The NFL season is upon us and that means pro football is in the forefront on Thursdays, Sundays, Mondays and, let’s be honest, every day in between.
For bettors, the goal, as ever, is to pick winners at a high rate, but how do you achieve that? Before you start wagering on the 2017 season, there are several reminders worth noting. Let’s look at some key numbers and trends that can help you this year.
As much as the media tries to explain everything that happens on the field, there is always a degree of randomness. One of the things that is really unpredictable is turnover margin. Turnovers play a major role in winning and losing, and though some quarterbacks throw more interceptions than others, at the end of the year, good luck is the biggest contributor to a great turnover differential. How do we know that? Because history shows that going +18 in turnover differential is not sustainable from year to year, even if your team remains markedly similar.
Two years ago, the Panthers rode a +20 turnover margin to a 15-1 regular season and top spot in the NFC. Last season, Carolina was -2 in turnover margin and went 6-10. In 2015, the playoff-bound Bengals (12-4) were second in the league in turnover margin; last year, they were in the middle of the pack and went 6-9-1.
Who’s in for regression this season? The Raiders and Chiefs topped the NFL in turnover margin last year. Though risk-averse KC quarterback Alex Smith has seen his team among the better turnover-margin squads two straight years, be leery of both teams, particularly the Raiders, who were not as good as their 12-4 mark from 2016 suggests.
Before you value a team on how they did last season, take a glimpse at how many games they lost to injury. They are used as an excuse, but the bottom line is, injuries drastically affect results. Two years ago, the Broncos and Panthers were among the healthiest teams in the league and that helped them both reach the Super Bowl. It was the same story last season when the Patriots and Falcons were among the top quarter of the league in health.
Like turnovers, staying healthy is largely a matter of luck. If you exclude the poor old Chargers, teams tend to regress to the mean from year to year. The injury outliers — at both ends of the spectrum — are liable to change each season.
Last year, Chicago was the most banged up squad in more than a decade, while the Chargers lost the second-most man games due to injury (which, again, has been a recurring theme for the franchise). Conversely, the Rams and Titans were the healthiest squads in the NFL last year, and the Bengals have been relatively injury-free in two straight seasons. These numbers over time should return to the mean. Even the Chargers should be healthy one of these days, and luck will run out for Cincinnati.
Som team is going to be super-impressive in Weeks 1 and 2, and might continue to blow expectations out of the water for a month. Don’t overreact. Based on their personnel and certain realities, neither the Eagles nor the Vikings were expected to do much last year. The Eagles, however, raced to a 3-0 start under rookie QB Carson Wentz, while Vikings were 5-0 thanks to a dominating defense.
By the end of the season, Philly was under .500 (7-9) and Minny was only a game better (8-8).
It works the other way too. In 2015, the perennially powerful Seahawks — a popular preseason Super Bowl pick — started 2-4 and finished 10-6.
Some teams really are much better/worse than what pundits predict at the outset (see 2016 Cowboys) but to paraphrase Dennis Green, most of them “are who we thought they were.”
Sportsbooks take advantage of bettors who overreact. If you have a strong feeling about a team at the start of the year, stay the course and make only mild adjustments as the season moves along. Don’t listen to the yelling and screaming media that wig out over the “greatest” or “worst” this or that. If you put in your homework now, the daily maintenance of the season is more level-headed and reasonable than reacting to every little piece of news. Be proactive not reactive in your handicapping.
Featured photo: Injured NFL Player (By CBy BrokenSphere [CC License]).
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