NFL Handicapping – Inside the Numbers Week 12

NFL Week 12 Handicapping and Analyzing Stats

December football has arrived and teams are pushing for the playoffs and division titles. I’ve updated some stats, rushing and ATS info in a recent article, and provided below. Other teams, like the winless Browns (0-12) and 49ers (1-10) are proving to be historically bad. Bettors can’t wait to go against those horrible teams, and the Browns and 49ers are giving away money also going 1-10 ATS and 3-8 ATS respectively. We had a Top Play total winner in the Giants 27-13 beat down of the Browns. The Panthers (4-7) and Packers (5-6), the two biggest favorites to make the playoffs at the start of the season (-500 and -420), are nearly out of the race as December arrives.

The Bookmakers got the stuffing beat out of them on Thanksgiving when the Steelers crushed the Colts, and in the early Sunday games, favorites were 8-0 SU and 5-1-2 ATS. A late afternoon and Sun/Mon night surge for the ‘Dogs prevented the worst NFL week of the season for the sports books, which suffered that fate a week earlier in week 11 action.

Close Calls and Point Spread Plays of the Week

Some close calls in week 12 included the Titans 27-21 win at Chicago, as the line was 6 until some late game day money pushed it to 6.5 (I graded a push). The Bears trailed 27-7 in the fourth quarter but rallied and Chicago had four cracks from inside the 10-yard line in the final minute, but couldn’t get the game winning touchdown. The Panthers (+3.5) also closed +3 in places in their 35-32 loss at Oakland in another exciting finish for the Raiders (9-2) in their magical season thus far. I rated that close call a win for underdog bettors. The Dolphins (-7, push) could not get the money as a Top Play side for us despite leading the 49ers 31-14 and had to hold off a late San Francisco rally that was stopped just short of the goal line in the closing seconds in Miami’s 31-24 in. No worry for Atlanta bettors, as the Falcons flew over the Cardinals 38-19 in a battle of the birds, nearly eliminating Arizona (4-6-1) from the playoff chase while Atlanta (7-4) maintained their top spot in the NFC South. We had the Bucs (+6), and Tampa Bay pulled off the upset of the day and killed all teaser bets on Seattle as well in Tampa’s 14-5 win; the Bucs third straight win and cover to keep them in the NFC South and wild card chase at 6-5.

Evaluating the Box Scores and Stats

I’ve been tracking and loading box score data into spread sheets and have kept a proprietary database of statistical information for over a dozen years. I review weekly box scores, stats, game recaps and more after watching many NFL games. I utilize relevant rushing numbers, statistical guidelines and situations as just part of the process to assist me in football betting and providing more point spread winners. I try to isolate match-up advantages at the line of scrimmage in determining both rushing success and stopping the run. Same with passing game potential, as a team that picks up the pace and passes more may be able to tear apart an opponent’s secondary without relying on the running game as much. What I’ve learned and relied on over the years is that despite some moderate gains in passing yards and attempts in recent years along with rules changes to allow more scoring, the game is still often won or lost at the line of scrimmage. The ability to control the line of scrimmage and have running game success and/or to stop the run affects the game in many ways, both offensively and defensively.

This was proven again in week 12 on Thanksgiving when the Cowboys controlled the ball and rushed for 163 yards and balanced it with 190 passing for 6.4 yards per play. Redskins QB Cousins put up huge passing numbers in bringing the Redskins back to get the cover in a 31-26 defeat, but 449 yards passing on 53 attempts is usually a losing formula and is the sign of a team playing from behind.

Yet as the NFL shows us again, dominating the stats does not always result in a SU or ATS win. The Broncos had a balanced 464 yards offense at 6.0 yards per play, yet the Chiefs, who had 137 yards into the fourth quarter, rallied for a late TD and 2-point conversion to tie the game at 24, and then won in the closing seconds of overtime, 30-27. Kansas City had just 273 yards offense at 3.6 yards per play in five quarters of football!

Beating the NFL over the long-term involves an understanding of the match-ups, situations and stats, and how to apply them for success. Let’s look at some additional stats and ATS notes from week 12 and use some of this moving forward in isolating match-up advantages.

NFL Inside the Numbers Week 12

In week 12, NFL favorites were winning big until the late games Sunday and Monday. Favorites finished 13-3 SU and 7-7-2 ATS rating the Titans and Dolphins a push, and the Bills a loser despite sitting -7 early week in their 28-21 win over the Jaguars. Home underdogs had little bite, going 1-5 SU and 2-3-1 ATS. Home Dogs are now 27-24-3 ATS. Totals went 8-8.

Running to Point Spread Profit

Teams that rushed the ball for 150 or more yards in week 12 (when their opponent did not) went 2-1 SU and 1-1-1 ATS, and are now 33-11 SU and 37-7 ATS with some pushes.

