NFL Eliminator Challenge: Week 1

Welcome to Week One, season eight, of our NFL Eliminator Challenge series!  For those of you who are new to our series, we follow four simple steps to make our picks.  While these are not hard rules (more like guidelines and suggestions), they have historically worked out well for us in the past.  We are happy to have you join our eliminator community and feel free to comment at the bottom or hit me up on twitter!

Step 1 – Avoid Division Matchups

On September 21, 2008, the New England Patriots hosted the Miami Dolphins, riding a record-setting 21-game, regular season winning streak.  The Dolphins, on the other hand, were 0-2 to start the season, coming off a 1-15 record the year prior.  The result?  Miami 38, New England 13. If any of you have followed this series before, you know that I love this example (being a Dolphins fan and all), and it paints a great picture of how unpredictable division matchups are, which is why this is rule numero uno.

Last season, the very same Patriots were 12-3 heading into the final game of the season.  A victory would secure a bye week, and all that stood in their way was a 4-11 Miami Dolphins team hoping for a high draft pick.  Despite the game being played in New England, the Patriots lost in the final minutes, losing their bye week, and lost in the first round of the playoffs the following week.

However, New England isn’t the only team vulnerable here.  Last season, the Baltimore Ravens had the best record in the NFL at 14-2.  One loss came at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs, in Kansas City, with a close score of 33-28.  No big surprise there.  Their other loss?  Their Week Four home game, where division rival Cleveland (yes, those Browns) beat the Ravens by a score of 40-25.  It was the second most points the Browns scored all season.  The NFC wasn’t any different.  The Saints and 49ers both finished the season 13-3, and both had one of those losses come at the hands of a division rival in front of their home crowds.

It seems like every one of these top teams gets upset by a division rival every year, and without knowing when that upset will happen, I recommend avoiding these games where possible.  I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, do yourself a favor and avoid the below division games:

  • New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills
  • Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions
  • Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings
  • Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots
  • Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington
  • Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints
  • Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers

Step 2 – Avoid Marquee Matchups

Moving on to rule number two, get rid of all primetime games.  These games are scheduled in front of the bright lights of national television for a reason: they are the games of the week.  Now, normally Sunday night and Monday night games are a little more exciting than Thursday, but we have historically seen some fireworks in these matchups.

Looking at Week One last year, there were four primetime games: one Thursday night, one Sunday night, and two Monday night.  Of those four games, only one game was decided by more than a touchdown.  On Thursday, the Packers only beat the Bears by seven, and on Monday, Houston barely lost to New Orleans by only two points and Oakland beat Denver by just eight.  It wasn’t until Week Seven where none of the primetime games were decided by a touchdown or less.

For whatever reason, when primetime hits, some teams rise to the occasion while others shrink in the bright lights (*cough Kirk Cousins *cough). Unless you want to take a chance, I would avoid the below marquee games:

  • Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs
  • Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Rams
  • Pittsburgh Steelers @ New York Giants
  • Tennessee Titans @ Denver Broncos

Step 3 – Avoid Picking Against Home Field Advantage

This used to be a huge staple of our algorithm here, however, home field is not what it used to be.  According to an article posted by the NY Times, since the 1990’s, home teams won almost 60% of all games.  However, last season that rate dropped to just under 52%, the lowest mark since 1972.  Now that many stadiums with have very few to practically no fans in attendance this year, there is a very valid question if home field advantage even exists anymore.

According to research done by robbygreer.com, the average home field advantage has declined from 2.9 points to 2.2 points over the past ten seasons.  However, these trends are not even by team, where teams like the Seahawks see more than five points of home field advantage, while my lowly dolphins don’t get even a full point (yes I’ve been to Dolphins games and noticed there are usually more fans for the other team than the Dolphins).  It is also observed that the further teams travel, the more of a disadvantage they may be at.  This is why when teams travel from the West Coast to the East Coast, you often see some of the bigger upsets.

While home field advantage may not be what it used to be, the stress behind travel and being out of your comfort zone is still a real thing and something you should be careful with.  Be aware and avoid the below games where the favorite is the away team:

  • Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons
  • Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington
  • Las Vegas Raiders @ Carolina Panthers
  • Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Los Angeles Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals
  • Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Rams
  • Pittsburgh Steelers @ New York Giants

Step 4 – Make your pick!

Normally the next step is to see what options are left and we pick the best of the available teams.  However, this week we have a problem.  With nine division matchups, four prime time games and seven games where we have the away team favored over the home team, we literally don’t have a single game left to pick from.  Unfortunately, this means we need to break some rules.

My pick of the week is:

  • Indianapolis Colts over the Jacksonville Jaguars

If I had to guess who the three worst teams are going to be this season, my uneducated choices would be the Jets, the Jaguars and the wonderfully named football team of Washington.  Of course, all three of those teams are playing division games (rule 1) and two of the three are playing at home (rule 2).  The Jets are the only team going on the road but they are still playing in New York.  Many are picking the Bills this week, but I’m saving them for an alternate pick because I just have a bad feeling there and I don’t trust Josh Allen to outduel Sam Darnold.  That’s why I’m going with Indy over a team most in NFL circles believe are in full tank mode after unloading most of their best players.

 Other options I like this week:

  • Buffalo Bills over the New York Jets

As I mentioned above, this is the overwhelming pick of the week by the masses.  The Jets are a dumpster fire right now after trading away their best defensive player and creating turmoil with their star running back.  This pick is all about not believing in Adam Gase, but the true question when making this pick comes with how much you believe in Josh Allen.

  • Kansas City Chiefs over the Houston Texans

Since I hate picking division games, I had to pick one that isn’t in the division.  While this is a prime time game, and the first game of the season, Kansas City is one team that has proven they can play in the bright lights of the national media.  They are playing at home as the defending super bowl champions against a team that traded away their best offensive weapon in the offseason (quarterback excluded).  While I do expect this to be a good game, I also expect Kansas City to come away with the win.


Follow me on twitter and let me know what you think of this week’s picks @DE_aaron!

https://twitter.com/DE_aaron

Thanks for reading!


**Some fun facts about home field advantage:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/10/sports/football/road-team-advantage.html

https://www.robbygreer.com/blog/2020/1/21/an-initial-exploration-of-home-field-advantage-in-the-nfl

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