Week 13 Football Pick’em Contest Strategy & Advice (2023)

Week 13 of the 2023 NFL season gives us a key NFC showdown and lots of QB issues to sort through in pick'em pools.

Christian McCaffrey and the 49ers return to Philadelphia (David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire)

Week 13 carries us into December, and we are about to enter the stretch run. We have seen quarterbacks get decimated by injuries, and that has had a big impact on team fortunes. This week gives us some larger favorites, including some unexpected ones like Jacksonville against a Bengals team with QB issues. Oh, and we get an NFC Championship rematch, as San Francisco travels to Philadelphia with a lot on the line.

Also, as a reminder for those that play in college football bowl pools, this is conference championship game week, and the college bowl pool picks product will be live by Sunday night, after all bowl matchups are finalized and spreads on the matchups are released.

In these columns, we explore strategies to maximize your edge in NFL and college football pick’em contests. We also provide some of the rationale behind picks potentially recommended by our premium product.

We plan to periodically update to this post through Sunday of Week 13, so check back for updates. Here’s what’s available now:


Tuesday 11/28

NFL Week 13 Early Value Picks

Here are some early Week 13 value picks in game-winner-based NFL pick’em contests we are seeing as of Tuesday.

Things are bound to change as kickoffs near, but it’s worth keeping an eye on them.

LA Rams (vs. Cleveland Browns)

Spread: -3.5
Win Odds: 66%
Pick Popularity: 69%

The battle of the two Cleveland franchises (for those fans of pre-1950 football). The spread in this one has shifted above a field goal in favor of the Rams, as the Browns have significant QB issues. They may decide to start veteran Joe Flacco, just signed to the practice squad recently, instead of P.J. Walker (1 TD to 5 INT, 52.2 passer rating), as it is unlikely rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson plays after entering concussion protocol.

The pick popularity is at 69%, which relative to other similar favorites this week, is low. Several teams favored by fewer than six points have popular of 90% or higher. That puts value on just sticking with the favored Rams in this one.

Tennessee Titans (vs. Indianapolis Colts)

Spread: +1
Win Odds: 50%
Pick Popularity: 30%

The Titans are in a virtual toss-up game at home against the Colts this week. The public is breaking fairly heavily in favor of Indianapolis, though, so you could have a leverage opportunity on a pick with about the same risk level, but less than half the popularity of taking the other side.

San Francisco 49ers (at Philadelphia Eagles)

Spread: -2.5
Win Odds: 54%
Pick Popularity: 47%

The San Francisco 49ers are actually the road favorite at 10-1 Philadelphia. What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is going on here? Well, the Eagles are 10-1 thanks to a lot of victories in games that have been very much in doubt late. They are 7-1 in close games, and their point differential isn’t that great. In our own predictive ratings, we have San Francisco +3.7 points better on a neutral field.

The public is slightly favoring the Eagles here, so the value play is on the 49ers.

Houston Texans (vs. Denver Broncos)

Spread: -3.5
Win Odds: 62%
Pick Popularity: 68%

Houston is taking on a “hot” Denver team. Houston themselves have also been peaking, but are coming off a loss to Jacksonville where they just didn’t quite catch the right break late.

But let’s look at how these teams have been “hot.”

Denver is +13 in turnover margin over the last five games, all wins, with three of them coming by two points or fewer. Denver is averaging 294 yards of offense per game over this stretch.

Houston is averaging 297 yards … passing … over the last five games. That’s right, Houston is producing more yards, when just looking at the pass, than Denver is overall during their five-game win streak. Houston is -2 in turnovers over that span, though.

But turnovers are less predictive, and Houston is the favorite here. The pick rate, like with the Rams, is such that other similar favorites are far more popular than Houston, and there is value in just sticking with them.

Carolina Panthers (at Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Spread: +5.5
Win Odds: 35%
Pick Popularity: 4%

Finally, we’ll talk the big leverage upset play. Carolina has been a profitable team to pick against, as they have only one win. Carolina just fired head coach Frank Reich. But that actually creates a little more variance (I looked at interim coaches in game one, and picking the team with the new interim coach has been profitable).

So yes, Carolina is a longer shot play and this only makes sense in larger pools, weekly contests, and those where you are trailing, but the Panthers are extremely unpopular relative to their win odds.


 

Tuesday 11/28

Week 12 Results Summary

Week 12 featured plenty of blowouts, and some late-game kicking heroics, and failures, that decided outcomes.

Overall, favorites went 12-4 SU, and also 12-4 ATS against closing lines, though the earlier contest line might not have covered for Philadelphia, if it was at -3.5.

Game-Winner Pools

In game-winner pools, the public averaged 10.7 wins in Week 12, out of 16 possible games.

Our game winner picks in season-long were above the public, averaging 11.4 wins on average from the “Max Profit” selections. The performance of favorites, particularly some notable smaller favorites who won, accounts for this.

The weekly picks top options, meanwhile, are going to perform poorly in a week where unpopular upset picks do not hit, and that’s what we see with 7.3 wins. That up-and-down nature is part of the deal with weekly picks, as the goal is to leverage results when the public fails. Last week, for example, the reported subscriber win rate was 14%, nearly 3 times the expected win rate, while this week it will be fairly low.

Overall 2023 averages: Season-long Max Profit 119.4 wins, Weekly top option 105.6 wins, Public 109.8 wins

Spread Pools

In a week where the favorites not only win but cover at a high rate, we are likely to do worse. Unfortunately, this has been a year with a high rate of those types of weeks.

The public finished at 9.1 wins in 16 games, solidly above average.

