Risk and Insurance Experts Predict Thanksgiving NFL Winners, Losers

By Don Jergler | November 26, 2014

Ah, Thanksgiving. A time for family, good meals and joy – unless your team epically fails on national television, stirring your gut into an acidic cauldron of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mounting indigestion.

It can be a risk to turn on the TV Thursday if you have an NFL team in one of the games. All three games could have playoff implications, as well as ramifications for you and your loved ones.

Seeking guidance from three teams of risk and data assessment experts, Insurance Journal sought to offer a little risk-based logic to brighten the hopes of some, and ease the suffering of others. If you’re easily upset, these outlooks should be taken with a grain of salt, or perhaps a tablet of Tums.

The Risk Assessment Teams

The Institutes: Victor Baillargeon, and Doug Froggatt, both directors of content development for The Institutes, a nonprofit provider of education resources for the risk management and property/casualty insurance industry.

Praedicat: Naresh Chebolu, senior data scientist, and Kabir Chopra, legal knowledge engineer, at Praedicat Inc., a Los Angeles, Calif.-based liability catastrophe modeling firm.

CoreLogic: Tom Jeffery, senior hazard scientist, and Howard Kuntz, chief actuary, for CoreLogic, a data and analytics firm headquartered in Irvine, Calif.

Chicago Bears V. Detroit Lions

Bears (5-6)
The Bears are on a 2-game win streak, which looks doubly good compared with the Lions’ 2-game losing streak, but they are only 1-2 in division games and have been outscored by their opponents by 67 points this season. They are 3-3 on the road in a tough road game against the Lions, who have a 4-1 home record.

Risk Assessment

The Institutes: These are not Ditka’s Bears. Although they have played better on defense their last two games since being lit up by the Packers and Patriots, they have a perilous road record. Plus, quarterback Jay Cutler’s inherent vice renders him prone to interceptions at inopportune moments, making Chicago’s offense as undesirable as its loss control measures on defense.

Praedicat: For years, the Detroit Lions offense has suffered because a lack of diversification in their offensive portfolio. Namely, they have completely relied on one player in their passing game, Megatron. But, over the offseason the Lions did a great job of diversifying their offensive portfolio with the addition of Golden Tate and a new offensive scheme that uses the varied skills of the Lions running game. With the Bears diversification has never been a problem – this team has All-Pro wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, along with tight end Martellus Bennett and powerhouse Matt Forte.

CoreLogic: Jeffery: The big risk for the Bears is Jay Cutler. Too many times this season Cutler’s interceptions have put the Bears in a Florida-sized sinkhole that they can’t crawl out of. Interceptions or touchdowns….will Cutler play for the Bears or into the hands of the Lions. Kuntz: My risk assessment is they have a bad offensive line and Cutler can spend a lot of time on his butt.

Lions (7-4) (-6.5)
The Lions defense has only given up 190 points this season. That’s 5 points less that the Chiefs and Cardinals, ranking them behind only the Baltimore Ravens this season in points allowed. The Lions are 2-0 in division games, and star running back Reggie Bush is targeting Thanksgiving for his return game. The Lions are in the midst of their first losing streak of the season, and were blown out against New England on Sunday. Game time is forecast to hit 34 degrees and there’s a chance of snow, though it’s an indoor stadium. Lions Thanksgiving record: 34-38-2

Risk Assessment

The Institutes: This game will be the 75th game the Lions have played on Thanksgiving– more than any other NFL franchise. While their overall record on Thanksgiving stands at 34-38-2 their record for their last 11 games is a miserable 1-10-0. We see the Lions begin to regress toward the mean with the win last year and are likely to continue that trend in this year’s game. Lack of diversification impaired Detroit’s attack when star receiver Calvin Johnson—on whom the Lions relied nearly exclusively for play-calling explosiveness—missed several games earlier this season. Though Megatron is back and likely to present favorable offensive characteristics on Thursday, Detroit will rely on the stout risk prevention measures of its defensive front to keep them in the contest.

Praedicat: Chopra: The Lions are going to win this game. Even though the Bears offense has a lot of potential, they rely on one of the worst in-game risk managers in the NFL, Jay Cutler. This guy has never seen a pass that is too risky. Chebolu: I will go one up on Kabir and declare this to be a battle between the two the worst in-game risk managers. Matthew Stafford doesn’t even know what the word risk means. Stafford might have to buy the defensive line a good Christmas present next month for saving his bacon…erm… turkey.

CoreLogic: Jeffery: Megatron didn’t practice Monday, but given the Bears secondary he might not need to. If Stafford and Johnson hook up, the ground will shake in Detroit (and not because of fracking earthquakes). Megatron is the threat of which Bears nightmares are made. Kuntz: Inconsistent play. If the defense doesn’t show up they’re in trouble. I think the biggest risk is Matthew Stafford throwing a lot of interception. He has been very inconsistent and he’s had a couple bad games. This risk is that the bad Matthew Stafford shows up.

