NFL Handicapping: Inside The Numbers Through 4 Weeks

FairwayJay goes inside the numbers through the first quarter of the NFL season with box scores, stats and meaningful rushing numbers that can assist you in your handicapping and produce more ATS winners.

Handicapping and Analyzing Stats and Rushing to the Window Through the Opening Quarter of the NFL Season

In seasons past, I wrote weekly Inside the Numbers articles recapping NFL boxscore data and discussing the importance of point of attack play and both running the ball and stopping the run. I would go inside the numbers reviewing box scores, stats, game recaps and more after watching and analyzing many of the NFL games. 

For more than 15 years, I have kept a proprietary database of statistical information and utilized relevant rushing numbers, statistical guidelines and situations to better assist me in sports investing and providing point spread winners. It helped me produce 8 consecutive winning NFL seasons when I previously worked in the tout and pick selling business posting a documented record of 371-277 (57.3% ATS) with a number of seasons better than 64%.

I've gone away from that business model and turned down offers. I now provide sports betting and handicapping insight, analysis, opinions and work with companies to produce sports betting and related content while also covering and reporting on the industry. I've been able to continue the NFL winning ways with some success posting underdog plays on these pages for the past 2+ seasons and also in some bigger NFL contests. The record now stands at 58-30 ATS (66%) including 10-5 to start the 2019 season selecting only underdogs and posting on these pages. 

NFL Football trends and statsThere are many ways to handicap NFL games. But while the talking heads and more media members break into the business with legal sports betting in the U.S., you're going to hear more and more opinions and reasons (some garbage) about why teams win or lose. More computer and math models are being created, and many ridiculous trends are used as a lazy way to try and justify why a team will win or lose. While the game continues to evolve with more scoring, rules changes and safety at the forefront, pro football is still a game of running, passing, blocking and tackling. Oh, and kicking as the Rams found out with a missed 44-yard field goal at the gun in a 30-29 loss at Seattle last night. 

While we hear more and more about how the NFL is more of a passing league, I provide stats that show the importance of running the ball and stopping the run, and the impact on not only winning football games, but also covering point spreads. If you can become better at analyzing match-ups and identify when a team will have more success running the ball and/or stopping the run, you'll increase your ATS winning percentage. 

It can be difficult to handicap the and beat the NFL as not only are there significant injures each week, but trying to overcome turnovers, penalties or poor calls by officials only adds more hazards to the course. In Week 5 of the 2019 NFL season, there will be at least 9 quarterbacks starting that were backups at the start of the season. It's always important to analyze and handicap the play of the quarterback and the match-ups of the opponent, but even the best quarterbacks are going to struggle if they don't have enough pass protection or if they don't have a supporting running game. A strong run defense and overall defensive strength can overcome deficiencies on a teams offense; just ask the Chicago Bears with their dominant defense and sub-par quarterback play. Same with the Bills, who are currently No. 2 in the league in total defense (yards allowed) but lost last week to the undefeated Patriots 16-10 thanks to 4 interceptions by Bills quarterbacks and a blocked punt return touchdown. Buffalo out-gained the powerful Patriots 375 (5.3) to 224 (3.6), outrushed them 135-74, had more time of possession (33-27 min) and first down edge of 23-11. The Bills still covered the point spread as one of our weekly winners, but turnovers were indeed problematic and too much to overcome.

Beating the NFL over the long-term involves an understanding of the match-ups, situations and stats, and how to apply them for success. Good fortune in the turnover column helps too. After all, teams that are plus (+3) or more in the turnover column in a game are a long-term 92% winning ATS situation and 7-3 ATS this season. Teams that are plus-2 or better in turnovers during a game are also a high wining percentage ATS (12-3 this season).  

But teams that have a meaningful rushing advantage over their opponent (at least 30 yards) are 29-16 ATS this season (64%). That includes 10-1 ATS in Week 4 when the underdogs dominated going 10-5 ATS and the sportsbooks buried most bettors that like the best teams and favorites. There has not been a season I've tracked over the last 15+ years when that 30 yards rushing advantage finished the season below 70%. It's annually near 75% and last year was 78% on more than 170 game sample.