Week after week the results show that running game success is often more relevant and important versus passing game prowess (see DAL vs WASH last wek). Clearly a top QB and passing attack is important, and we factor that into our match-up analysis every week along with the stats and situations. But look at the weekly box scores and stats and you’ll see that teams that pass the ball at least 45 times are very often on the losing end and most often ATS.

The Titans are pushing for a division title with DeMarco Murray & Derrick Henry leading the league's No. 3 rushing attack

The Titans are pushing for a division title with DeMarco Murray & Derrick Henry leading the league’s No. 3 rushing attack

Teams that rushed the ball at least 29 times went 6-2-1 ATS in week 12. For the season, teams that rush the ball at least 29 times in a game (when their opponent does not) are 89-14-4 ATS (86%). The Bucs pulled the weeks biggest upset as the stymied the Seahawks in a 14-5 home win as a TD underdog. Tampa Bay rushed for 118 yards on 35 carries, showing that ball control and rushing attempts can be a key formula to winning. The Bucs defense has improved and held Seattle to 245 yards at 4.0 yards per play including just 1-11 on third down.

Determine who is going to run the ball more often and with success against an opponent and you’re well on your way to more point spread success. Note however that it’s not that easy, but if you dig into the stats, project match-up advantages and identify edges, you’ll be rewarded in the running game more often and improve your ability to handicap and identify advantages in games and match-ups.

It’s not always an easy forecast, as clearly the Bills looked like they would stampeded over the Jaguars and their anemic running game. But Jacksonville rushed 37 times for 183 yards, yet Buffalo prevailed 28-21 getting a big 75 yard touchdown run by RB McCoy and the Bills finished with 153 yards rushing on 29 attempts.

Teams that out-rushed their opponent by at least 30 yards went 6-3 ATS in week 12. That stat guideline is now 87-35 (71%) ATS this season. Determine who will outrush their opponent by this margin, run the ball more often and control the ball, clock and chains and you’ll cash more point spread winners. This is proven year after year with nearly 75% ATS success and no season below 70% since 2000. I have the box scores and data base to prove it.

Big ground gainers in week 12

(Yards/Attempts with straight-up (SU) and against the spread (ATS) results).

Team Rush Yds Attempts SU/ATS
Saints 209 32 W/W
49ers 193 25 L/P
Jaguars 183 37 L/W
Cowboys 163 30 W/L
Steelers 148 29 W/W

 

Teams that failed to get their ground game going in week 12:

Team Rush Yards Attempts SU/ATS
Raiders 55 30 W/L
Redskins 56 19 L/W
Cardinals 58 14 L/L
Browns 58 21 L/L
Bengals 64 20 L/L
NY Jets 64 23 L/W
Rams 69 17 L/L
Eagles 81 18 L/L

 

Efficient Offenses and Yards Per Play

Teams that had strong offensive showings and efficient yards per play (yppl) in week 12: The NFL average for yards per play is approx. 5.5.

Team Total Yards Yards Per Play SU/ATS
Saints 555 7.8 W/W
49ers 475 6.5 L/P
Broncos 464 6.1 L/L
Titans 375 6.2 W/P
Steelers 369 7.4 W/W

Note how the yards were accumulated each week, passing vs rushing and if a team was playing from behind and forced to abandon their running game in the second half, any overtime yards and injury impacts during a game.

Struggling Offenses

Some poor offensive performances in week 12 included:

Team Total Yards Yards Per Play SU/ATS
Seahawks 245 4.9 L/L
Rams 247 4.8 L/L
Chiefs 273 3.6 W/W
Eagles 292 4.9 L/L
Jaguars 301 4.6 L/W

 

Turnover Troubles and Penalty Problems

Historically, teams that suffer a minus three (-3) or greater turnover differential in a game have little chance to win and cover (7% ATS). Last season, on nearly 40 occurrences and games with a 3 or greater turnover differential, the team on the short end of the turnovers won and covered just one time each. In week 12 the Texans (4-1) and Bears (4-1) suffered turnover troubles.

Teams that are plus (+3) or greater in the turnover column in a game are now 26-3 SU and 27-2 ATS this season. Teams that are exactly plus-2 in TO margin went 4-0 SU/ATS in week 12 and are now 33-5 SU and 31-6-1 ATS. Turnovers are most telling statistic in the NFL when it comes to point spread success. Yet fumbles are random and cannot be determined in handicapping the games. So instead of being hard on yourself in a defeat with a bigger turnover differential, just move on and evaluate the upcoming games and try to find match-up advantages that can help you get on the right side of more games while locating value in the betting line.

The Giants overcame 9 penalties for 100 yards, but of course it was against the Browns, who had 3 turnovers. The Broncos however, despite a 464-273 yard edge, could not overcome 15 penalties for 97 yards in a 30-27 defeat in overtime to Kansas City.

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 handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay