NFL Handicapping – Inside the Numbers Week 5

NFL Week 5 Handicapping and Analyzing Stats

Week 5 started with an ugly prime time game last Thursday when the Cardinals beat the 49ers in San Francisco 33-21. I highlighted this game in a prime time preview, noting the Cardinals would out-rush the 49ers and a big game was likely for RB David Johnson. Arizona did rush for 172 yards, but their offense was still mostly inefficient with 288 yards and 4.4 yards per play. But the 49ers were an embarrassment on national TV, totaling just 286 yards at 3.9 yards per play with three turnovers. The 49ers have lost four straight games with 302 total yards their most in a game over that stretch. That’s prompted coach Chip Kelly to make the switch at quarterback, as Colin Kaepernick will start in week 6 at Buffalo, where he’ll get to take a knee before the game during the national anthem and again during the game when he’s put on his butt and knees by the Bills defense.

Close Calls and Point Spread Plays of the Week

We hit our two top plays with the Chargers (+4) and the Raiders/Chargers over the total in Oakland’s 34-31 win. That was a close point spread result, but the Chargers out-played the Raiders, yet found a way to lose again with four turnovers. San Diego had 423 yards offense and a huge 8.3 yards per play, but managed to lose. They still had to score late to reward their betting backers. Those of us Bears backers were not so fortunate. Chicago (+4) led the Colts 23-19 inside of four minutes to go in the game, but allowed a long TD pass and then the Bears fumbled on the first play in the following series in their own territory and the Colts kicked the spread-covering FG in a 29-23 win. The Bears drove down the field at the end, but came up short again and lost the game and money despite a week high 522 yards and huge 8.4 yards per play.

The Giants (+7) scored a late TD on Sunday night to gain a point spread push or perhaps a win if you shoppped the various sports books in their 23-16 loss at Green Bay. New York was another prime time embarrassment with just 14 first downs, 43 yards rushing and 219 total yards at 4.1 yards per play.

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.

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 take a look at some of the stats of note from week 5, and use some of this moving forward in isolating match-up advantages.

NFL Inside the Numbers Week 5

In week 5, NFL favorites went 7-7 straight up (SU) and 5-8-1 against the spread (ATS). Some close calls each week with line moves, so there is some subjective data. Totals went 7-7 over/under. For the season, betting favorites have had just one winning week overall, and that was 8-7 in week 4. Underdog players and sports book have been winning more in the early season, and home underdogs specifically are now 15-9-1 ATS despite a 2-3 losing result in week 5.

Dallas leads the NFL in rushing at 155 YPG and rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott leads the league in rushing with 546 yards (109/game) & 5 TDs

Dallas leads the NFL in rushing at 155 YPG & Cowboys rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott leads the league in rushing with 546 yds (109/g) & 5 TDs

Running to Point Spread Profit

Teams that rushed the ball for 150 or more yards in week 5 went 3-0 SU and ATS, as the Titans trampled over the Dolphins with 235 rushing yards and the Bills stampeded the Rams run defense for 193 yards. Those two teams won and covered easily as road underdogs, while the Cowboys crushed the Bengals at home as ‘Dog with 180 rushing yards. The bad news Browns had been running the ball well in recent weeks, but at New England the Browns were completely shut down with a week-low 27 rushing yards as QB Tom Brady’s return to action was a big one with over 400 passing yards.

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, as teams like the Bills, Bears, Browns, Dolphins, Jets and 49ers have virtually no chance to make a deep playoff push or even get there with sub-par of poor QB play in the passing game. If the offensive line is weak, it becomes a complete disaster for these teams as they will struggle to run the ball effectively and then lack a proven passer to make plays in the passing game.

