Inside The Numbers: Handicapping And 2020 NFL Stats Through November

FairwayJay goes Inside the Numbers with updated NFL stats, scoring, relevant rushing numbers and information you can bet on as teams push towards the playoffs into December.

Inside the Numbers and Production vs Performance of NFL Stats Through November

As we head down the stretch and NFL teams push towards the playoffs, I continue to go Inside the Numbers and update some of the stats I track through weekly boxscore data. The importance of point of attack play and both running the ball and stopping the run becomes more significant later in the season as the weather changes and teams battle the cold, wind and now snow in some stadiums and locations.

The leading online sportsbooks are adjusting the lines and totals like the recent Ravens and Steelers game in Pittsburgh as games get rescheduled and more players miss time due to positive coronavirus tests. Passing game production is not as efficient in the windy and colder weather, and this past week we saw some miserable passing performances from the Patriots (69 yards), Ravens (90 yards) Saints (63 yards) and Broncos (12 passing yards - not a misprint)! In fairness to the Broncos, all three quarterbacks were out due to Covid-19 tracing. Still, Denver had just 6 first downs and 112 total yards offense in a 31-3 smashing by the Saints, who steamrolled to 229 rushing yards on 44 attempts but had just 63 net passing yards themselves.

We'll review more rushing numbers below, but note that scoring has slipped the past three weeks to 47.3, 45.5 and 45.7 points per game. Over the first nine weeks, scoring averaged more than 50 points per game.

Betting favorites have not fared well in recent weeks, or for the season as bookmakers continue to cash in. Week 12 favorites went just 5-11 ATS but 11-5 SU. Favorites have covered just 74 of 176 games, or 42-43% ATS (a few games may have been graded pick 'em). Yet week after week, bettors continue to pile on the favorites, and especially the biggest or inflated ones. That includes this past week when the Steelers (-10.5) took more than 80% of the bets and money at a number of top online sportsbooks, but failed to cover when the Ravens scored a late touchdown in a 19-14 Steelers win. 

May bettors got burned again when Baltimore got a 70 yard touchdown pass from third string QB Trace McSorley with three minutes remaining in the contest to get in the back door for Baltimore bettors. The Steelers went from -4 on Thanksgiving to -10.5 for the rescheduled game against the Ravens when a number of players missed the contents due to COVID-19 including QB Lamar Jackson. Baltimore had just 90 net yards passing and 70 on the one play late in the game. Quarterback Robert Griffin III replaced Jackson and Griffin looked lost in the passing game and was replaced in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. It wasn't soon enough. A pic-6, three sacks, 7-of-12 passing for 33 yards. Spare us. Steelers bettors loved it, until the fatal miracle late touchdown bomb, as did I with an early totals bet UNDER 45.5 (reposted and closed 40.5).

Running to Profits

After getting on track in Week 11 with a 4-0 ATS result and three outright underdog winners, I noted the importance of running the ball and stopping the run in my Week 12 update. I track proprietary data and rushing stats I learned to use in handicapping the NFL more than two decades ago from a very solid East coast handicapper. I load boxscores into Excel spread sheets each week, and review boxcores, stats, scoring drives and the impact of turnovers. It has helped me in handicapping and isolating more potential value and winners through the years including an unprecedented 8-year run where I won every season and hit better than 57% ATS on nearly 650 NFL plays. 

Rushing yardage NFL betting angleSo in looking Inside the Numbers this season and evaluating the running game and point of attack play, you can hopefully learn to handicap the running games and use it to your advantage when betting the final month of the season and in future years as you become more proficient in breaking down match-ups and games. It's just one area or way to evaluate a given match-up each week. But if you're having difficulty finding edges in certain contests or match-up advantages in the fundamental handicapping approach, take a look at the running games, net yards per play and injuries or player absences. The missing players along the offensive or defensive line are often more meaningful, and may assist you in identifying which teams may take advantage of the match-ups at the line of scrimmage to control the running game.  

Of course the quarterback is of most significance in the NFL, and the most impact on the betting lines. The Saints went from -6 to -13 to -16 and then closed -17 in places last week when it was announced that the Broncos would not have any of their three quarterbacks available. While that's a rare situation, as is the year 2020 and how we approach games, it also is a learning situation to understand when and how to bet and the continued changing situations surrounding Covid-19.

Here are some 2020 stats of note through Week 12 both SU and ATS. 

83-31 SU and 84-30 ATS (73.7%) - teams that out-rush their opponent by at least 30 yards in a game (right at historical average). 
55-14-1 SU and 53-16-1 ATS (76.8%) - teams that run for at least 150 yards in a game 
97-15-1 SU and 88-23-2 ATS (79.3%) - teams that run the ball at least 30 times in a game
16-78-1 SU and 20-74-1 ATS (21.3%) - teams that run the ball less than 23 times in a game 

Note that there are just a handful of games when both teams may rush for 150 or more yards, or both teams rush the ball 30 or more times in game and those contests are not included in the stats. 

NFL Week 13 Notable Match-ups at the Point of Attack

Week 13 may provide a few of these contests. The Titans and Browns battle in Tennessee, and both teams run the ball an average of 32 times per game and will likely stay committed to their strength and running game. Also, the Chargers and Patriots is another AFC contest with both teams averaging at least 30 rushing attempts per game. Both the Chargers and Patriots also are below average in stopping the run. 

Vikings Jaguars betting tipsThe biggest mismatch at the point of attack is the Jacksonville at Minnesota (up to -10.5) match-up. The Vikings run the ball an average of 29.2 times per game while the Jaguars average just 22 rushing attempts per game and rank at the bottom of the league with the Bears and Texans. The Vikings are also tied for the league-best in averaging 5.0 yards per rush led by pro bowl RB Dalvin Cook, who leads the NFC in rushing and touchdowns. The Jaguars defense allows near a league-worst 30 rushing attempts per game and 4.5 yards per rush. The Vikings are a favorite this week that despite the big point spread, have a high percentage chance to cover the number if the running game plays out accordingly.   

The Ravens (32.7), Titans (32.5), Patriots (32.3), Browns (32.0), Saints (31.5), Chargers (31.0) and Cardinals (30.9) are the teams than average at least 30 rushing attempts per game. The Rams (29.8), Raiders (29.3) and Vikings (29.2) round out the top 10 teams that run the ball more often.  

We'll evaluate more stats and provide additional information you can bet on as the push towards the playoffs and the close of 2020 (thankfully) comes to an end soon. 

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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