The NFL odds market is full of small sample sizes. Often we see the majority of NFL bettors decide who to play and fade based off what they saw the previous week. Seeing as how the NFL is riddled with small samples, it’s easy to fall prey to recency bias. So how can we distance ourselves from the pack and make smart wagers? By determining which teams might have gotten lucky by using regression to the mean in certain statistical areas. I’ll attempt to pinpoint teams who are worth a play and those who are worth a fade going forward in the NFL odds market.
Note: Scroll to the bottom of our article to view our running list of bets for Week 2 and the 2019 NFL Season.
Yards Per Play and Turnover Differential
Sportsbooks use yards per play (YPP) as one of the defining factors in determining a point spread. It makes sense, given if you gain more yards than your opponent, you’re moving the ball better and have a better chance at winning the game. However, this doesn’t always lead to a win. Below you will see the teams who outgained their opponent in YPP and managed to lose the game.
All stats provided by Pro Football Reference.
|Losing Team||Opponent||YPP Differential|
|Washington Redskins||Philadelphia Eagles||WAS +0.8|
|Chicago Bears||Green Bay Packers||CHI +0.2|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Kansas City Chiefs||JAC +0.4|
|Carolina Panthers||Los Angeles Rams||CAR +0.6|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Seattle Seahawks||CIN +1.3|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||San Francisco 49ers||TB +0.2|
|Detroit Lions||Arizona Cardinals||DET +1.3|
The Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions had the largest differential in yards per play compared to their opponent. While the Lions managed a tie, they were up 24-6 at one point. Meanwhile, the Bengals held a 17-14 lead at halftime.
For the Bengals, it seems as though they got unlucky with turnovers. Per Sharp Football stats, the Bengals passed on 12/14 (85%) first downs in the first quarter, with Andy Dalton going 8/12 with 7.3 yards per attempt (YPA) and leading to a 50% success rate. In the second half, the offense passed on 11/16 (68%) first downs. Dalton went 6/11, averaging 6.9 YPA, which lead to a 50% success rate. The play calling remained the same, yet the Bengals committed both turnovers in the 2nd half.
As for the Lions, this tweet from Warren Sharp says it all:
How did the Lions lose? Ask Matt Patricia.
Lions early down play calls:
1st half: 54% pass
• 64% early down success %
• 4.0 yds to go on 3rd down
2nd half: 61% run
• 43% early down success %
• 9.9 yds to go on 3rd down
• 5 punts on first 6 drives of 2H
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 9, 2019
I am shocked that the Lions went with a pass-heavy approach on first down in the first half. On the same note, I am not surprised at all that Matt Patricia tried to “establish it” in the 2nd half, with less success than their first down pass calls in the first half. I wrote about how much of a donkey Patricia was in my Lions win totals article, so this development doesn’t surprise me the least bit. Fading them in the NFL odds market should be in weekly consideration.
As for the other teams, how did they manage to lose despite having more success moving the ball? Except for the Washington Redskins, they all lost the turnover battle.
|Losing Team||TO Differential|
So what can we take away from this? Which team should we look to fade and play?
For reference, here is each team’s schedule who won the YPP battle, but lost the game in week one. The week two spread, according to Bovada, is listed in parenthesis.
|Team||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4|
|Redskins||vs Dallas Cowboys (+5.5)||vs Chicago Bears||@ New York Giants|
|Bears||@ Denver Broncos (+3)||@ Washington Redskins||vs Minnesota Vikings|
|Jaguars||@ Houston Texans (+9)||vs Tennessee Titans||@ Denver Broncos|
|Panthers||vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-7)||@ Arizona Cardinals||@ Houston Texans|
|Bengals||vs San Francisco 49ers (-2)||@ Buffalo Bills||@ Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Buccaneers||@ Carolina Panthers (+7)||vs New York Giants||@ Los Angeles Rams|
|Lions||vs Los Angeles Chargers (+3)||@ Philadelphia Eagles||vs Kansas City Chiefs|
Conversely, here is the upcoming schedule for the teams who lost the YPP battle but won the game. The week two spread, according to Bovada, is listed in parenthesis.
