Week 2 Football Pick’em Contest Strategy & Advice (2023)
Week 2 of the 2023 NFL season is back for another episode of Overreaction week. That means value picks for pick'em contests.
Bryce Young and the Carolina Panthers are a home dog in Week 2 (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)
We move on to Week 2 in NFL pick’em contests after an opening week that saw the betting favorites only go 8-8 outright, and saw underdogs dominate in spread pools.
Week 2 is one of our favorite weeks of the year. We like to call it Overreaction Week. But that presents opportunity, as the public reacts to the only week of football action they have seen. In fact, if you look at our weekly wins history, Week 2 has been one of the best weeks on average, likely because of this overreaction dynamic.
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 2, so check back for updates. Here’s what’s available now:
- 9/17: NFL Week 2 Sunday Overview
- 9/15: CFB Value Picks for Week 3
- 9/14: Atlanta Moves to Value Favorite Role
- 9/13: Some More Evidence of Week 2 Overreaction
- 9/12: Week 2 Early Value Picks
- 9/12: Week 1 Results Summary
- FYI: Notes About Picks We Highlight
- FYI: About Our Pick’em Pool Advice
NFL Week 2 Sunday Overview
Here are some of the key games we are seeing across various types of pools:
As is often the case, some of the most important picks in season-long game winner pools tend to be the games that range from toss-ups to moderate favorites that are not quite as popular with the public.
Key examples of that this week, where the outcomes would benefit most entries, are Atlanta (where the odds have shifted strongly in the Falcons’ favor but the public likes Green Bay), Cincinnati, the New York Giants, and Denver.
Weekly Game Winner
There are lots of underdogs/toss-ups that are pretty key leverage picks in weekly pools. Some of the most common ones you will see are:
- New England
In most of those cases, we are heavily recommending the underdog even if we are not doing so much in season-long pools.
In confidence point pools, Atlanta is a pretty important one across all formats. They are showing up highly in weekly pools, because they have moved to a 2.5-point favorite, but the public is only taking them 33% of the time. That presents a high leverage play opportunity in a situation where most entries will either have Atlanta at low confidence or are picking Green Bay.
Chicago is another value pick you will see moving up the board in weekly prize sets. You will probably also see some combination of the other underdogs we highlighted for weekly game winner moving up confidence point pick sets in weekly pools.
In spread pools, you are probably going to see a few teams that are both unpopular, and that have gotten line movement in their favor. Atlanta and Seattle are both cases of this, as is Chicago.
Tennessee, Denver, New York Jets and Carolina are all teams where we have a model lean and you should see more commonly at the most frequent contest lines in season-long pools.
In weekly spread contests, you will see some plays against popularity with teams like New England, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Houston.
CFB Value Picks for Week 3
Here are some of the value picks we are seeing as we head to Week 3 in college football pools:
Syracuse (-2.5) vs. Purdue: only 40% of the public is taking favored Syracuse in this one.
Troy (-3) vs. James Madison: Troy has win odds around 60%, but the public is evenly split.
Fresno State (-3) vs. Arizona State: Same story out West, where the public is 50/50 on this matchup, where the Bulldogs are favored by a field goal.
Value Upset Picks
Missouri (+4) vs. Kansas State: Only 9% of the public is taking Missouri as a home underdog, but our odds are closer to 40%.
South Alabama (+7) at Oklahoma State: If you are looking for a bigger underdog to back in a weekly pool, only 2% of the public is picking South Alabama this week.
Ohio (+3) vs. Iowa State: We get a rare MAC home game against a big conference foe, and only 15% of the public is in on the MAC-tion.
Atlanta Moves to Value Favorite Role
We’ve seen a favorite shift over the last day, as Atlanta has gone from an early home underdog (+1.5) and are now favored by one point. Our model estimates are 52% for Atlanta to win.
Meanwhile, the public is on the Packers, picking them at about a 2-to-1 ratio, 67% to 33%. So expect to see Atlanta in your pick sets in both weekly and season-long pools in Week 2 if those numbers hold.
Some More Evidence of Week 2 Overreaction
We thought we’d share this tweet (X?) that illustrates the overreaction potential in Week 2 of the NFL season.