Who Wins

The Institutes: Lions. Home field advantage, a porous Bears defense, and a historically decent record on Thanksgiving are all risk characteristics favoring the Lions. Plus, FootballOutsiders.com’s Defensive Variation Over Average (DVOA) ratings, which measure a team’s statistical performance relative to league averages, suggest that Detroit (ranked 9th) is more probable to win than Chicago (23rd).

Praedicat: The Lions defense is hungry after last week’s spanking. The Lions are going to bring home the Thanksgiving turkey.

CoreLogic: Jeffery: As a lifelong Wisconsin resident and Green Bay Packers fan, my hope is for both to lose. Since that is not statistically possible, then they might as well play a real black-and-blue NFC North game. But in the end, the Lions defense combined with Calvin Johnson and the return of Reggie Bush on offense will be too much for the Bears to overcome. Detroit wins big. Kuntz: I think the Lions do win, just because the strength of their team is the defensive line and the weakness of the Bears is their offensive line and I think that they’re probably going to handle the Bears to win the game.

Philadelphia Eagles V. Dallas Cowboys

Eagles (8-3)
The Eagles are undefeated in their division and bounced back from a devastating loss last week handed to them by the Green Bay Packers by trouncing the Titans 43-24. The Eagles have put up 342 points this season, putting them up there with offensive powerhouses like the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos. Their 2-3 road record might be a perceived weakness, but all three of the Cowboys’ losses this year have been at home. The last time the teams met everything was on the line and the Eagles won 24-22, claiming the final playoff spot and sending the Cowboys packing for the team’s third consecutive 8-8 season.

Risk Assessment

The Institutes: The Eagles defense will not cause any shaking by the Cowboys offense. While the offense may trade scores with Dallas the second of two interceptions (he has thrown two interceptions in 3 of the 4 games he has played) by Mark Sanchez, whose past losses make him virtually uninsurable, will cause Dallas to open the scoring floodgates. Additionally, significant injuries on both sides of the ball have left the Eagles in disaster recovery mode for much of the season, leaving them vulnerable to loss exposures presented by large, swift wide receivers of the sort the Cowboys feature prominently.

Praedicat: Chip Kelly’s innovative focus on analytics make for a great matchup against the Cowboys’ old school commitment to ball control and their running game. The Eagles reliance on big data and unquestioned preparation for big games give them an advantage, but the Cowboys are hot and their offensive line is probably the best in the league.

CoreLogic: Jeffery: The biggest hazard for the Eagles is working with a backup QB. Sanchez is either on or off, and if on he could burn down the Dallas defense like a Southern California wildfire. Kuntz: The Eagles have the 30th ranked defense relative to passing yards given up. That’s a risk because they could give up a lot of yards in the passing game to a team that throws the ball really well. But the Eagles also sack the quarterback better than average, so it offsets.

Cowboys (8-3) (-3)
The Cowboys wins have come in streaks this year. After losing the opening game they won 6 straight. Then following a 2-game slide the team has won 2 straight, including a come-from-behind win against the Giants. The Cowboys have the leading rusher in the NFL and overall are No. 2 in the league averaging 169.6 rushing yards per game behind the Seattle Seahawks. The Eagles defense ranks 16th in the NFL giving up an average of 109.0 yards per game. The Eagles pass defense is the third worst in the league giving up 266.3 yards on average per game. Can anyone say “Dez Bryant?” Game time is forecast is 57 degrees and sunny – warmer with a stadium roof that’s likely to be closed. Cowboys Thanksgiving record: 29-16-1

Risk Assessment

The Institutes: The Dallas Cowboys are second only to the Detroit Lions in the number of games played on Thanksgiving. Their record in the last 10 games played on Thanksgiving is 7-3 with Tony Romo’s record a stellar 6-1. These favorable loss patterns are augmented by a diversified Dallas offensive attack that balances the league’s leading rusher in DeMarco Murray with a defense that retains losses while safeguarding against catastrophe.

Praedicat: Chopra: The Cowboys have hit their 8 game mark for the season and, once again, are in for disappointment. The Eagles are starting to click and their high power offense will overwhelm America’s football team. Chebolu: Dez Bryant: Get your popcorn ready (in case you aren’t already full from your turkey).

CoreLogic: Jeffery: As goes Romo, so go the Cowboys. And it doesn’t hurt to have DeMarco Murray blazing his own trail every game. But just like Texas tornadoes, the Cowboys have to hit the right marks to make an impact in this game. Kuntz: I think their biggest risk is the health of the team. They’ve had a lot of injuries and they’re come off a short week after having a late game on Sunday night.