|Team||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4|
|Philadelphia Eagles||@ Atlanta Falcons (-2)||vs Detroit Lions||@ Green Bay Packers|
|Green Bay Packers||vs Minnesota Vikings (-3)||vs Denver Broncos||vs Philadelphia Eagles|
|Kansas City Chiefs||@ Oakland Raiders (-7.5)||vs Baltimore Ravens||@ Detroit Lions|
|Los Angeles Rams||vs New Orleans Saints (-2.5)||@ Cleveland Browns||vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Seattle Seahawks||@ Pittsburgh Steelers (+4)||vs New Orleans Saints||@ Arizona Cardinals|
|San Francisco 49ers||@ Cincinnati Bengals (+2)||vs Pittsburgh Steelers||BYE|
|Arizona Cardinals||@ Baltimore Ravens (+13)||vs Carolina Panthers||vs Seattle Seahawks|
A Special Case
There was one case this weekend of a team who lost the turnover battle but won their game: the Los Angeles Chargers. In their game against the Indianapolis Colts, they were the benefit of two missed field goals and a missed extra point by Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri. Despite those lucky breaks and losing the turnover battle, they had a (+1.3) YPP differential over the Indianapolis Colts. The Chargers managed to win the game in overtime on the back of an Austin Ekeler touchdown run.
The Colts were both lucky and unlucky in this game. With the missed field goals and turnovers balancing out, them losing by six in overtime was what “should” have happened. As for the Chargers, they were on the other side of a few missed field goals for once. Given the Chargers had a (+1.3) YPP differential, they deserved to win the game. Neither team is necessarily a fade at this point.
NFL Odds Plays and Fades
Two teams won the YPP battle but lost the game that I am interested in going forward.
The Buccaneers are the first one. Aside from the turnovers, they played an even game against the 49ers. I understand if you have trepidation with Winston, but the “analytical” side in me needs more convincing that he is THIS bad with the football.
They play at the Carolina Panthers Thursday night, another top defensive line which will give the Buccaneers’ front fits. I do think there is some value in the spread (+7 -105 at Bovada and Pinnacle.) Tampa Bay could have easily won their game against the 49ers, and if that were the case, I don’t believe this number reaches 7.
All that said, it is hard to take the Buccaneers here. Going to Carolina on a short week with a bad offensive line is a recipe for disaster. According to Action Network, 83% of the bets and 92% of the money is on Carolina. If you can get +7.5 closer to kickoff, I think that is worth a wager. Otherwise, I would hold off, and look to back this team week three at home against the New York Giants.
An angle I do like though is the under. It opened at 51.5 and has since been bet down to 49.5 at Bovada and 49 at My Bookie. Cam Newton did not push the ball downfield at all in week 1, finishing with an average depth of target (aDOT) of 5.7 and 2.7 air yards per attempt on his completions. If Newton continues to play this way, I would want to fade. Meanwhile, the Panthers defensive line should be able to stall enough Buccaneers drives to stifle their offense. If both of these factors hold true, this game should go under. The number I got is 49, so that is my suggested bet. Our pro handicapper Chris Smith is teasing this game, going with the Panthers (-0.5) and the under (56).
PICK: Under 49 (-110), Buccaneers +7.5 (if it gets there)
I think Zac Taylor did a fantastic coaching job week one. Seattle is one of the toughest places to play in the league, and yet they had a lead going into half time. The defense did a great job limiting Tyler Lockett (save for a long touchdown) and forcing Wilson to go elsewhere.
As for the offense, Taylor had the right idea going with early-down passes which saw a 50% success rate in both halves. If it weren’t for the turnovers, they could have easily won the game. Their opponent (49ers) saw turnover variance go their way for a change.
There is one matchup in favor of the 49ers, and that is in the trenches. The 49ers pass rush is for real. While good play calling can mitigate that disadvantage, the 49ers front should win their battles more often than not.
