This is the week it happens.
Much like the teams themselves, picking games in the first quarter of the season is similar to that of the early stages of a boxing match or playoff hockey game — tentative and cautious with the intent of discovering the true nature of the opponent. Few risks are taken, and even fewer moves deviate from the norm.
For the first few weeks, the trends are careful and aligned. Underdogs outperformed favorites slightly in each of the first two weeks for the third time in the past four years, then saw a slight regression in Week 3, followed by a 6-7 Week 4 record.
This is the week underdogs explode.
Favorites are bait — they are ‘favored’ because they are the easier team to take. They should win their games, but winning is irrelevant when spreads are attached. More importantly, they represent the team most likely to be picked.
It’s no wonder, therefore, that in weeks where favorites outperform underdogs, few people appear shocked. When underdogs dominate — as they did in the first two weeks of the season — the reaction is that something is ‘off’, as noted in last week’s column.
With an unprecedented nine games featuring spreads of six points or higher — this season’s previous high was six such games — the opportunities for underdogs to beat their spreads are everywhere. In addition, it has been a relatively quiet few weeks as the ‘conventional wisdom’ has avoided getting burned.
That changes in Week 5.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team and an asterisk denotes one of the week’s most confident picks.
*Confidence Picks: 3-1 (Season: 12-9)
All Picks Against Spread: 7-6 (Season: 31-29-1)