Solid last week, 2-0 on selections and the added bonus of some underdog money on the Chargers who were around 2.6 on the moneyline for the majority of the week. But it was one of my other bets last week I’d like to talk about for a bit, the Panthers (I tweeted it out Sunday morning, so no aftertime!).
The Lions have been pretty poor in terms of net yard per play, but throughout the week I stumbled across more and more X’s and O’s stuff which pointed to the Panthers being the play.
Michael Lombardi, a former exec for the Patriots, said on the Ringer podcast that the Panthers front would be a nightmare for the Lions o-line, and Stafford duly got beaten up for something like six sacks.
Elsewhere Derrik Klassen wrote over at Football Outsiders that Jim Bob Cooter was terrified of Stafford making big mistakes and was therefore coaching him inside a very conservative framework that a good team would be able to shut down.
Now, the point of this isn’t to make you regret not betting the Panthers but to point out that this type of information is underrated by the market in my opinion. The NFL market is heavily driven by numbers. The bookmakers originating the lines are using algorithms to do so, and then the big bettors hammering those lines into shape are also algorithms and models.
However much football, they, or you and I watch, we aren’t football coaches and scouts.
We aren’t watching game film and mastering the Xs and O’s. So I think if you can gain that insight through the media, from people like Lombardi, or Klassen, Andy Benoit at the MMQB, Matt Bowen and Cian Fahey at ESPN or Gregg Cosell, then it can be a valuable edge.
As one final example, back in week 2, I backed the Saints +7 at home against the Patriots and felt pretty good when they closed +5.5. Of course they promptly got obliterated in the first quarter and lost 36-20. I wrote it off as just another loss on a decent bet, but Benoit said on his podcast the next day that despite hating predictions (a good sign someone actually understands football), he had never been so sure a team was going to lose as he was about the Saints.
He said the Saint defense was exceptionally vulnerable to short option-style routes – the type of offense at which the Patriots excelled. But the market appeared to ignore that.
And while it’s a sample size of one, I think there is an edge to be had, so find these people on Twitter etc, and get reading their stuff.
Going Under in KC?
In the meantime, I’ve got a couple of totals I like for Sunday. The first is Under 46 in Kansas City, where the Chiefs host the Steelers. I’ve written in a previous article about Ben Roethlisberger’s road troubles where his yards per attempt and touchdown rate drop dramatically. But its more than just an efficiency drop, as his attempts go down, while Bell’s rushing attempts go up.
The Steelers also run fewer snaps on the road, averaging 73 snaps in home games and 62 on the road.
We can also expect the Steelers to commit to the ground game this week, after their widely-criticised pass-heavy approach le to five interceptions on Sunday.
Le’Veon Bell also complained about not getting the rock enough, and so often in the NFL, the squeaky wheel gets the grease (especially if he happens to be an All-Pro).
So the struggling Steelers offense is going to be playing slow and run-heavy. Meanwhile, the defense is now ranked third in the NFL in Football Outsider’s DVOA and has been holding up the team all season. Consider on Sunday the Jags had two pick-sixes as well as a 90-yard touchdown run late in the game, and the game still went under the total.
The Chiefs side of the equation also lends itself to an under. Consider that the total for Sunday night football was bet down from 46.5 to 44.5 despite the public hammering the over.
Part of the reason is that Alex Smith simply isn’t that much different from the quarterback we’ve seen for the last ten years. He has benefited enormously from some big plays from short passes to Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt.
However Smith’s average depth of target is almost unchanged. An average Smith pass travels 5.81 yards in the air past the line of scrimmage — lower than 26 other NFL quarterbacks. That’s even less than the 6.24 air yards per throw he has averaged since joining the Chiefs in 2013, the lowest among qualified quarterbacks over that span.
The Chiefs also hadn’t dropped a pass through three weeks, and it’s safe to assume that will change, and it would be unprecedented if they were able to keep ripping off 60-yard touchdowns every week. Injuries are also piling up on the Chiefs offense, with two starting lineman likely out for week 6, while Travis Kelce is in the concussion protocol.
In short, I expect this offense to regress significantly, and against an underrated Steelers D, this game could look a lot like the 18-16 playoff game last year.
Lions Clock Control Offense
The other total I quite fancy is under 50.5 in this Saints-Lions game. The Saints defense appears a little improved from its historic ineptitude, holding the Dolphins and Panthers to a combined 13 points over their last two outings.
But the bigger angle here is the Lions limited offense, as referenced above, and their pace on the road. Like the Steelers they go no huddle at home but milk the clock on the road, taking 26.8 seconds to snap the ball at home and 33.5 on the road.
We can also expect the Lions to slow the game down in an effort to protect their defense from the Saints, much the same as they did in the second half of last season.
And indeed when the Lions upset the Saints in New Orleans last season, they didn’t use tempo (1.5-percent no-huddle), they held the ball for a season-high 36 minutes and 52 seconds, and kept the Saints to their second-lowest play count (57) and point total (13) of the season.
Expect to see more of that on Sunday, and with such a high total, it doesn’t take too many slow drives to side the game under.
I’ve also backed the Saints -4.5 with the bye week a big advantage over a beat-up Lions team.
As a quick bonus pick, I’ve also backed the Reskins -10. This team is ranked 2nd in Football Outsiders DVOA and has had a bye week, and goes up against one of the genuine worst teams in the league in its third consecutive road game, having also played back to back overtime games. I don’t expect this one to be close.