Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Times Are a Changing

Football handicapping is an ever changing field. It takes experience to put all the puzzle pieces in place. One of the hardest things to learn is what works one season probably won’t the next.  Some of this is because of the way different coaches approach the game. Some decades the running game was king, in others the passing game. In the 70s just the Dallas Cowboys used the shotgun formation regularly. Today all teams use it, some more than others. Rules change and make it easier to pass, or harder to generate a pass rush. To illustrate this I’m going to look at the 2012 season and compare a few things to the 2013 season. Before the 2013 season the NFL made several rule changes. I predicted then that the rule changes would increase scoring and cautioned people to look for more games going over the total than under. Did the rule changes have any tangible effects? Decidedly yes.
Football games can be bet against the spread, ATS, and also against the total. The total is the total points scored for both teams. When the total is bet it doesn’t matter who wins the game or by how much. Only the total points scored matter.

2012 saw 129 games going under the total and 123 going over. After the rule changes, 2013 saw 119 games go under the total and 132 go over. That’s a fairly small swing. One thing that really stands out is the number of games with a total of 38 or less. In 2012, 17 games had the total set at 38 points or less. In 2013, 0. As in zero. ZERO. Just for reference, 2011 saw 33 games with a total of 38 or lower. The zero number in 2013 is frankly a bit shocking to me, that’s unheard of. I doubt we’ll see that again this season. It does show however that the odds makers set the overall totals higher because of more scoring. How much did the new rules increase scoring? It increased 1.2 points a game in 2013, or 2.6%. Scoring has been on the rise since 2005, increasing 7 of the 8 years. In 2005 the average total in a game was 41.2 points. In 2013 it was 46.8, increasing 5.6 points a game in 8 years. The scoring trend is up and we’re really seeing it in the totals.

Does this mean we can blindly call for games to go over the total this season? No, or course not. Case in point, in 2012 if we would have bet all games with a total of 40.5 to 42.5 under, we would have been 24-12, an excellent record. However, betting the same parameters in 2013 we would have gone 25-38, a terrible record. This is what I meant by what works one season probably won’t the next.  This is where my experience and knowledge come into play. Armed with the knowledge of the rule change that would increase scoring, coupled with the 7 year trend of increasing scores, which allowed me to correctly predict the totals moving towards more overs last season, I avoided betting the unders in situations like that. If the situation showed games more likely to go over, I would have given it much more weight.

I’ll end this with a trend I’ll be looking at this season. Over the last two seasons when the total of the game has been 54 or higher, the over bet has been the play. In 2012 it went 6-2 and in 2013 it went 10-4, for a two year record of 16-6. That might mean something when coupled with other factors. Or it might not. Fully half of the 10-4 record betting the overs from last season was because of the great year that Manning had in Denver. The Broncos were 5-2 going over the total when the total was 54 or higher. The truth is, I’d expect to see the trend reverse itself this season.  Why? Because the Broncos won’t score as much but the betting public will force the totals higher on the Broncos games, making them a bargain for under bets. Am I calling for blindly betting every game of theirs under? No. But I’ll look for good spots to exploit this situation.

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