NFL Eliminator Challenge – WEEK 1

Welcome to week one, season nine, 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 to give me your thoughts!

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, started the 2008 season at 0-2 after coming off a 1-15 record the year before.  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.  It paints a great picture of how unpredictable division matchups can be, which bring us to the first step of my eliminator series: avoid division matchups whenever you can!

Now just because I used an example from back in 2008, doesn’t mean this doesn’t happen every year.  Let’s look at the team with the best record in 2020: The Kansas City Chiefs.  Many people remember the Chiefs went 14-2 last season, racking up more wins than any other team in the NFL.  However, what many people don’t remember is who was responsible for those two loses.  Week five the Chiefs lost to the Las Vegas Raiders and Week 17 they lost to the Los Angeles Chargers.  Now to be fair, Chad Henne started the game against the Chargers, but there is no reason why the Chiefs lost to one of their average division foes, the Raiders, at home in week five.

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You see it all over the league.  The top record in the NFC was held by the Green Bay Packers who went 13-3, but still lost to division rival Minnesota in Green Bay week eight.  The Steelers, the AFC North division champs with a 12-4 record, lost in week 15 to a Bengals team that finished 4-11.  Take a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that won only a single game all season.  Who did they beat?  Division rival Indy who finished the season 11-5 and in the playoffs. 

Every single year one of these top teams gets upset by a division rival that is lucky to win a couple games all season.  The problem is you never know when it is going to happen.  Unless you can predict the future, I recommend avoiding these division matchups where possible:

  • Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans
  • Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots

Step 2 – Avoid Marquee Matchups

Moving on to step number two, get rid of all prime time 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 recently seen some fireworks in those Thursday matchups as well.

Looking at last year we saw a ton of nail biters and upsets all over the league.  In fact, if you use Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday night games from all of last year, week six was the only week of the season where at least one of those prime time matchups wasn’t decided by seven or less points.  In fact, the eventual Super Bowl champs struggled a bit during prime time last year.  During week five, we saw Chicago beat the Bucs on Thursday night, and in week eight the Bucs barely beat a hapless Giants team on Monday night with a final score of 25-23. 

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

  • Dallas Cowboys @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Chicago Bears @ Los Angeles Rams
  • Baltimore Ravens @ Las Vegas Raiders

Step 3 – Avoid Picking Against Home Field Advantage

This used to be a huge staple of our algorithm here, however, home field advantage is not what it used to be.  Last season we discussed an article posted by the NY Times, stating that in the 1990’s, home teams won almost 60% of all games, but in 2019, that rate dropped to just under 52%, the lowest mark since 1972.  According to a new article by the ringer back in January, last year was the first season in NFL history where home teams actually finished below .500.  Believe it or not, home teams finished with a record of 127-128-1.

Obviously COVID played a piece in these numbers.  When you have no fans in the stands, home field advantage certainly loses a bit of its advantage.  That being said, plans are to have fans back in the stands in 2021, so just to be safe we aren’t retiring this rule just yet.  Let’s also not forget, Jacksonville’s lone win of 2020 did come in front of their home crowd!

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:

  • Minnesota Vikings @ Cincinnati Bengals
  • San Francisco 49ers @ Detroit Lions
  • Seattle Seahawks @ Indianapolis Colts
  • Los Angeles Chargers @ Washington Football Team
  • Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans
  • Green Bay Packers @ New Orleans Saints
  • Denver Broncos @ New York Giants
  • Baltimore Ravens @ Las Vegas Raiders

Step 4 – Make your pick!

Now the final step is to see what you have left and pick the best option on the board.  Eliminating all the games we crossed out above leaves us with five choices: Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs.  Normally there is one clear cut option, one of those teams favored by 10+ points in Vegas, but as of Monday, there were no teams favored by more than 7.5 points in any game, so we go with our gut a little here.

My pick of the week is:

  • Buffalo Bills over the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Buffalo Bills are one of the popular Super Bowl picks for NFL analysts around the internet.  They were just one game shy of the Super Bowl last year and they return the majority of their core from that team.  They also host a Steelers team with an aging quarterback and a rookie running back.  While the Steelers defense is very good, I believe the Bills offense is better and if the Josh Allen from 2020 shows up for this game it should be an easy win for the Bills.

 Other options I like this week:

  • Carolina Panthers over the New York Jets

There may not be a lot of weeks where you can comfortably pick the Panthers this season, but I believe this week is one of them.  The Jets were one of the worst teams in football last year and now will be showing up to their first game of the season with a rookie coach, a rookie quarterback and possibly a rookie running back.  The Panthers also have a quarterback who knows the Jets squad well and with CMC back in action, this could be a good statement game for Carolina.

  • Los Angeles Rams over the Chicago Bears

While this is a rule breaker since the Rams and Bears play in prime time, this game is in LA’s brand new stadium with a full crowd behind them.  The Rams will also be unleashing their shiny new quarterback and will be playing a questionable quarterback on the other side of the ball.  Assuming Dalton plays the whole game, and knowing Dalton’s prime time record, I think this is a safe bet for the Rams.

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

Thanks for reading!

Some fun facts about home field advantage:

Why Home Field Advantage Is Not What It Used to Be – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

What Happened to NFL Home-Field Advantage? – The Ringer

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