But as important as running the football and gaining yards on the ground is, it's perhaps even more important to have more rushing attempts. 

Through the first quarter of the 2019 NFL season (4 weeks), teams that run the football at least 30 times in a game are 30-6-1 SU and 28-9 ATS. It is not graded if both teams rush the ball at least 30 times (which is very rare). 

Teams that run the ball less than 23 times per game (when their opponent does not) are 6-35 SU and 11-30 ATS. 

If you can handicap and project rushing success (which includes run defenses), and it plays out accordingly, you're well on your way to cashing more winners, as you'll greatly improve your chances of winning ATS. 

One other note about the NFL. Evaluating point spreads and betting the best number is always recommended. But you can't control the market moves or always get the best number. In today's instantaneous market with moving lines based on betting volume and action, along with key injury news or weather, know that in competitively lined games (6 or less), the point spread doesn't come into play more than 85% of the time. 

Lines move, and grading can vary whether a team was 5, 5.5, 6 or 6.5 (like the Raiders last week +6.5 bet down to +5 vs the Colts). But just picking the SU winner in those competitively priced games has resulted in a record of 37-2 ATS this season. Either the underdog of 6 points or less wins outright, or the favorite of 1-6 points wins and covers the spread a vast majority of the time. 

NFL handicapping tipsIt doesn't always work out, and I know that well having bet Buffalo -5 (closed -6) vs. Cincinnati in Week 3 only to have the Bills completely dominate the game through the first half building a 14-0 lead (should have been more) before winning 21-17 in a game the Bills out-rushed the Bengals 175-67 and ran the ball 36 times to just 19 for the Bengals. Those types of stats produce an ATS winner well over 90% of the time as the Bills also out-gained the Bengals by more than 100 yards and even won the turnover battle 4-2. A fluke, but that happens even when the handicap plays out as planned. 

Teams pass their way through the back door too. But the lesson here is to open your mind to various ways to handicap and evaluate a NFL contest including a focus on the running game. Get better at evaluating that area of a match-up and note key injuries along the offensive and defensive lines or a number of injuries beyond just skill position (fantasy impact) other than the quarterback. Study some of these stats and the links and charts below for reference. Update and monitor the stats weekly, and note strength of schedule and opponents. It will help you in your NFL handicapping, and even assist you in prop betting when tacking player and yardage props.  

Top 10 rushing teams in yards per game and yards per rush, along with their rushing attempts per game.

Ravens 205 RYPG at 5.9 YPR - 35 runs per game
49ers 175 at 4.6 YPR - 38
Vikings 155 at 5.2 YPR - 30
Bills 147 at 5.0 YPR - 29
Cowboys 145 at 4.9 YPR - 29
Jaguars 135 at 5.7 YPR - 24
Colts 132 at 4.6 YPR - 28
Giants 129 at 5.5 YPR - 23
Raiders 126 at 5.1 YPR - 25
Lions 120 at 3.9 YPR - 31

See Team Rankings rushing yards per game for the full list and the bottom rushing teams below.

Bengals (49 YPG), Redskins (50), Dolphins (52), Steelers (64), NY Jets (65), Falcons (70)  

Top 10 rush defenses in yards allowed and yards per rush. 

Buccaneers 59 at 2.9 YPR - 20 opponent runs per game
Patriots  61 at 3.5 YPR - 17
Bears 61 at 3.0 YPR - 21
Eagles 62 at 3.2 YPR - 19
49ers 75 at 3.4 YPR - 22
Seahawks  80 at 4.3 YPR - 19
Bills 84 at 4.1 YPR - 21
Jets 89 at 3.6 YPR - 24
Ravens 93 at 4.9 YPR - 19
Vikings  94 at 3.7 YPR - 25

Rush defense stats and the bottom run defenses below.  

Dolphins (175 RYPG), Chiefs (150), Broncos (149), Redskins (147), Cardinals (146), Bengals (143), Packers (142). 

I'll review and update more NFL stats and information at the halfway point of the season as we continue to evaluate the results, match-ups and work to become even more proficient in point spread prognosis.

You can bet on it. 

FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay

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