Inside the Numbers and Production vs Performance of NFL Stats Through Six Weeks
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 don't post weekly recap stats now, but I still go inside the numbers and chart box scores, stats, game recaps and more after watching and analyzing many of the NFL games. I then compare the current week's point spreads at the online sportsbooks and review the previous week's lookahead lines, my own market numbers and note the early line moves at select leading online sportsbooks. New injuries are noted and now we also monitor the COVID-19 casualties.
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%.
It's been a struggle during the 2020 NFL season as my posted underdog plays on this site are losing badly through six weeks. Sure the 3-plus year record is still a solid 83-66 ATS (55.7%). But in the 'what have you done for me lately' business of picks, and those trying to sell you on why their paid picks will make you more money, I will try to educate and offer thoughts and insight in hopes of providing more point spread winners.
I no longer sell picks, and 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.
NFL Fundamentals Remain the Same
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.
Hopefully I can better interpret the additional stats through six weeks and produce more ATS winners the final two-thirds of the season. 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. Now we're in the age of COVID-19 and watching players sit out unexpectedly due to the virus that has changed our world and how we approach sports and betting as well.
Still, players missing games due to the Coronavirus, including key quarterbacks like the Patriots Cam Newton, is not as significant as last season. By Week 6 last season, there were at least nine quarterbacks starting that were backups at the start of the season, and 15 by early December. We'll discuss the importance of quarterback play another time, and recognize the importance of analyzing and projecting the play of the quarterback and match-ups of the opponent. Even the best quarterbacks are going to struggle if they don't have enough pass protections or lack a supporting running game. The previously undefeated and high-scoring Green Bay Packers found that out last week in a 38-10 beat down by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But here we'll focus on other keys to handicapping and stats that point towards winning and ATS success.
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. This 2020 season, NFL teams that are plus-3 or greater in the turnover margin in a game are 11-1 SU and 12-0 ATS. Teams that are exactly plus-2 in turnover margin in a game this season are 20-2-1 SU and 21-2 ATS, so you can clearly see the impact of a two or more turnover differential on winning games and betting.
There are many ways to handicap NFL games. But while the talking heads and more media members break into the business with legal sports betting growing to 19 states in the U.S., you're going to hear more and more opinions and reasons why teams will or did win or lose. More computer and math models are being created, and many ridiculous and meaningless trends are used as a lazy way to try and justify why a team will win or lose.
Record scoring is part of the 2020 NFL season with games averaging 51.4 points per game through six weeks. The leading online sportsbooks are adjusting the totals and we see seven or more games weekly with the over/under set at 50 points or more.
Rushing Success and Point of Attach Play
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. There may be a bit more passing in today's game, but I provide stats that show the importance of running the ball and stopping the run. That includes not just rushing for yardage, but how often a team runs the ball and the impact on winning football games and covering the point spread. 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.
When I updated the stats on these pages last year through 14 weeks, there were six teams that rushed the ball at least 30 times per game and five teams were averaging at least 135 rushing yards per game. The top five teams in rushing attempts per game all made the playoffs.
This season there are currently eight teams that run the ball at least 30 times per game, and the Kansas City Chiefs are No. 9 at 29.7 rushing attempts per game. There are also 10 teams that rush for at least 135 yards per game led by the Browns (169), Patriots (167), Ravens (164), Cardinals (161) and Titans (158), who rushed for 263 yards in last week's 42-36 overtime win over the Houston Texans. The Cardinals (263) and Chiefs (245) also had huge rushing games last week in easy road wins. Those three point of attack poundings were the three highest rushing yards games behind the Browns season high 307 rushing yards in Cleveland's Week 4 domination of Dallas 49-37.
The two teams that have struggled the most to stop the run are Houston and Dallas. The Texans are allowing 177 rushing yards per game at 5.4 yards per rush and Dallas allows 174 rushing yards per game at 5.1 yards per rush. The Cowboys (2-4) and Texans (1-5) are a combined 1-11 ATS.
A strong defense and strength up front to support the overall defense can help overcome deficiencies on a teams offense. Still, in today's pro football a team must be able to move the ball and score more. Defensive dominators make a difference, and last week we saw Tampa Bay's No. 1 yards against defense shut down the league's No. 1 offense by burying Green Bay 38-10 and forcing quarterback Aaron Rodgers into his first two interceptions of the season. The Bucs controlled the line of scrimmage with 158 yards rushing on 35 attempts to 94 rushing yards for the Packers on 21 attempts.
The significance of rushing
How significant are those rushing numbers? Here are the 2020 stats through Week 6 both Straight Up (SU) and Against the Spread (ATS).
44-13-1 SU and 44-13-1 ATS (77%) - teams that out-rush their opponent by at least 30 yards in a game (historically approx. 75%).
29-7-1 SU and 30-6-1 ATS (77%) - teams that run for at least 150 yards in a game
53-6-1 SU and 50-8-2 ATS (86%) - teams that run the ball at least 30 times in a game
6-42-1 SU and 6-43 ATS (12%) - teams that run the ball less than 23 times in a game
Note that there are just a few games when both teams may rush for 150 or more yards, or rush the ball 30 or more times in game and those contests are not included in the stats.
We'll evaluate more stats and provide additional information you can bet on throughout the season.
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