Statistics often help, but sometimes lie

Sep 13, 2005 2:04 AM

It’s football season, which means there are mountains of stats and angles available for sports bettors to digest.

Information certainly is a huge key when analyzing games and point spreads. Sometimes it can seem that there is too much info, but it’s essential to understand that stats are only a starting point. Stats don’t always tell the whole story. In fact, stats can sometimes lie.

Sure, it’s important to ask such questions as, "How many yards passing per game does this team get? How big is this offensive line compared to the opponent? Is a great QB going up against a team with slow defensive backs? What’s the home record the past five years, straight up and against the spread?" However, it’s important to learn when to look beyond stats.

Anyone who witnessed Cleveland play last season could see this was a terrible football team, especially on defense. Only three teams in the AFC gave up more points — and only seven in the entire NFL. If you watched the Browns, many times you saw a lazy, unmotivated defense that couldn’t tackle properly or show much effort.

In truth, the pass defense really wasn’t that good, just that the run defense was so porous opponents didn’t need to pass. The Browns gave up 100 points in back-to-back games, which is truly a horrific feat in the NFL. They also scored 48 in one game, and lost because they up 58! The overall stats may suggest one thing, but careful analysis reveals something very different.

Kansas City allowed 4.6 yards per carry (tied for worst in the NFL). Arizona had a statistically strong pass defense. However, that was deceptive since the run defense was 27th, so teams didn’t need to pass.

The Broncos can control the clock and put up impressive numbers on both sides of the ball, but that doesn’t always turn into points or victories. Denver has struggled in the red zone ever since QB Jake Plummer came aboard. At times Plummer is weak when it comes to decision-making on the field (especially with the heat on him) and is turnover prone (27 TDs, 20 INT). It may look good on the stat sheet when Denver drives 65 yards in 10 plays and chews up the clock. A closer examination shows Denver settling for too often for field goals or Plummer panicking and chucking one to the other team.

Pittsburgh was primarily a power-running team that was highly successful at getting out in front early and chewing up the clock. The plan worked often during a 15-1 regular season. The Steelers didn’t need to pass a lot, although when they were able to move the ball through the air with rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger and terrific wide receivers.

The stats may suggest a poor passing team, but the reality was different. Successful handicappers dig deep and weigh different kinds of info before betting.