Since 2010, teams that lost by double-digits in the opener have gone 51-33-3 (61%) ATS in Week 2 per @Bet_Labs
Big Week 1 losers
Seahawks +6 at DET
Panthers +3.5 vs NO
Bengals -3.5 vs BAL
Colts -1.5 at HOU
Steelers +2.5 vs CLE
Texans +1.5 vs IND
Bears +3 at TB
Giants -5.5 at AZ
— John Ewing (@johnewing) September 13, 2023
Setting aside the Colts/Texans going head-to-head here, that list is pretty much a who’s who of potential value plays this week. The Saints are the most popular spread pick, and the Panthers are the biggest value upset leverage play in that one. The Bengals are coming as a value favorite, as the least popular of the 16 favorites this week in our game-winner data. The Bears are a value upset potential play, as are the Seahawks in larger pools.
We know the public tends to have a short memory and react to what just happened. That is magnified in Week 2, since what just happened is the only data point.
Who knows if we will hit our individual value plays, but this week is presenting a lot of them.
NFL Week 2 Early Value Picks
Below are some picks initially setting off the value radar for Week 2 in game-winner-based NFL pick’em contests. Things are bound to change as kickoffs near, but it’s worth keeping an eye on them.
Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Baltimore Ravens)
Win Odds: 64%
Pick Popularity: 56%
We have our first big value favorite opportunity as we head to Week 2, courtesy of Cincinnati’s dreadful performance in the season opener.
Let’s not sugarcoat it. Cincinnati was terrible on offense. The Bengals had six first downs all game, and only 82 passing yards. But QB Joe Burrow was coming off missing the entire month of August with a calf injury and had limited practice time, and this was a matchup against a team (Cleveland) they had struggled against last year, and in recent years with Burrow.
So we expect some bounce back from Cincinnati, as they are much better than what they showed. Meanwhile, you know who else wasn’t great on offense? Baltimore, in a matchup against Houston that they won, but didn’t exactly light things up. Lamar Jackson was sacked four times, and the Ravens had only 265 total yards.
Baltimore also lost starting running back J.K. Dobbins to a season-ending Achilles injury. Safety Marcus Williams is out with a pectoral injury. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Tyler Linderbaum could both miss the Week 2 matchup with injuries.
There’s a lot of reasons to lean toward the Bengals here, but the public is closer to 50/50. Take the value on the favorite.
Denver Broncos (vs. Washington Commanders)
Win Odds: 65%
Pick Popularity: 66%
The Broncos didn’t pay off last week, losing by a point to the Raiders. The Commanders, meanwhile, got the win, but it wasn’t pretty as they only beat the Cardinals at home by four points.
Denver presents some slight value as a favorite here because of relative popularity. As an example of this, there are three favorites of a field goal in Week 2, all with win odds lower than Denver, but they are all being picked by at least 77% of the public (average of 81%).
Carolina Panthers (vs. New Orleans Saints)
Win Odds: 44%
Pick Popularity: 13%
The Panthers as a home dog against the Saints are your biggest value upset play in early pick data. The Saints are extremely popular, with 87% picking them on the road. That puts them as the fifth-most popular pick of the week, close to a bunch of teams favored by more than a touchdown.
So you can get the Panthers here as a slight dog, in a situation where very few entries are picking them.
New England Patriots (vs. Miami Dolphins)
Win Odds: 44%
Pick Popularity: 17%
If the Panthers are 1a for value upset plays, the Patriots are 1b. The Miami Dolphins (and Tyreek Hill) exploded in a 36-34 win at the Chargers. They were the most impressive offensive team in an otherwise dull Week 1 when it came to offensive play.
But the Patriots quietly gave Philadelphia a very tough game. They had more yards and first downs than Philadelphia, and held the Eagles offense to only 251 total yards. This won’t be the same defensive matchup that the Dolphins just exploited in Week 1. For one, it’s highly unlikely that Bill Belichick is going to play as much man defense and make no adjustments to covering Hill, like the Chargers.
New England’s offense struggled a year ago with Matt Patricia as offensive coordinator (one of the most insane sentences to have to type). They showed signs of life in Week 1 with an actual offensive coordinator, as Mac Jones threw for over 300 yards against the Eagles.
With only 17% picking the Patriots, and being an underdog of less than a field goal, they are another good value play.
