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NFL Picks Against The Spread: What Bookmakers Think About Cowboys, Giants, Redskins, and Eagles in Week 10

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We enlist some professional help to figure out what the odds are for all four NFC East teams this weekend.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

When the Vegas oddsmakers like sportsbooks and casinos set the point spread, or the line, for an NFL game, their objective is to make sure the line attracts an equal amount of wagers on both sides of the bet, as this limits the exposure of the oddsmaker.

The opening line is an oddsmakers' best guess as to which point spread will get equal action from bettors on both sides. Because most NFL games are mismatches, oddsmakers use a point spread to balance out the betting action on the two sides. Otherwise, everybody would just bet on the favorites to win, and the bookmakers would be left to cover the difference.

To arrive at a point spread, the Vegas oddsmakers draw on their knowledge of betting behavior and sophisticated statistical models, but it's important to understand that the point spread is not a predicted margin of victory, though the numbers certainly look like it and often come very close to the actual result of a game.

But Vegas isn't the only source of point spreads for a game. Today we'll look at four different stat-based points spreads to see how they differ from the Vegas line in their outlook for the four NFC East games this weekend, and offer up a pick against the spread for all NFC East games.

Dallas Cowboys at Pittsburgh Steelers (-2.5, 50)

The Cowboys opened as -3 underdogs in Pittsburgh, though the line has since moved a little in the Cowboys' favor. The following table shows how that compares to lines generated by three different stat-based models:

Cowboys @ Steelers Point Spreads, Week 10
Vegas Line
FiveThirtyEight Massey-Peabody Pro Football Reference
Dallas +2.5 +0.5 +0.4
-3.2

FiveThirtyEight base their number on an ELO rating system that estimates each team’s skill level using only the final scores and locations of each game.

Massey-Peabody generate their predictions by working up from play-by-play data to calculate a performance figure for rushing, passing, scoring, and play success for each team

PFR's Simple Rating System is calculated from each team's average point margin, adjusted up or down depending on the strength of their opponents.

For the Cowboys, the stat-based models shown here paint an uneven picture, though all favor the Cowboys more strongly than the Vegas line currently does. Which is why I've enlisted professional help from Scott Cooley at Bookmaker.eu to understand why the spread for the game is the way it is and where it could be heading:

Two of the most public teams we have so this marquee matchup will command a massive handle. Right now, we’ve got around 75 percent of the wagers on Dallas. The squares have been backing the ‘Boys all year, and they’ve been winning so they aren’t about to hop off the wagon. This spread has dropped a half point and it could end up closer to -1 by kickoff, depending on when/if the sharps get involved.

The general weakness of all the stat-based models in this case is they are using numbers from the entire season, and in the case of 538.com, data from beyond just this season. Also, none of them take into account injuries (Ben Roethlisberger's knee), weather conditions (clear skies, temperatures in the low 50s), the importance of the game (the Steelers probably need to win their division to make the playoffs, so every win counts), or anything else besides the stats from previous games.

The Steelers started the season with the fifth-best odds of winning the Super Bowl, but have lost their last three games and don't look anything like the preseason favorite they were just two months ago. Ben Roethlisberger's return last week had almost no effect on the Steelers' stuttering offense. The Steelers averaged 15 points on offense over their three-game skid and allowed 26, while the Cowboys have averaged 33.1 points on offense and have only allowed 16.2 on defense. The Cowboys may not be able to keep up those kind of numbers in every game, but it'll be enough for the Steelers. I'm picking the Cowboys to cover.

Prediction ATS: Dallas

Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants (-2.5, 47)

The Giants line has bounced around all week, and oddsmakers are currently offering them anywhere between -1 and -2.5. But for this game, the bookmakers and the stat models agree, the Giants are the favorites in this one.

Bengals @ Giants Point Spreads, Week 10

Vegas Line
FiveThirtyEight Massey-Peabody Pro Football Reference
Giants -2.5 -2.0 -2.4 -6.2

Scott explains that the Bengals are getting a lot of the early betting action, though that could change.

This is our biggest move thus far, from -3 to -1, and it’s safe to say we opened the Giants a touch too high and the smart players pounced. This game really could go either way, but the Bengals are the better team overall. Currently, more than 70 percent of the money taken is on Cincinnati. I don’t think this drops lower because as Monday approaches we’ll see a lot of public money on New York.

The Giants are 3-1 against the spread in their last four games, while the Bengals are 1-3 against the spread in their last four. From a scoring point of view, the teams are nearly identical on offense (CIN: 20.9 ppg, NYG: 20.1 ppg), and the Giants are a little more effective on defense (CIN: 20.5 ppg, NYG: 23.6 ppg).

When in doubt, go with the home team or the team with the better record. The Giants are both, and there's also this from Bill Barnwell of ESPN:

The Giants have lost eight of their 12 fumbles on offense, but even more distressingly, they've forced nine fumbles on defense and recovered just one of them for an 11 percent rate. Those rates can't continue.

Prediction ATS: New York Giants

Minnesota Vikings @ Washington Redskins (-2.5, 41.5)

This line would likely have looked very different just a few weeks ago, but the Vikings winning streak is a rapidly fading memory.

Vikings @ Redskins Point Spreads, Week 10

Vegas Line
FiveThirtyEight Massey-Peabody Pro Football Reference
Redskins -2.5 -1.0 -0.7 +0.5

The stat-based models still remember the Vikings starting the season 5-0, and don't yet accurately reflect the reality of a team that has averaged just 12 points in its last three games. The Vikings offense is in shambles, the offensive line is a disaster (ranked 32 in run-blocking and 22nd in pass protection by Football Outsiders), and the ground game is averaging a league-worst 2.7 yards per attempt.

Even Scott sees this one as easy money.

If I were a betting man, this is the game I would target in Week 10. Smart players agreed and snatched the -2.5 opener fairly quickly. Not a lot of star power on this Redskins squad, but we think it’s a quality group. Until the Vikings can fix the problems along their offensive line, they will continue to struggle.

Prediction ATS: Washington

Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles (-1, 50)

Like the Vikings, the Eagles started off hot but then came unglued, losing four of their last five games. Yet they remain slight favorites against the Falcons.

Falcons @ Eagles Point Spreads, Week 10

Vegas Line
FiveThirtyEight Massey-Peabody Pro Football Reference
Eagles -1 -1 -2 -4.1

Bookmaker.eu expects the line to move in favor of the Eagles.

The square bettor is scratching his head when looking at this line because he sees a reeling Eagles team against a 6-3 Falcons team. But the odds in games like these look funny for a reason. Our initial action came from a sharp bettor and that took the number to -1.5. Since then, we’ve taken enough action on Atlanta from the public to move back to the opener of -1. As limits are raised this weekend, we expect the wiseguys to be on Philly.

The Falcons are pretty to watch on offense, where they lead the league with a stunning 33.9 points per game, but they are ugly as a mud fence on defense, where they are ranked 28th with 28.8 points allowed. But as long as you're outscoring the opponent, it doesn't matter all that much how many points that opponent puts up.

The Eagles haven't scored more than 23 points in their last five games, and have allowed 24+ points in four of their last five games. The Eagles are playing at home, and they'll probably score a lot of points. But the Falcons will score more.

Prediction ATS: Atlanta