The remaining entrants in Eliminator Challenge continues to dwindle. Despite favorites winning in 12 of 16 games last week, the four underdogs wreaked havoc in this contest. Two of the three most-selected teams last week fell as the Vikings (18%) and Lions (14%) both lost. The Patriots actually closed as bigger favorites than the Vikings at ESPN BET, but only 1% of entries had New England.
This week, the Cowboys and Dolphins are the most-likely picks to win and would be the top two choices if available. The Cowboys are best-used now, while the Dolphins can be picked in any of the next three weeks with confidence. However, so few entries have them available, that we will set them aside in this discussion.
Excluding the Cowboys and Dolphins, there are four clear choices - the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars. The betting market prefers the Jaguars, ESPN Analytics' model prefers the Steelers and Buccaneers, while Mike Clay's model has a clear preference for the Buccaneers.
With just six weeks left in the season, make sure to map out your plans for the rest of the season. The Steelers host the Patriots next week. The Jaguars host the Panthers in Week 17. Even the Buccaneers face the Panthers again in Week 18. Plan ahead using Mike Clay's spreadsheet so you do not box yourself out from a winning pick down the road.
Click here to download Mike Clay's Eliminator Cheat Sheet, updated weekly.
When in doubt, betting against the Panthers, especially on the road, has been a great strategy this season. The Panthers are the only team to rank in the bottom three of both offensive and defensive efficiency, and it's unlikely a new head coach can change that.
While Baker Mayfield has a terrible record against the spread as a favorite, he is 14-3 outright as a favorite of more than four points. Plus, early in the week, the Buccaneers are being selected in less than 10% of entries, while the Steelers (32%) and Chargers (22%) have been significantly more popular, giving you potential leverage on the field.
ESPN BET odds: Buccaneers -5
Mike Clay chance to win: 76%
ESPN Analytics chance to win: 71%
The Steelers have three games in the next four where Mike Clay's model gives them at least a 65% chance to win - this week, next week hosting the Patriots, and Week 16 hosting the Bengals. Of those three, ESPN Analytics prefers them this week, while Mike Clay's model prefers them next week.
The tiebreaker goes to the popularity of the Steelers this week, who have been by far the most-selected team as of Tuesday evening. That drops them to the second choice this week, but there is nothing wrong with picking them now.
ESPN BET odds: Steelers -5.5
Mike Clay chance to win: 69%
ESPN Analytics chance to win: 72%
Taking Brandon Staley on the road against Bill Belichick seems scary, but the Patriots' offense has collapsed. They have been held to seven points or fewer in back-to-back games and have only scored more than 17 points twice all season.
Over the past two seasons, the Patriots are 2-14 outright and 3-13 against the spread as underdogs, showing that when they step up in class, they struggle. While the Chargers are 4-7, ESPN Analytics still rates the Chargers as a top-10 team going forward and significantly better than the lowly Patriots, who are just 2-9 this season after losing to the Giants last week.
ESPN BET odds: Chargers -6
Mike Clay chance to win: 68%
ESPN Analytics chance to win: 66%
Top picks this week: 1. Cowboys, 2. Dolphins, 3. Buccaneers, 4. Steelers, 5. Chargers
Picks so far this season: Commanders-Bills-Chiefs-49ers-Lions-Dolphins-Seahawks-Ravens-Saints-Cowboys-Texans-Titans
Projected remaining path: Buccaneers-Steelers-Rams-Broncos-Jaguars-Eagles