Using rushing statistics as an NFL betting tool
Each week during the NFL season, I provide my NFL underdog picks on these pages with a focus only on underdogs. While the season for underdog picks turned South and sour in November, we're still firing and have a huge selection of underdog picks for Week 14. You will also see I chip-in additional stats, insight and information you can bet on with some added tools to try and help you learn while you earn along that way. That includes more beatable prop bets like we had this past week on Monday Night Football between the Bengals and Ravens.
A 70% season picking winners ATS is very, very, VERY rare in the NFL, where a vast majority of NFL bettors fail to produce more winners than losers.
There is so much variance in beating the NFL when betting and watching and wagering on America's most popular sport. The NFL is one of the most efficient markets and that's why top online sportsbooks will take the biggest bets on game days, and why beating 11-to-10 and the bookmakers is also more difficult.
But as you try to handicap the games and determine coaches game plans with all the quarterback injuries affecting passing proficiency and scoring, know there are rushing stats and ways to use them that can help you rush to the window and become more profitable when betting on the NFL games.
I load boxscore data every Sunday and Monday night into spread sheets, and have been doing so for nearly two decades while becoming a leading NFL handicapper with so many winning seasons in pro football. I share all this with you with no tout talk or selling of plays and picks. 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. You can bet on it.
Turnovers and Variance
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 34-3 SU and 31-6 ATS this season. Teams that are exactly plus-2 in turnovers during a game are also a high winning percentage, now 32-8 SU and 28-10-2 ATS. So teams that have a plus-2 or greater turnover differential in a game this season are 66-11 SU and 59-16-2 ATS - perhaps the most important statistic of them all when it comes to winning and losing and against the spread.
Key Rushing Stats
But a review of the meaningful rushing numbers shows the importance of point of attack play in both SU and ATS success in each game.
93-36-33 SU and 89-34-6 ATS (72%) – teams that out-rush their opponent by at least 30 yards
101-27 SU and 101-20-7 ATS (83%) – teams that run the ball at least 30 times in a game
16-84 SU and 21-73-6 ATS (22%) – teams that run the ball less than 23 times
54-18 SU and 51-17-4 ATS (75%) – teams that run for at least 150 yards
It's worth noting that the rushing stats are not as strong this year with historically over the past 20 years that a 30+ yard rushing edge in a game is nearly 75% ATS, and 76% the last six years. Also, there are a handful of games when both teams run the ball 30+ times or less than 23 times per game, and those results are not included.
Yet as important as running the football and gaining yards on the ground is, it’s proven that rushing attempts can be even more vital to both SU and ATS success. That becomes more meaningful as the NFL weather worsens and gets colder or with more precipitation as rain, snow and sleet become another variable to address with teams and players trying to find their footing and control the line of scrimmage. So teams that are more physical and capable in the trenches with strength to run the ball more effectively or often, and also stop the run, will have more success and also guide bettors to more winners.
Here are the top rushing teams by yards per game in 2023.
- Ravens (158)
- Dolphins (143)
- Bears (137)
- Lions (137)
- 49ers (137)
- Falcons (135)
- Browns (135)
- Eagles (126)
Notice all those teams are in the NFL playoff picture and would be in the playoffs if they started ahead of Week 14. Well, except the Bears with their mostly incompetent quarterback Justin Fields, who is showing better since returning from injury. But Fields still has 6 INTs and 4 lost fumbles in 8 games.
Note too that 9-of-10 bottom teams in rushing yards per game would all be out of the playoffs if it started this week.
- Bengals (82)
- Raiders (83)
- Buccaneers (85)
- Jets (91)
- Vikings (92)
- Seahawks (94)
- Panthers (96)
- Chargers (97)
- Texans (98)
- Commanders (100)
The Vikings (6-6) would be the only team in the playoffs, but they are in a 4-way tie in record at 6-6. Still, QB Josh Dobbs has been a turnover machine since he took over for injured Kirk Cousins, and the Vikings play the Lions (2x) and Packers in their final three games with star WR Justin Jefferson returning to the lineup in Week 14.
Teams that run the ball at least 30 times per game include:
- Browns (32.5)
- Ravens (32.5)
- Falcons (32.2)
- Bears (31.3)
- Eagles (30.6)
- 49ers (30.3)
- Lions (30.0)
The Jaguars and Cowboys are next rushing 28' to 29 times per game and they are both going to the playoffs, unless yet another injury to a quarterback sacks the Jaguars with Trevor Lawrence (ankle) hurt last week but not likely long term.
All those teams have a winning point spread (ATS) record this season, except the two teams with incompetent quarterbacks who can't pass at a quality level. Justin Fields and Desmond Ridder rank bottom 7 in the NFL in QB Rating, right at the bottom with the worst Zach Wilson and Bryce Young, and Mac Jones, Kenny Pickett and Daniel Jones. Those same QB's are at the bottom of the league in EPA, or Expected Points Added and EPA on pass attempts. Don't be offended, it's just the facts.
Teams that run the ball less than 23 times per game include:
- Bengals (20.9)
- Jets (20.9)
- Commanders (21.9)
Next are the Seahawks, Vikings, Raiders and Buccaneers with none of those seven teams sporting a winning record.
Point Spread Records
Some other point spread notes and ATS records this season.
120-8-8 ATS (93%) – the straight up (SU) winners ATS record in games competitively-lined games of 6-points or less (89% last 6 years)
28-48 – the SU record of home underdogs
32-39-5 – the ATS record of home underdogs
As with any stats involving point spreads, there is variance since a line can move from -5.5 to -6.5 or vice versa, for example. I don't always reference the closing lines, as point spreads could have been available for six days and suddenly move off some key numbers and spreads that I reference.
But remember, pick and bet the SU winner in a game lined at 6-points or less, and the point spread doesn't come into play 90% of the time - proven over the last 20 years and 93% ATS this season. So either the favorite wins and covers, or the underdog wins outright when the point spread is 6 or less - which is another reason to add an additional moneyline bet to your ATS wager on underdog picks to you can add more profit and payouts.
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, key injury news and weather factors more at this time of year, try to give yourself an edge with multiple accounts at the leading online sportsbooks.
Fluctuating point spreads can cause variance in these numbers, but in the perception – reality world of pass versus run, you’ll have more success if you focus on point of attack play on both sides of the ball and rush to the window more often with success in the running game - even at times when the poor quality of quarterback play causes distress. Like turnover trouble and variance when watching and wagering.
You can bet on it.
FairwayJay is a proven sports handicapper with unparalleled success in NFL pointspread prognosis. Fairway is recognized as one of the sports industry's insightful analysts, and he chips in additional sports betting coverage and reporting on industry news and events. Follow FairwayJay here at OSGA.com and on X (Twitter) @FairwayJay for more sports betting insights.