One of the distinctive elements to the NFL is that the season is so short —- 16 games does not provide a lot of history to go by when evaluating a team.
As a point of contrast, after sixteen games had been played in this past year’s baseball season, of the six division leaders at that stage (Boston, Cleveland, Seattle, NY Mets, Pittsburgh, San Francisco), only one actually made the playoffs. The eventual champion Anaheim Angels would have been considered a poor team by NFL standards with a 6-10 record!
The brevity of the NFL schedule is in
part perhaps why underdogs have historically been a smarter play, since getting
an accurate read on a pro football squad can be hard. As handicappers though we
need to be aware that the quick look at a matchup using winning percentage on
the year can often be misleading.
The chart lists several factors deemed
important to a team’s overall ranking from the public and linemakers, along
with the spread performance as an underdog playing qualifying teams with below
brilliant records (from week 5 on):
We didn’t include the 2002 results
so far in our dataset, but chances are very good that the numbers above would be
better than the 10-year average given the dominance of underdogs this season.
There is a lot of logic behind the
results: Underdogs have historically been much stronger plays than favorites in
the NFL. With so few games on the schedule, teams can quickly become over or
underrated on the basis of their final scores and won-lost record alone. A team
with a positive statistic from the list above could be presumed to have some
level of talent and capability to win future football games
At first glance the above numbers are
impressive — to hit 63% against the NFL point spread is good going in
anyone’s books. Most of the below 55 percent categories produce anywhere from
10 to 15 plays per year on average, and 5 to 10 plays below 45 percent.
factors not showing strong results were time of possession, sacks, spread
records, turnovers, and isolated offensive and defensive statistics. Using
“last game” in place of season-to-date averages was invariably a losing
team that was +20 net rushing yards last game with a mediocre or poor
record on the season was NOT a good play as an underdog the following week).
it’s hard to believe that the basic premise is anything but sound. Look for
teams with good statistics in key areas and back them when they are underdogs!
the time of this writing (games completed through Week 10), the following
“good stat, bad record” teams exist:
Points: Kansas City, Jacksonville
Downs: St. Louis
Down Conversions: - Arizona, Minnesota, St. Louis
Rushing Yards — Kansas City, Minnesota
a glance the spread performance as an underdog with multiple positive factors
appears to hold up fine for teams with 45% to 54% winning records, but slips for
teams under 45 percent.
advice is to keep an eye out for teams that may not have shown results in the