Our top model picks were Houston, LA Chargers, Atlanta, and Arizona. Houston had a chance late to tie it, and a kick hit the crossbar, while the Chargers looked to be covering down 3, only to have a Zay Flowers third down conversion run turn into a long touchdown inside the two-minute warning.

Our season-long picks finished with 8.5 wins on average, above .500 but below the public average. The weekly picks were well below average in a chalk week, at 6.0 wins.

Overall 2023 averages: Season-long Max Profit 94.0 wins, Weekly top option 87.2 wins, Public 93.3 wins


Tuesday 11/28

Week 12 News and Stats Rundown

Key Injuries in Week 12

  • Saints WR Chris Olave left the game with a concussion, while Rashid Shaheed also left the game. With Michael Thomas already on IR, the Saints could be very thin at receiver.
  • Browns DE Myles Garrett, one of the most impactful defensive players in the league, is day-to-day with a shoulder injury.
  • Browns QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson suffered a concussion, making the Browns’ likely QB this week either P.J. Walker or newly signed Joe Flacco.
  • Eagles DT Fletcher Cox left the last game with a groin injury, and OT Lane Johnson was a late scratch last week.

Going Inside the Stats

The public tends to overreact to wins, losses, and scores. But football is a game where a couple of bounces and key plays can swing scoring quite a bit in the moment, but may not be as predictive.

Here are some notes from Week 12:

  • Pittsburgh fired OC Matt Canada before last week’s game, and here’s a mind-blowing indictment of his tenure: the Steelers had over 400 yards in the first game without him, and in the last game before he arrived, but never had that many yards in any game where he served as coordinator.
  • The Bengals managed only 222 yards in the first game with Jake Browning at QB, and the Steelers had nearly 200 more total yards, the first game all year Pittsburgh had more yards than the opponent.
  • Speaking of lack of yards, the Jets managed just 159 yards in the first game with Tim Boyle at QB instead of Zach Wilson, though that’s not the fewest for the Jets this year.
  • Eleven of the 16 losing teams scored 15 or fewer points this week, as offensive futility was on display. Then there’s Buffalo, who lost despite scoring 34 points and racking up over 500 yards of offense.
  • The Rams had their highest scoring game (37 points) and second-highest yardage game (457) on a day when Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua combined for only 7 catches for 45 yards and no touchdowns scored.

 


FYI

Important Notes About Picks We Highlight

Keep in mind three things about picks we highlight in this article:

  1. Optimal pick’em contest strategy balances risk and potential reward.
    Maximizing your odds to win a pick’em pool generally requires exploiting the best opportunities to differentiate your picks from your opponents’ picks. Ideally, you want to fade the public while taking on minimal additional pick risk to do so. For example, taking a betting market favorite being picked by less than 50% of your opponents is usually a great opportunity.
  2. Not all of the picks we highlight are suitable for all pools.
    Don’t be surprised if our Football Pick’em Picks product doesn’t recommend several of the picks we mention in this post for your pool specifically—especially the upset picks. The best pick strategy for you depends on a number of factors such as your pool’s size, rules, and prize structure (a concept that’s covered in part by our article on season vs. weekly prize strategy).
  3. Picks we highlight may no longer look compelling by game day.
    We analyze and write about picks using data (e.g. win odds and pick popularity) current at the time we publish this article, but that data can change before kickoff. For example, a key player being ruled out or a shift in public sentiment about a team can erase the differentiation value that a pick initially offered.

We’ll provide periodic updates


Thursday 11/30

Dallas vs. Seattle on TNF 

The Dallas Cowboys face the Seattle Seahawks, who will be wearing their throwback uniforms tonight (shout out John L. Williams!).

The Cowboys are a large 9.5-point favorite with win odds just over 80%, so Dallas will be the game winner pick in all formats.

In spread pools, we are seeing a different split, as Dallas is the more common season-long recommendation, particularly in pools where we have seen upward line movement from the opening line (commonly 8.5). In weekly picks pools, Seattle is more likely to be recommended due to Dallas’ high popularity.


Friday 12/1

Oregon a Value Favorite in the Pac-12 Title Game

It’s college football championship week, and we have several games starting with the Pac-12 and Conference USA games on Friday. We have a value favorite in the Pac-12, as Oregon is a 10-point favorite over Washington, with 80% win odds, but 72% popularity.

The two best leverage opportunities for reasonable upset picks are in the ACC and Mountain West. Louisville (+1.5) has 44% win odds but only 30% pick popularity against Florida State. UNLV (+2) has 46% win odds and 38% popularity.


Sunday 12/3

NFL Week 13 Sunday Overview 

We have seen some slight shifts in spreads and win odds since mid-week, including:

  • The Panthers are now only a 3.5-point underdog at Tampa Bay, after opening at +5.5
  • Pittsburgh has moved from -5.5 to -6.5 against Arizona
  • Jacksonville has moved another point to -9.5, now tied for the largest spread of the week

Here are some of the key games we are seeing across various types of pools:

Game Winner

Among the teams that are not big favorites, the following games are key across all formats: LA Rams, Tennessee, Houston, and San Francisco.

Weekly Game Winner

In weekly contests, you will see Carolina and the NY Jets show up most often among upset picks.

Confidence Points

In confidence point pools this week, you will see the biggest favorites near the top, but depending on pool size, also see the Carolina upset play and value favorites San Francisco and LA Rams move up the point list.

Spread Pools

In spread pools, we are heavily leveraged on the following games in both weekly and season-long pools: Carolina (line move and model), Tennessee (model and slight odds move), New England (model and low popularity), Denver (model and line move at key number), Philadelphia (model), and Green Bay (slight line move and low popularity).

In season-long, we are heavier on Jacksonville, Miami, and Detroit, while going with the underdogs in those matchups in weekly pools more often than not.