Football history favors 'unders' in early season games

Sep 15, 2009 5:04 PM
Feist Facts by Jim Feist |

You have to remember that in September it’s more likely that defenses are ahead of the offenses in pro and college football. This might not seem the case when you watch Miami and Florida State put on an exciting 38-34 shootout with both teams tallying over 400 yards. However, that’s not the norm, either, something that needs to be assessed carefully when trying to find football picks each week.

The first weekend of the college football season saw a huge edge to games going under the total. One of the most striking was one of the first games, when a potentially high-powered Oregon offense under first-year coach Chip Kelly laid an egg at Boise, getting 8 points and 152 total yards. Kelly has been running wide-open offenses there, which was a reason he got the job when Mike Belloti moved up to the athletic director’s office.

That certainly wasn’t what he had in mind for an opener. Oregon managed just 14 yards in the first half and was forced to wait until the third quarter to record its initial first down.

Think back one year ago to the first week of the NFL season. The high powered offenses of the Saints, Colts and Patriots combined for 24, 13 and 17 points in Week 1. Granted, the Patriots lost QB Tom Brady that game, but Drew Brees and the Saints wouldn’t have that low a scoring game again until Week 7, while the Colts were totally out of sync offensively.

Go back to the opening of the 2007 NFL season and the unders ruled by a whopping 11-5 edge. In 2006 the unders were 11-5 in the first NFL week. Quarterbacks need to develop timing with receivers, and offensive linemen have to learn to mesh on blocking schemes and pocket protection. All of that takes time, patience and practice. As we know, preseason doesn’t offer much time to practice as coaches are more concerned with keeping starters healthy than getting the offense finely tuned.

All of which makes another interesting year for sports bettors searching for football picks who play totals. Will the defenses be ahead of the offenses in September and early October? That is often the case, as it takes far more time and practice to get execution down between offensive players.

Notice that in 2006 after going 11-5 under in Week 1, the overs had a slight edge of 25-19-1 in Weeks 3-4. Part of it is that oddsmakers adjust their lines based on what happened the previous week, but also offenses begin to mesh together better after Week 1. Another factor to keep in mind is that the NFL changed the rules a few years ago to aid the offense, outlawing the "horse collar tackle." Essentially that was when a defensive player tackled the ball carrier by grabbing his shoulders, which is no longer legal.

The league also has enforced the five-yard rule, which was designed to help wide receivers get downfield faster, as opposed to being mugged at the line of scrimmage by linebackers and defensive backs. A defensive player can still bump the wide outs when the ball is snapped, but has to be careful not to after the offensive player advances five-yards past the line of scrimmage, otherwise a penalty will be called. It is not easy being a defensive player in the pros anymore!

Passing yardage and scoring did increase during the 2004 season when those rules were enforced. In fact, during that season the unders were 43-27 the first five weeks of the season, but the overs were 92-71 from weeks 7-17.

It was also interesting that three offensive coordinators got axed this August before a single regular season game had been played. Who says there’s not pressure to produce offensively, even in preseason?

So keep a close tab on yardage and totals in September and early October when sifting for your picks. Scoring and unders can rule early in the season, but that can change when the offenses begin to click.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Jim Fiest