Teams that rushed the ball at least 29 times went 6-1 SU/ATS in week 5. The Rams were the only loser SU/ATS with 29 rushes for 102 yards, but their opponent Buffalo rushed for 193 yards on 27 carries for a dominant running game result. That 6-1 results does not include the Cardinals winner with 37 rushes, as their opponent the 49ers also rushed the ball 36 times. Nor does it include the push with the Packers (-7), who rushed 32 times for 147 yards in a dominating performance at the line of scrimmage with the Giants rushing for just 43 yards on 15 carries. Over the last four weeks, teams that rushed the ball at least 29 times (when their opponent did not) have gone 34-4 ATS.

Teams that out-rushed their opponent by at least 30 yards went 6-2-1 ATS in week 5. That stat guideline is now 38-14 ATS (73%) 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’re well on your way to more point spread winners. It’s not as easy as it seems, but this situation has delivered nearly a 75% ATS result on average since the year 2000, with no season below 70%. I have the box scores and data base to prove it.

Big ground gainers in week 5

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

Team Rush Yds Attempts SU/ATS
Titans 235 41 W/W
Bills 193 27 W/W
Cowboys 180 29 W/W
Cardinals 173 37 W/W
Packers 147 32 W/P
Panthers 135 25 L/L

Teams that failed to get their ground game going:

Team Rush Yards Attempts SU/ATS
Browns 27 22 L/L
NY Giants 43 15 L/P
Dolphins 51 17 L/L
Texans 59 14 L/L
Redskins 60 20 W/W

Credit must also be given to defenses and their ability to slow the opponents running game, and that’s part of the weekly handicap in determining running game success or failure each week in the match-up analysis. The Vikings dominant defense shut down another opponent in week 5, holding the Texans to just 59 rushing yards on 14 carries. Minnesota is the only undefeated team in the league (5-0), and the Vikings have a buy in week 6 along with the Bucs, who pulled the upset Monday night at Carolina with 37 rushing attempts while benefitting from a 4-0 turnover advantage. The pathetic Panthers are now 1-4 following last year’s Super Bowl loss.

Efficient Offenses and Yards Per Play

Teams that had strong offensive showings and efficient yards per play (yppl) in week 5: The NFL average for yards per play is approximately 5.5.

Team Total Yards Yards Per Play SU/ATS
Bears 522 8.4 L/L
Patriots 501 6.5 W/W
Steelers 433 6.0 W/W
Chargers 423 8.3 L/W
Panthers 414 7.8 L/L
Cowboys 402 7.4 W/W
Packers 406 5.3 W/P
Titans 398 5.7 W/W
Colts 396 6.1 W/W
Raiders 389 5.7 W/L
Falcons 372 6.0 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 5 included:

Team Total Yards Yards Per Play SU/ATS
Dolphins 200 4.9 L/L
Texans 214 3.6 L/L
Giants 219 4.1 L/W
Lions 244 4.4 W/W
Broncos 267 4.1 L/L
Browns 262 4.4 L/L
49ers 286 3.9 L/L
Cardinals 288 4.4 W/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 5, the Panthers (4-0), 49ers (3-0), Rams (3-0) and Chargers (4-1) all suffered turnover troubles in SU/ATS defeats. Teams on the short end of a 3 or greater turnover differential are now 0-16 ATS this season, and 1-15 SU with the Giants winning but failing to cover versus New Orleans in in week 2 despite a 3-0 turnover disadvantage.

Note too that teams that suffered a minus (-2) turnover margin were 0-1 SU/ATS in week 5, and those teams are 2-13 ATS this season. So turnovers again prove to be a most important stat in point spread outcomes, 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 Eagles were the most penalized team in week 5, and it cost them in their first loss of the season at Detroit. Philadelphia had 14 penalties for 111 yards and a key turnover late in a 24-23 defeat as road favorite. The public lined up on the popular Eagles, and gave their money back to the sports books, as once again laying more than a field goal on the road in the NFL is a poor percentage play. Doing it against the worst two teams in the NFL like the Browns and 49ers worked out just fine however for Patriots and Cardinals bettors, noting the line of scrimmage advantage for those two playoff contending and well-coached teams.

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