Typically 1 pm eastern starts are bad spots for west coast teams. However, the 49ers are staying in Ohio this week, negating that effect. I think we lost our chance at taking the value with the Bengals as the spread currently sits at (-2) in NFL odds markets.
I’m not suggesting a bet on the Bengals this week. They are a team I am keeping in mind, however. If they continue their pass-heavy tendencies and are successful in doing so, it’s a team we can look to play in the future in the NFL odds market.
On the same note, the 49ers are on my fade list for now. They played a coin flip game in Tampa Bay, yet the boxscore says they won by 14. Jimmy Garoppolo‘s completion percentage was five points lower than his expected figure, and he had the lowest intended air yards in the league week one. He didn’t play well but did have two touchdowns called back due to penalties. I don’t know what to make of this team yet. If they win another close, coin flip game this weekend, we could see some value with their opponent (the Steelers) in the Week 3 NFL odds market. I would look to fade them at that point.
I’ll keep the analysis for these two teams short. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, I think this is a prime bounce-back spot for a team who was embarrassed on national television. Seattle is traveling cross country for a 1 pm eastern start which is historically not an ideal spot for west coast teams. I expect a clean pocket for Ben Roethlisberger, which is bad news for a Seattle secondary who was just torched by Dalton at home.
Betting against Russell Wilson is never comfortable. However, I find myself wanting to fade this lackluster Seattle roster for a second consecutive season. To avoid sweating any late-game heroics, I’m suggesting the first-half spread of Steelers (-3). It was (-2.5) at My Bookie, but jumped up to (-3) as I was typing. I expect the Steelers to get off to a hot start, and Wilson to potentially have some late-game heroics in the second half.
I would also look to bet the over on the Steelers implied team total (approximately 25) when that number becomes available in the NFL odds market. If you want to take the full game spread (-4) that is fine as well, but I’m personally just taking the first half number.
PICK: Steelers first half -3 (+100), Steelers team total over (when it populates)
As for the Broncos, I think they fell victim to a hyped-up Oakland Raiders team in week one. That was the best you will see the Raiders play all year. The Broncos are extremely strong at home in September, as teams are not conditioned yet and therefore are not equipped to deal with the altitude.
Action Network has the Bears getting 83% of the bets and 67% of the money in the NFL odds market. The spread has already reached (+3, -115) on Bovada. Pinnacle, the sharpest book on the web, has Denver as just a one-point underdog, which is a little concerning. You could get greedy and hope it gets to (+3.5), but I am okay with hopping on the three right now. If your book doesn’t offer (+3), I would wait, but if it doesn’t populate, (+2.5) is good as well.
PICK: Broncos +2.5 (+100)
One last pick I have for this week (for now anyway) is a Broncos and Atlanta Falcons teaser. Both teams are short home underdogs, and both lost week one so we should see their best effort here. I highlighted how high I am on the Broncos this week above.
The Atlanta Falcons are 16-10 straight up at home since 2016. They have only been a home underdog once and covered that lone game. We saw what Case Keenum was capable of doing to the Eagles secondary, so imagine what Matt Ryan at home can accomplish. Even if the Falcons don’t win, the back door should be wide open as were teasing them up to a touchdown.
One quick note about teasers: A teaser is just “adding” additional points to the side you choose. If you want to tease a three-point underdog, you would get them as nine-point underdogs. While you get reduced odds, the caveat is you have to have at least two teams, or totals, in a teaser, and both bets must hit for the bet to pay off.
It is ideal to pass through the key numbers of three and seven. This involves teasing underdogs of two or less up or favorites of 7.5-8.5 down. I personally never go through the zero, as you’re only getting past the three at that point.
Both the Broncos and Falcons fit those criteria.
PICK: 6 point teaser: Broncos +8, Falcons +8
James Aguirre is a writer for PFN covering NFL betting and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter @PFN_James.
Running List of PFN Bets for Week 2
Note: To filter the table by weeks, simply use the dropdown list below to select the week you want to view or click all to view our entire list for the season.
|Week||Capper||Bet Type||Bet||Juice||Units||Units Won||Units Lost||Push|