NFL Handicapping – Inside the Numbers Week 13

As teams push for the playoffs and division titles, we’re seeing the contenders separate from the pretenders. A strong slate of week 13 games started Thursday with the Cowboys winning their 11th straight game with a road win at Minnesota, 17-15. The Vikings got the money late and their defense rose up again holding the Cowboys to just 264 yards offense. But Minnesota (6-6) has faded fast losing 6-of-7 and special teams miscues were costly in defeat. The other prime time games were blowouts as Seattle delivered us and members a Top Play winner in their 40-7 crushing of Carolina Sunday Night. Then on Monday night, the Jets, coaches and QB Fitzpatrick embarrassed themselves again as Colts QB Andrew Luck put on a clinic in Indianapolis’ 41-10 destruction of New York.

Fans didn’t have to withstand watching the winless Browns (0-12) as they were on a bye and Cleveland has their best shot and situation at a victory in Week 14 vs. division rival Cincinnati. But the 49ers, who somehow took the stupid sharp money and closed a favorite at Chicago, were buried by the Bears 26-6. After taking a knee prior to kickoff during the national anthem, QB Kaepernick embarrassed himself and the team again with a total of SIX (6) net yards passing and just 147 total yards at 2.7 yards per play. San Francisco (1-12) lost their 11th straight game while burying their betting backers (3-10 ATS). The Jets and 49ers are historically bad teams with awful QB play and even at the professional level, the moral, mistakes and misfits has to be tough to take week after week.

The Bookmakers got beat up bad with the Steelers and Seahawks victories, but got some back with the Chiefs 29-28 win at Atlanta, a Top Play loser for us. A pick-6 of Falcons QB Ryan late in the first half was tough to take, as was the fake punt for TD by KC, and the final crushing blow, 2-point conversion returned by the Chiefs late in the game. Atlanta had 32 first downs, which is a rare feat, along with 418 yards offense at 6.3 yards per play. The Chiefs ran just 48 plays, but at a week-best 8.3 yards per play which included the 55 yard fake punt for touchdown. The Chiefs (8-3) were out-gaine for the 5th straight game, but stayed in the AFC West division chase and have the huge showdown with the Raiders (9-2) Thursday night in Kansas City.

Close Calls and Point Spread Plays of the Week

Many more blowouts than close calls in week 13, and some solid upsets from a betting line perspective as first place Detroit (+6′) went to New Orleans and slowed the streaking Saints 28-13. The Buccaneers (+4) continued their late season surge with their 4th straight win, 28-21 at San Diego to move them into a first place tie with the Falcons at 7-5 in the NFC South. The Bucs host the Saints in Week 14, and travel back to New Orleans in Week 16 for key division duels.

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.

However, the Buffalo Bills too often prove that you can’t just have a strong rushing attack (No. 1) and win consistently when your QB play is inadequate. The Bills rushed for a week-high 212 yards, but blew a 24-9 lead at Oakland in a 38-24 defeat. As noted a number of times, the Bills will never prosper to the highest level with Tyrod Taylor as the starting quarterback.

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 13 and use some of this moving forward in isolating match-up advantages.

NFL Inside the Numbers Week 13

In week 13, NFL favorites went 13-2 SU and 11-4 ATS rating the Bears as favorite, which they were until game day. It was a tough week for many bookmakers again, as the favorites have been getting the money in more recent weeks. Totals were 8-7 over/under rating the Chargers on the high side from opener but closing 49 or 49′.

Running to Point Spread Profit

Not many big rushing games in Week 13, but the Bills managed to mess up a good thing in defeat despite 212 rushing yards. Same with the Jaguars, who rushed for 154 yards on 38 carries, a strong winning formula in beating the NFL both SU and ATS. But the Jags continued turnover troubles cost them again. Teams that rushed the ball for 150 or more yards in week 13 (when their opponent did not) went 1-2 SU and ATS for a rare losing week, but our projection on Seattle was correct as a Top Play winner, as the Seahawks rushed for 240 yards on 29 attempts for an easy 40-7 victory. Teams that rush for 150 or more yard in a game when their opponent does not are now 34-13 SU and 38-9 ATS with some pushes.

Week after week the results show that running game success is often more relevant and important versus passing game prowess. 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.

Teams that rushed the ball at least 29 times went 6-2 SU and 6-2 ATS in week 13. For the season, teams that rush the ball at least 29 times in a game (when their opponent does not) are 95-16-4 ATS (85%). The Colts rushed 40 times for 139 yards against the Jets solid defensive front in a Monday night masterpiece by the offense and QB Andrew Luck.

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.

Teams that out-rushed their opponent by at least 30 yards went 8-3 SU and 7-4 ATS in week 13. That stat guideline is now 94-39 (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 13

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

Team Rush Yds Attempts SU/ATS
Seahawks 240 29 W/W
Bills 212 30 L/L
Jaguars 154 38 L/L
Bears 142 35 W/W
Cowboys 141 28 W/L
49ers 141 34 L/L
Colts 139 40 W/W
Raiders 139 32 W/W
Patriots 133 29 W/W
Falcons 128 30 L/L

Teams that failed to get their ground game going in week 13:

Team Rush Yards Attempts SU/ATS
Rams 36 13 L/L
Jets 36 14 L/L
Saints 50 12 L/L
Eagles 53 19 L/L
Giants 56 14 L/L
Dolphins 62 16 L/L

Efficient Offenses and Yards Per Play

Teams that had strong offensive showings and efficient yards per play (yppl) in week 13: The NFL average for yards per play is approx. 5.5.

Team Total Yards Yards Per Play SU/ATS
Seahawks 534 7.5 W/W
Ravens 496 7.1 W/W
Llions 422 6.2 W/W
Colts 421 6.1 W/W
Falcons 418 6.3 L/L
Bengals 412 6.4 W/W
Patriots 402 5.5 W/W
Chiefs 389 8.1 W/W
Raiders 399 6.1 W/W
Steelers 389 5.6 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 13 included:

Team Total Yards Yards Per Play SU/ATS
49ers 147 4.7 L/L
Rams 162 3.3 L/L
Broncos 206 3.8 W/W
Dolphins 277 4.8 L/L
Giants 234 4.3 L/L
Jets 250 4.8 L/L
Panthers 271 4.9 L/L

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 13 the Jaguars (3-0) and Saints (3-0) suffered turnover troubles and SU/ATS defeats.

Teams that are plus (+3) or greater in the turnover column in a game are now 28-3 SU and 29-2 ATS this season. Teams that are exactly plus-2 in TO margin went 4-0 SU/ATS in week 13 and are now 37-5 SU and 35-6-1 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 Chiefs good fortune continued, as they also overcame 13 penalties for 128 yards in a 29-28 win at Atlanta. The Eagles continued their downward flight with 10 penalties for 88 yards while the Saints were sloppy with turnovers, little rushing and 10 penalties for 83 yards. The 49ers were frozen in the Windy City and embarrassed themselves further with 11 penalties for 106 yards. The Steelers were more dominant than the 24-14 final score, as they overcame 12 penalties for 115 yards in beating the Giants to keep pace with the Ravens in the AFC North. The Rams and coach Fisher didn’t need penalties to embarrass themselves. The Rams had just 7 first downs, 36 yards rushing, 162 total yards at 3.3 yards per play. Oh, and 1-for-13 on third down. Rookie QB Golf was awful, but the master coach Bill Belichick and right hand man and chief engineer/defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are the best as the Patriots roll again, 26-10.

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