NFL Handicapping – Inside the Numbers Week 1

Handicapping and Analyzing Stats – NFL Inside the Numbers Week 1

Throughout the NFL season, I go inside the numbers and review weekly box scores, stats, game recaps and more after watching many of the NFL games. For over a decade, I have kept a proprietary database of statistical information and utilized relevant rushing numbersstatistical guidelines and situations to better assist me in sports investing and providing point spread winners.  Week 2 provides great opportunities as often there is an over-reaction to Week 1 results and you may recall my record-breaking Week 2 from the 2009 season when me and my clients went a perfect 10-0 ATS on the ten plays I provided. In 2016, I also had my best Week 1 ever, while this year we started with a winning week as well. You can read my new weekly Fairway’s Football Forecast NFL article with picks and plays, underdog style, which is part of the $1,000 Pro Football Challenge.

I no longer tout or work for other companies to sell selections. I’ve turned down numerous offers to provide my expertise and selection services, but instead provide other insight and analysis to better inform and assist others. I’ve actually been hired and free-rolled into various contests, including strong results in back-to-back years in the Las Vegas SuperContest. My start in 2015 included 16-3-1 ATS after four weeks and 29-10-1 after 8 weeks on our way to another top-6% finish out of more than 1,700 entries.

So each week I’ll provide various insights into NFL handicapping, and the weekly Inside the Numbers article will analyze stats and ways to utilize them and how rushing guidelines and handicapping point-of-attack play can put the percentages in your favor when wagering.

Here are some Week 1 stats of note.

Week 1 NFL favorites went 10-5 SU and 7-8 ATS. I did grade the Chargers (+3.5) a winner, as the line was widely available for 2 months, and went to 3 later on Saturday and Sunday in Denver’s 24-21 victory. No apologies for writing up the game, providing the widely available line, and getting there before the sharp action came in on the Chargers. Throughout the season there will be close calls on sides and totals, and while you can’t control the market or moves, you can become skilled at anticipating line moves and trying to get your bets in accordingly.

Beating the NFL over the long-term involves an understanding of the match-ups, situations and stats, and how to apply them for success. Good fortune in the turnover column helps too. After all, teams that are +3 or more in the turnover column in a game are a long-term 93% winning ATS situation. The Bengals (5-1), Cardinals (4-1) and Texans (4-0) all suffered significant turnover troubles in Week 1 and large negative differentials in SU/ATS defeats. Two other teams that were on the wrong side of a 2-turnover differential also lost SU/ATS (Colts, Redskins).

Teams that had a meaningful rushing advantage over their opponent (at least 30 yards) went 9-1 ATS in Week 1 (or 8-0-1 with Denver). We’ll discuss our rushing guidelines throughout the season, but if you can correctly handicap this situation and advantage in a weekly NFL match-up and it plays out accordingly, you’re well on your way to cashing more tickets and point spread winners. For over a decade, teams that out-rush their opponent by at least 30 yards in a NFL game cover the point spread nearly 75% of the time. There has not been a season since 2000 when this has been below 70% on average.

Here are your week 1 stat leaders across the board. The leading rushers in week 1 were a pair of rookies: Kareem Hunt (128/8.7) of the Chiefs and Dalvin Cook (127/5.8) of the Vikings. LeSean McCoy (Bills), Ezekiel Elliot (Cowboys) and rookie Leonard Fournette (Jaguars) also rushed for 100 or more yards.

Strong debut for Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt

The quarterback play is clearly most important in the NFL, but significant turnover differential (2 or more, and 3 or more is fatal) is what most impacts games and results. Tough to handicap that or poor officials calls of course, but if you get better at understanding and recognizing point of attack play and which teams will have success rushing the football and/or stopping the run, you’ll become more proficient and the point spread winners will follow. Many other factors come into play in evaluating games and match-ups, including the quarterback play. But the ability to understand situations and make adjustments to changes, personnel, match-ups, injuries, weather and put all the stat profiles together will allow you to become better at handicapping the games.

Week 1 big ground gainers in rushing included the Bills (190 yards/42 attempts), Chiefs (185/27), Ravens (157/42), Jaguars (155/39), Cowboys (129/31), Vikings (129/30) and Bronco’s (140/36) on Monday night, who were the only team to not cover the point spread with at least a 30 yard rushing edge. Clearly, Sunday and Monday bettors on the Broncos pushed. The Bears were the only team to lose the game SU with a 30+ rushing yard advantage (9-1 SU). Note all those teams ran the ball a higher percentage of plays, with many at least 30 times – another key indicator to point spread success. Control the ball, clock and chains, and you’ll open up the passing lanes, be more balanced on offense, and wear down more defenses.

Teams that struggled to get their ground game going included the NY Giants (35 rushing yards/12 attempts), (Steelers (35/17), NY Jets (38/17), Cardinals (45/18) and 49ers (51/15). These teams went 1-4 SU and 0-5 ATS. Of course the Steelers beat the Browns, who rushed for 57 yards, 238 total yards at 3.8 yards per play. Another poor performance by the bad news Browns, yet they managed to get the money.

Teams that had strong offensive showings and efficient yards per play (yppl) in victory were the Chiefs (537 yards/8.3 yppl) in their terrific opening night upset over the Patriots, Bills (408/5.7) and Cowboys (392/5.5). Not much offensive production Sunday, as teams combined to go 2-10 over/under on totals. The Vikings (470/7.5) were very efficient on offense in their Monday night win over the Saints, 29-19.

 Inefficient offensive teams included the Texans (203/2.9), NY Jets (214/3.9 and just 11 first downs), 49ers (217/4.0), Bengals (221/3.8), Colts (225/4.6), and the Seahawks (225), NY Giants (233), Redskins (264) were also inefficient in defeat.

The league average is approximately 5.4 to 5.5 yards-per-play.

The Steelers won despite 13 penalties for 144 yards (they must have played the Browns).

We’ll review more NFL stats and information each week as we continue to evaluate the results, match-ups and work to become even more proficient in point spread prognosis.

Author: FairwayJay

FairwayJay is a leading national sports analyst and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful handicappers and professionals. Follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay