NFL Eliminator Challenge – WEEK 1

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Welcome to Week one, Season 10 of our NFL Eliminator Challenge series.  This year we join our third fantasy site in the past decade (shoutout to the FFS guys for giving me a platform to continue this tradition). 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, riding a record-setting 21-game regular season winning streak, hosted their rivals, the Miami Dolphins.  On the other hand, the Dolphins started the 2008 season at 0-2 after completing a 1-15 season 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 brings us to my eliminator series’s first step: avoid division matchups whenever you can!

Just because I used an example from 2008 doesn’t mean this doesn’t happen every year.  Last year two teams finished atop the NFL with a 13-4 record: the Green Bay Packers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In Tampa, two of their four losses came at the hands of a division rival, the New Orleans Saints.  In Green Bay, half of the Packers’ losses came from division foes, one from Minnesota and one from Detroit.  Looking at it another way, Jacksonville had the worst record in the league at 3-14, yet in WK18 they beat their rival the Indianapolis Colts, to keep the Colts out of the playoffs. Even the Lions at 3-13-1 not only beat the Packers but also beat the Vikings back in Week 13. 

Every year, one of these top teams gets upset by a division rival. The problem is you never know when it’s going to happen. Unless you can predict the future, I recommend avoiding these division matchups where possible:

  • New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons
  • Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals
  • New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins
  • Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans
  • Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings
  • Las Vegas Raiders @ Los Angeles Chargers

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.  Normally, Sunday night and Monday night games are a little more exciting than Thursday, but we have also recently seen some fireworks in those Thursday matchups.

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 10 was the only week of the season where at least one of those prime-time matchups wasn’t decided by seven or fewer points (not counting the final week).  We even saw five games go into overtime including Monday night of Week 1 in Las Vegas.

For whatever reason, when primetime hits, some teams rise to the occasion while others shrink in the bright lights (*cough Andy Dalton *cough – this joke may not be relevant anymore 😊). Unless you want to take a chance, I would avoid the below marquee games:

  • Buffalo Bills @ Los Angeles Rams
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Dallas Cowboys
  • Denver Broncos @ Seattle Seahawks

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. A couple of seasons ago we discussed an article posted by the NY Times, stating that in the 1990s, 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 newer article by The Ringer back in January of 2021, 2020 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.

The theory was COVID played a big role in the disappearance of home-field advantage two years ago. With no crowds, came no advantage.  However, last year the assumed return of home field advantage never came. The Washington Post addressed this in an article at the beginning of the year, “When NFL stadiums welcomed back fans this season, home-field advantage was expected to rejoin them. It has not. Teams playing in their home stadium went 137-131-1, just barely back above .500 and, aside from 2020, the worst record since at least 2002.”

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. While this is one of our softer rules, I’m not ready to give up on it yet. Be aware and avoid the below games where the favorite is the away team:

  • Buffalo Bills @ Los Angeles Rams
  • New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons
  • San Francisco 49ers @ Chicago Bears
  • Philadelphia Eagles @ Detroit Lions
  • Baltimore Ravens @ New York Jets
  • Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans
  • Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings
  • Kansas City Chiefs @ Arizona Cardinals
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Dallas Cowboys
  • Denver Broncos @ Seattle Seahawks

Step 4 – Make your pick!

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 three choices: Washington Commanders, Carolina Panthers, and the Tennessee Titans.  Normally there is one clear-cut option, such as a team favored by 10+ points in Vegas, but as of Tuesday, 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:

  • Tennessee Titans over the New York Giants

Of our three options, this seems to be the safest pick. Last season the Titans went 12-5, sharing the top record in the AFC, and had quality wins against the Chiefs and Rams. This season they return most of their core players and their coaching staff. On the other side is a Giants team that went 4-13, has a new coaching staff, and a majority of the same talent that underwhelmed last year. While no picks are slam dunks in the NFL, this appears to be the safest of our options.

 Other options I like this week:

  • Washington Commanders over the Jacksonville Jaguars

Looking at our other two options between the Commanders and the Panthers, there is just too much unknown in Carolina (and Cleveland at QB for that matter) for me to pick them, so I’m going with the Commanders as my second pick. This is less about Washington (who did stack some nice wins against Tampa Bay and Las Vegas last season) and more about a Jaguars team with a new coaching staff, going on the road to play a good defensive team. I expect this to be low scoring, but also for Washington to come out on top.

  • Baltimore Ravens over the New York Jets

For my final pick, I’m breaking our home-field advantage rule.  The Jets were already going to have a rough season, but losing their quarterback for the first few games is going to hurt them even more. The Ravens on the other hand finally are healthy and I expect Lamar to have a field day in this one.  Even on the road, I’m taking the Ravens over the Jets.

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

Home-field advantage is the NFL is disappearing – The Washington Post

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