NFL Betting Tips Part II
- Statistics and and other factors to utilize in your handicapping…
Everybody has his or her own stylistic handicapping methods, and if you don’t, you should develop one that works for you. The three most common ways that handicappers break down games are the use of power ratings and/or models, identifying situational edges, and gathering information that the public (and even oddsmakers) aren’t aware of to gain an edge that likely hasn’t been incorporated into the line. All of these methods can be successful so it’s important to get familiar with each.
Power ratings can be extremely useful early in the season when you see big discrepancies in the actual lines and what your numbers tell you the line should be. Taking advantage early in the year is important since it’s usually only a matter of time before oddsmakers adjust and these discrepancies in the lines no longer exist. This is when situational angles and gathering information mid-season become more necessary.
This day and age there are numerous statistics and metrics that people use when they break down games. The days of points and yards per game as relevant and useful statistics are long gone. I just finished some college football preparation so let’s use the Alabama offense from a few years ago as an example that helps make this point.
The Crimson Tide weren’t even in the top 35 in the nation in yards per game (they averaged 438.2 good for 36th best). “But they play a different style of football!” Well that’s my point. Alabama actually had one of the most efficient offenses in the entire nation averaging 6.6 yards per play (7th best) and 0.567 points per play (4th best). In contrast, Marshall was 6th in the nation that year racking up 527 yards per game. That’s pretty good right? It looks that way until you realize that they were 48th in the nation in yards per play. Their up-tempo style of play and nation leading 92.8 plays per game skew the actual efficiency of the 527 yards they gained each game. Offensive and defensive efficiency statistics are much more valuable when we handicap games than the outdated and irrelevant points and yards per game numbers. Remember that.
I want to discuss two other factors that I often use when determining a teams’ value entering a new season. In comparison to how much emphasis is placed on a returning QB or RB, the status of a teams’ offensive line is often overlooked. There’s much more to an offensive line than just run and pass blocking schemes. There needs to be chemistry between an offensive line and their QB. There are situations prevalent in the NFL that the QB is required to call an audible. I don’t mean audibles just for the plays they are running, but they are constantly reading defenses and changing the specific blocking assignments for each offensive linemen individually as well. If an offensive line unit isn’t comfortable making these adjustments together – and this requires being tested during in-game situations on the field – the actual product of these important audibles is a mess.
Teams bringing back their entire starting offensive line from the previous season (or even 4 out of 5 starters) have a tremendous advantage early in the year. Sure, returning skill position players to an offense is really important. But plugging in the next guy at QB or RB is a much simpler task when you have an offensive line that you can count on to correctly run the offense, make in-game adjustments, and give new skill players a better chance to excel.
Another valuable statistic that most handicappers look into when they are doing pre-season preparation as well as week-to-week analysis is turnover margin. Turnovers can have a big impact on games and on a team’s season, but they can also lead to many misleading win/loss records and statistics. A great example from 2013 was the Houston Texans outgaining the St. Louis Rams 420-216 as well as a 27-15 first down edge in their matchup in Week 6. The final score was 38-13… Rams. St. Louis was fortunate to have a +4 turnover margin in the game and cruised to an easy victory despite being dominated in every other facet of the game.
Teams with a massive turnover margin one way or the other tend to regress to the mean the following year. Looking at the Houston Texans again, they had a league worst -20 turnover margin in 2013 and finished the year 2-14. Sure enough in 2014 things started balancing out and the Texans finished the season with a +12 turnover margin and 9 wins.
Since 1991, 74.1% of teams with a +12 turnover margin or better had a worse season the following year. Teams to look at that may be overvalued going into the 2015 season are the Packers (+14), the Patriots (+12), the Texans (+12), the Seahawks (+9), and the Cardinals (+8). Teams with arrows pointing up include the Raiders (-15), the Saints (-13), the Redskins (-12), the Jets (-11), and the Titans (-10).
Some numbers freaks have even taken turnovers a step further and tracked “fumble luck” for each team throughout the course of a season. It has been documented historically that the team fumbling the ball recovers the fumble 51% of the time and the team that forces the fumble recovers it 49% of the time. Once that ball hits the ground it’s basically a coin-flip in regards to which side will recover it. If we find a team put the ball on the ground 17 times the previous season yet recovered 14 of the fumbles, it equates to some seriously fortunate fumble luck. It is safe to assume that the following season this luck will regress back to that 51/49 number more often than not. If you don’t want to assume, that’s understandable, it’s only one season. But it is worth considering.
Fumble luck and turnover margin are typically positively correlated. It is an intelligent method to determine the true value in a teams’ turnover margin and whether or not it was the product of great defense and/or offense, or if it was just the result of some good fortune that we can safely assume has a likelihood of balancing out.
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