Who Wins

The Institutes: Cowboys win as their offense has more depth than the Eagles defense. Sanchez’ norm is roughly two picks a game, which he cannot risk in this encounter. Cowboys giving the points. DVOA says the Eagles have performed slightly better versus the league average than the Cowboys thus far, but no statistical modeling can account for the fistfuls of yardage that Dallas receiver Dez Bryant is likely to rack up versus the moral hazard disguised as the Eagles secondary.

Praedicat: Chopra: Eagles 28, Cowboys 24. Chebolu: Cowboys 30, Eagles 27.

CoreLogic: Jeffery: Cowboys in a tight game just because they like playing on Thanksgiving in Dallas. Kuntz: It’s going to be really close. The Cowboys have 3 points because of home field advantage. I’m going to go against the grain and say the Eagles are going to pull the upset because I think the records and statistics exaggerate how good the Cowboys are. They’re not as good as what the record says they are.

Seattle Seahawks V. San Francisco 49ers

Seahawks (7-4)
The defending Super Bowl champions had a few humps to get over this year, and are now in the position of fighting for a playoff spot. The team has turned things around of late and is 4-1 in its last 5 games. The defense that earned them their rings still ranks first in yards given up per game, and they lead the league in rushing. The team has suffered all but one of its losses on the road, so they may need all those weapons and all that momentum heading into San Francisco in what could be a portentous win or loss in the playoff picture.

Risk Assessment

The Institutes: The Seahawks kicking game is likely to be the deciding factor in this west coast rumble. The hits on both sides of the ball are likely to trigger a seismic reading similar to what rocked Napa a few months ago. Reports of morale hazard infecting the Seahawks locker room appear to have been verified by their early season sleepwalk on offense, but more recent data gathered from last week’s win against the first-place Cardinals suggest that Seattle’s fate is trending upward in advance of Thursday’s game.

Praedicat: Both of these teams are proving the past is not a good indicator of the present. Neither team has hit their 2013 form and we don’t think either currently looks like a champion. But, we do think the bad blood between these two teams and their coaches will change things. We expect a good game. Chebolu: Seahawks have shown off the value of analytics and big data in their player evaluations and use of Nike’s SPARQ combine scores seem to have paid off big with their draft steals of R. Wilson and Sherman, etc. The players will play a key role in determining the outcome.

CoreLogic: Jeffery: Seahawks are one of the most complete teams. Good offense with Wilson and a stout defense. The question is, when number 12 starts making noise do the earthquake sensors start recording the tremors? Kuntz: Overall these are two teams that have had much higher expectations that are not playing up to those expectations. The concern I have for the Seahawks is will they be able to generate any offense against the 49ers defense? If they can’t score I think that’s going to be their biggest issue. They just don’t have a great offense, especially without Percy Harvin.

49ers (7-4) (-1.5)
The 49ers have been good for the last few years but they too have found themselves fighting for a playoff berth. The team has won 3 straight, including a close games with the hapless Washington Redskins last weekend. The team has the second rated defense in the league, led by a 2nd ranked passing defense that gives up only 207.2 yards per game on average. The 49ers have home field advantage, and are 3-2 at home. Game time is forecast is 67 degrees and sunny.

Risk Assessment

The Institutes: The 49ers have had difficulty scoring the past month and it will continue on Thanksgiving against the Seahawks. Their pattern this season has been 2 losses followed by 3 wins. They are coming off 3 wins and the expected result on Thanksgiving will be the first of two losses over the next two games. The pattern is hard to ignore.

Praedicat: Chopra: Systemic cognitive bias will never allow me to say anything except “the 49ers are going to destroy the Seahawks.” I don’t care what the data says! Look for Crabtree to make a statement against his old friend Richard Sherman this Thanksgiving.

CoreLogic: Jeffery: San Fran has struggled a few times, but is still hanging in there. Having to play in an area subject to earthquakes and wildfires and flash flooding, maybe they have a lot of things on their minds. Kuntz: Their health is a concern. Can they maintain consistent flow because of all the injuries? Mathematically I would say with an injury you look at what they produced up to that point and you take a 10 or 20 percent reduction in production levels.

Who Wins

The Institutes: Seahawks win a defensive battle by a score of 9-6. DVOA thinks this is too close to call, so Seattle’s kicker could prove to be the most predictive element of this clash.

Praedicat: Chopra: 49ers 20, Seahawks, 17. 1. Chebolu: Seahawks 19, 49ers 17

CoreLogic: Jeffery: This is really going to be close. My call is that it comes down to the last play of the game. With SF up by 4, a Hail Mary from Wilson gets intercepted in the end zone, and since there are no substitute refs, the play stands (did I mention I am a lifelong Packers fan? We don’t forget those kinds of things). Kuntz: I think San Francisco wins just because of the home field advantage, and I think Seattle is just little too inconsistent right now.

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