Running Game Success = More Betting Winners
Each week during the NFL season, I provide my NFL handicapping picks and predictions on these pages with a focus only on underdogs. Following a 3-1 ATS result in Week 9 and Week 10 with six outright underdog winners, we’re now 20-14 (59%) against the spread this season with 17 outright underdog winners. While the goal each week is to cash winning tickets and build your online sports betting account, the process in projecting those winners is key in enabling you to rush to the window.
My goal each week is to select more winners than losers and for you to profit from my experience. I am not a tout and don’t bye into hype. However, I was hired 15 years ago for my acumen and did sell selections and information for other companies for a period of time. I broke onto the scene as a public handicapper in 2003 with a record-breaking NFL season going 52-28 ATS (65%), and since then I have tried to educate others in some fundamental concepts and methodologies that I learned from other proven handicappers and applied to my own processes in my pursuit of profit.
The NFL is very difficult to beat from a point spread perspective, and last week’s straight up losses by the popular public picks of the Patriots (-7), Jets (-7), Eagles (-8) and Falcons (-6) illustrates that point yet again. Those heavily bet teams lost straight up as big favorites, teasing many bettors as well and costing them money on ATS bets along with money line and teaser wagers. We cashed in on the Titans 34-10 pounding of the Patriots and ‘bad’ Browns in Cleveland’s 28-16 upset of Atlanta, providing our analysis in our Week 10 Fairway’s Football Forecast. Those teams dominated point of attack play and the ground game with the Titans running the ball 36 times for a 150 yards to just 40 rushing yards for the Patriots. The Browns out-rushed the Falcons 211-71 with 29 rushing attempts for Cleveland. Both the Patriots and Falcons rushed the ball just 19 times in defeat, and their star pro bowl quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Ryan couldn’t overcome the point of attack pounding despite the advantage at quarterback over Marcus Mariota and rookie Baker Mayfield.
So that’s the theme and point of emphasis and education in our ‘Rush to the Window’ article this week to provide proven profiles that produce profit when running the football with success.
As part of my weekly research and handicapping of NFL games, I review box scores and stats and load data into a spread sheet. I outline some of the stats including rushing yards, yards per play and turnovers in my weekly Inside the Numbers column each week following the games. I provide some insight into point of attack play and how success in running the football and controlling the ball, clock and chains translates to both straight-up (SU) and against the spread (ATS) success.
The rules changes this year has resulted in more offense and scoring, which is up to a record 48.1 points per game through 10 weeks. Passing is more prominent, and five quarterbacks are on pace to pass for at least 5,000 yards. In the history of the NFL, there has been only nine 5,000 yard passing seasons. The Saints Drew Brees has done it five times himself, but he’s not even one of the five on pace to reach 5,000 yards despite having a MVP type season with 77% completions 2,601 passing yards with 21 touchdown passes and just one interception. Brees has a solid offensive line and complimentary running game this season. New Orleans is one of three teams that runs the ball at least 30 times per game on average. They rank top-8 with 126 rushing yards per game but are league average at 4.1 yards per rush.
I don’t dispute the quarterback being the most important player on the team or the most difficult position to play. And I certainly analyze quarterback play and look at passing game match-ups and defensive strengths and weaknesses as another part of handicapping a game. But a strong offensive line that provides pass protection, and the ability to run the ball effectively and at least often enough to setup more play action and shorter down and distance plays is critical to offensive efficiency and success.
As you’ll see below, the importance of running the ball goes beyond just rushing yards, as the number of attempts is significant. This allows a team to control the ball, clock and move the chains. It also keeps the opponent’s offense off the field and puts more pressure on a defense while wearing them down.
As we head down the stretch of the NFL season and teams push for the playoffs and grind on the gridiron through adverse conditions, weather and deal with bumps, bruises and injuries that so many athletes play through, point of attack play and running the football will be positive indicators towards success.
So using some of the stats this season and the proprietary data I accumulate to better isolate success in running the football (and stopping the run), here is some data to assist and help you understand the importance of running the football. Digging deeper in your handicapping and weekly match-ups to determine which teams will have more success running the ball will provide you with more NFL winners in your pursuit of profit at the sportsbooks.
In the 2018 season:
Teams that out-rush their opponent by at least 30 yards in a NFL game – 82-19 ATS (81%). Historically, this is a 75% ATS profile with no season below 70% since 2000. Over the last four weeks, this rushing profile and guideline has gone a remarkable 34-1 ATS.
- Teams that run the ball at least 30 times in a NFL game - 85-14-1 SU (85%) and 78-19-3 ATS (80%).
- Teams that run the ball less than 23 times in a NFL game – 8-86 SU (8.5%) and 16-78 ATS (17%).
- Running the ball at least 30 times a game is pure profit, while less than 23 rushing attempts per game is a proven loser.
If you can project that kind of success in the running game, you’ll increase your winning rate when wagering on NFL games.
Teams that rush for at least 150 yards per game are having strong success again this season. Rushing for at least 150 yards (when the opponent does not) is 15-2 SU and 17-0 ATS over the last 3 weeks alone. One of those SU loses was Seattle in Week 10, as the Seahawks rushed for 273 yards against the Rams, but lost at LA 36-31. The Seahawks (+10) did cover the point spread, but could not contain the Rams explosive offense (456 yards at 7.1 yards per play with 149 rushing yards). The Seahawks (152 rushing) and Rams (145 rushing) are #1 and #2 in the NFL in rushing yards per game this season with each averaging at least 29.5 attempts per game.
Identifying improved play and key injuries is important, especially along the offensive line. Recent cluster injuries to the Redskins offensive line kept me off them as a underdog at Tampa Bay in Week 10, but Washington still won 16-3 despite just 286 total yards and 125 rushing yards. I think I had the right idea, but 6 Tampa Bay turnovers were the culprit in defeat, as the Bucs had 499 yards total offense. The Bucs run defense is league average, so evaluating strong run defenses and front sevens against the Redskins in upcoming weeks is a way to handicap and isolate potential advantages in the running game. Washington plays Houston at home and then at Dallas in Weeks 11 and 12, and those two defenses are tied at the top in yards per rush attempt (3.6) and top-8 in rushing yards allowed.
Those kinds of match-ups and handicapping a team’s ability to move the ball can also assist you in handicapping and betting totals. But a bookmaker makes adjustments based on results and even public perception, and has clearly done that with record scoring this season by setting much higher totals. Adjusting your game and handicapping approach must also evolve and change as you evaluate games, injuries and changes in rules and now weather at this time of year. But a solid foundation and fundamental concepts starting with point of attack play and a teams ability to run the ball and stop the run will point you towards more profit and a positive start to your drive towards the end zone.
In conclusion, it’s not easy to project the solid rushing advantages, and even when you do analyze correctly and your projection plays out properly, the results may not translate to a winner. But over the long haul, you’ll rush to the window more often if you can correctly handicap and isolate this advantage and determine which team will run the ball more often and with more success.
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