Atlanta Falcons (vs. Green Bay Packers)
Win Odds: 48%
Pick Popularity: 32%
Finally, we’ll close with a toss-up type game, where the Falcons are a very slight home dog against the Packers, but the public is heavily on Green Bay.
The Falcons won in kind of boring fashion, in the early window, 24-10, in a game where they ran the ball a lot. The Packers meanwhile won big in a nationally featured game in the late afternoon window. If we want to throw some water on that optimism for Green Bay, they did benefit from some big plays, but actually only had 15 first downs in the win.
So in weekly pools, and possibly even season-long, the Atlanta Falcons should be on your radar as one of the closest point spread games of the week.
Week 1 Results Summary
Week 1 got off to a wild start, with lots of close games and plenty of (small) upsets. The favorites for most of the week ended up 8-8 (Cincinnati and Cleveland moved to a pick’em right before kickoff, but the Bengals had been the favorite all week).
It was a week where the spread picks outperformed the game winner picks because of some unpopular upsets.
In game-winner pools, the public averaged 8.4 wins in Week 1, so just over 50%.
The two biggest favorites, Baltimore and Washington, won, but after that, it was mostly dog days.
Our game winner picks were heavier on Cleveland, a team our models had higher than the market all week. But we just missed out on some high leverage upsets that would have swung things more drastically in weekly contests. New England gave Philadelphia a great run but just missed coming back to win after falling behind 16-0 right away, and they were probably the highest leverage upset play based on popularity.
Overall, both the season-long “Max Profit” picks (9.5 wins) and weekly picks (9.4 wins on average) finished similarly to the public.
We anticipate that confidence point pools may have finished a little better versus the public in weekly pools, because the Browns and Jets were two higher leverage plays that got pushed up the point list and hit, while popular favorites like the Chiefs and Seahawks were lower.
The public was below .500 this week in spread pools, averaging 7.3 wins in 16 games. Underdogs prevailed at a high rate (9-6), and four of the five biggest underdogs covered.
Four of the five most popular favorites in spread pools failed to cover, leading to the public performance.
Our models tended to lean against some of the popular picks already, so our weekly and season-long pick recommendations were more similar than some other weeks. Our pick recommendations averaged 9.9 wins in both season-long max-profit picks and weekly picks. Those numbers are solidly above the public average by more than 2.5 wins, and we could see some early solid win rates in spread pools.
In “pick 5” type spread pools where entrants do not pick every game, the results were also likely better for PoolGenius subscribers on average. The individual games recommended depends on specific lines in those contests, but the most common candidates included Arizona, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, LA Rams, New England, Tampa Bay, and Tennessee. Six of those eight covered the most common spread contest lines.
Important Notes About Picks We Highlight
Keep in mind three things about picks we highlight in this article:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 in this post if major data changes occur for picks we’ve mentioned, so make sure to check back. However, there’s a much better way to stay on top of changing data trends throughout a week, which all sharp players need to do.
After you generate customized picks for your pool, you can also update those pick recommendations whenever you want via the My Pool Picks screen. The updated picks will incorporate the most recent data we have.
About Our Pick’em Pool Advice
What makes pick recommendations from our Football Pick’em Picks product different from other sites is that it isn’t generic.
In any given week, the best picks for your football pool depend on a number of variables. Your pool’s size, rules, and prize structure all influence strategy, as do factors like your current place in the standings and how many weeks are left.
So many different scenarios exist that it’s impossible to give pick advice that makes sense for every one. An underrated 6-point underdog could be a great pick in a big weekly prize pool and a terrible pick for a small season-long pool where you’re currently in the money.
Technology to the rescue
As far as we know, we’re the only site that has built algorithms to evaluate all these strategy factors and provide you with customized pick recommendations every week.
The result? Every year, an average of 73% of our subscribers win a prize (season-long or weekly) in a football pick’em contest.
If you want to see all the Week 1 picks we recommend for your football pick’em contest, use our Football Pick’em Picks product.
Why we write this column
At the same time, we know our subscribers like to understand the rationale behind picks our product may recommend, especially when those picks go against the grain. So over the years, we’ve started to write more about the “whys” behind our approach.
This column can also help educate our readers with pick’em pool strategy. We highlight tactics proven to result in more pick’em pool wins over the long term and point out common pitfalls to avoid.
We hope you enjoy reading, and we encourage you to check out more of our football pick’em strategy articles.