in a scuffle. He was also suspended for Week 13, so he cost you another game and a half on top of the nine he missed to start the year. It's a shame because when healthy, Fournette is one of the league's workload kings. I could see him being a force in the playoffs, but so few teams who made the playoffs actually have him on their rosters.
•Blake Bortles had his usual terrible game, the quantification of which isn't worth the effort to type. Suffice it to say Cody Kessler will start Week 13, and the Jaguars will be looking for a QB via free agency or the draft.
•Deshaun Watson missed a couple open receivers and was too easily knocked over on a couple sacks, but he scrambled well and threw nice balls to DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas. He had a monster fantasy day – 220 passing yards and two TDs as well as 70 rushing yards and a rushing TD.
• I've mocked Lamar Miller for a couple years now, but if there's one skill he's always had it's speed. Miller ran a 4.40 40 at the Combine, lightning fast for a running back, and he showed it on his 97-yard TD run as the DBs chasing him had no chance. Miller finished with 162 yards and a TD on only 12 carries. Alfred Blue actually had 13 carries, but for only 49 yards,
•DeAndre Hopkins (6-5-74) had a modest day, but he was productive given the constant double teams and the unfriendly game flow. Demaryius Thomas went 5-4-38-2 on most people's benches, as not many were high on DMT for this matchup. Keke Coutee went 2-2-14.
•Marcus Mariota completed 22 of 23 passes for 303 yards (13.2 YPA) and two TDs. He also ran for 28 yards and did not throw a pick. The big negative? He took six sacks, and the Titans had a lot of holding and false start penalties. Mariota looked sharp all game, though.
•Corey Davis led the team in rushing and receiving. He got 39 yards on his only carry and finished with a 4-4-96-1 line. Jonnu Smith was the only other pass catcher of note, going 2-2-62-1, thanks to a 61-yard TD early in the game.
•Dion Lewis was stuffed – seven carries for eight yards - though had had seven catches for 33 yards. Derrick Henry had eight carries for 30 yards and two catches for 19, but lost a fumble at the end of the game.