There’s a gambling theory that some NFL teams are much more physical than others, with the most aggressive inflicting serious pain on their opponents.
The theory maintains that if you looked at the won-lost record of a team's opponents the week after, it would tell you which are indeed the bruisers.
The physical teams should leave their opponents so banged up that the next week their “victims” are ineffective and more likely to lose.
The basis for this angle was our famous "Silver and Black Punishment Effect" article which owed its name to an incredible streak put together by those original kings of the "black and blue" treatment, the Oakland Raiders.
Our long-term research has shown that the punishing team theory is suspect, and cannot at least be arrived at accurately by simple "won-lost” or “spread records” of opponents the following week analysis.
Still, it’s hard to shake the belief that punishing teams or schedules exist and we merely need some better tools for recognizing them.
The first assumption is that if one game against a rough opponent can shake up a team enough to effect performance the following week, then back-to-back games against rough teams should really do a number and lead to significant underachieving against the spread.
Three areas held the most historical predictive value — winning percentage on the season, rushing yards per game, and penalties committed.
Since any punishing effects will likely take a greater toll as the season progresses (as players wear down from the hard hits of play), we only focused on weeks 9 to 16 (week 17 holds its own peculiarities).
Winning Percentage: Arbitrarily setting a 60 percent win rate on the season as the makings of a tough team, it turns out that having back-to-back games against 60 percent plus sides is indeed a symptom of a lackluster effort ahead.
Record the next week: 93-102 (43.6%)
Home Favorites: 26-51 (34%)
Rushing Yards: Again setting an arbitrary level of 110 yards rushing per game as the sign of a punishing ground attack, back-to-back games against teams with strong rushing stats coming into the game led to poor play the next time out.
Record the next week: 134-181 (42.5 percent)
Away teams: 64-95 (40 percent)
Games with a +5 line: 61-106 (37 percent)
Penalties: The Raiders were for many years the most penalized team in the league. Playing teams that average 7+ penalties a game is apparently brutal enough to lead to the worst performance when going out the next week for another game.
Record the next week: 100-166 (37.6 percent)
Teams with 65% + record: 21-50 (30 percent)
When you find a team with one of the above occurrences leading into a game, it’s probably wise to begin your handicapping by trying to make a case for the opposing team.
A fourth point of reference that we don’t currently have the resources to check (although we should soon) is “How many opposing players a team puts on the injured list the next week.”
TwoMinuteWarning.com features innovative, statistical coverage of the NFL.