My long term NFL track record for betting season win totals is truly outstanding. I’ve gone 56-22 (72%) since releasing my very first season win total report back in 2002. That includes a 6-1 mark last year (the lone loser coming by ½ of a game), with a Big Ticket best bet winner on Carolina Under 8.5 wins.
These results don’t come by accident. The time for NFL prep is right now, here in the hot summer months. Today, I’ll be writing about the very first steps that I take when gauging an NFL team’s potential performance heading into the 2010 regular season.
I want to be well aware of the historical data. For many years, the simplest strategy for betting NFL win totals was to bet all the teams lined higher than nine wins Under the total, and betting all teams lined at six wins or fewer Over the total.
That strategy was a consistent moneymaker when schedules were largely based on the previous season’s records. In recent years, with only two of every team’s 16 regular season games based on last year’s finish, the dramatic swings from one season to the next have declined markedly.
A decade ago, teams like the Ravens, Patriots and Rams were winning Super Bowls after failing to finish better than .500 the previous year. While the Saints won the Super Bowl last year after finishing .500 in 2008, the vast majority of recent Super Bowl winners have been playoff regulars.
Last year, six teams were lined at 9.5 wins or higher, not including Dallas and Minnesota, both of whom were lined at 9 with serious juice attached to the Over. Of those six teams, the Chargers, Colts and Eagles all went Over their respective win totals, while the Patriots, Giants and Steelers stayed Under.
At the other end of the spectrum lie the weaklings. 2009 was not a banner year for bottom feeders. The Lions, Rams, Raiders, Bucs and Chiefs were all lined at six wins or fewer. All five of those teams stayed Under their respective win totals. Clearly, 2009 was not a good year for the ‘system bettors’ when it comes to NFL season win totals, potentially indicating a paradigm shift.
In 2008, the Cowboys, Colts, Jaguars, Patriots, Chargers and Steelers were all lined at higher than nine wins. Those six teams finished 3-3 against their win totals. Meanwhile the Ravens, Chiefs, Dolphins, 49ers and Falcons were all lined at six wins or less, with four of those five teams cashing Over tickets for their supporters.
Those results are fairly typical of what we’ve seen throughout the first decade of the 21st century. Bettors need to decide whether last year’s abject failure from the weaklings was a blip on the long term radar screen or a sign of things to come.
The next step of the process is gauging how good the teams actually were last year. I’m not talking about a simple win-loss record. How did they win (or lose) those games? Were they competitive in defeat? Did they beat up on patsies but struggle when stepping up in class? Was the turnover battle the key component of their success or failure?
Let’s start with the turnovers. Green Bay led the NFL with a +24 turnover margin last year. Their 16 giveaways were the fewest in the league, while their 40 takeaways were the most, a rare combination. We can expect the Packers to go back to the pack when it comes to turnover differential in 2010. Green Bay went from 6-10 in 2008 to 11-5 last year. At least some of that five win improvement was based on turnover margin – the Packers are not a team I’ll be looking to bet Over their win total this year.
Other teams with a strong positive turnover margin last year included the Eagles (+15), the Saints (+11) and the Ravens (+10). These teams, too, are candidates for regression in 2010.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Detroit Lions turned the ball over a whopping 41 times last year, while their defense created only 23 turnovers. Detroit’s -18 turnover ratio was the worst in the NFL. Following a highly productive offseason – their best offseason in a decade or more – we can expect Detroit to be significantly improved in the upcoming campaign.
Other teams that really struggled with turnover margin last year include St Louis (-13, and not a strong candidate for improvement with a rookie QB expected to start), Oakland (-13), Cleveland (-12) and Washington (-11).
Think turnovers aren’t the single most important NFL statistic? Think again! It’s surely worth noting that all four teams with a +10 or better turnover margin last year had successful seasons and made the playoffs, while all five teams with a -10 or worse turnover margin finished at 5-11 or worse.
This is just the tip of the iceberg; a starting point for discussion. Next time, we’ll take a look at some more stats that don’t tend to carry over from year to year – red zone efficiency, offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency – in our effort to gauge which teams are under and overvalued at their current numbers. We won’t get into the whole ‘schedule projection’ side of the equation for a few more weeks but rest assured more analysis is coming.
Teddy Covers was the nation's No. 1 Documented NFL handicapper in 2008. Purchase his NFL Season with the early bird discount and receive his NFL Season O/U Wins report absolutely free.