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Even top quarterbacks are wiser plays as underdog

Dec 23, 2002 11:58 PM

   Many of the players toiling “in the trenches” or on the defensive side of the ball get little recognition from fans. Their efforts are significant to the overall outcome of games.

   In fact, some handicappers claim that line play is the biggest determinant in the outcome of a game.

   Sports bettors who wager on baseball often place a lot of emphasis on the starting pitchers. Statistical analysis bears out that starting pitching is the most predictive factor. The question is whether we can find specific player positions in the NFL that also have such a strong bearing on the wagering proposition.

   The obvious starting point is quarterback. Theories abound on the QB position, from “lay the points with a superstar QB against a soft passing defense” to “don’t bet shaky quarterbacks on the road.” The first dilemma in producing some quantitative research on the snap-takers is to decide how to measure them as players.

   The NFL does have a fairly intricate QB rating system which, by and large, serves as a reasonable guide to who is playing well. The weak points are QBs that run the ball well are not rewarded in the “passer rating” system. Also, sacks are not penalized and you might argue with the lack of situational adjustments.

   For example, Brett Favre would generally get an “A” grade on anybody’s list. The QB rating shows that Favre’s ups and downs coincide with Green Bay’s record. Favre had back-to-back QB ratings in the 70’s in 1999 and 2000 before bouncing back with 90’s in 2001 and (so far) in 2002.

   Our first test to determine how teams perform against the spread based on the current starting quarterback’s season-to-date NFL rating? Our database for the 2002 season is small, but we can gauge some of the theories at a glance.

   Teams having starting QB’s with 90+ ratings coming into the game were 44 percent ATS as favorites and 63 percent as underdogs.

   As for one of the common theories: Away teams with starting QB’s below 70 are 18-21 ATS.

   The next idea for handicappers may be to bet the team with the higher QB score: The one fascinating result is that away underdogs with better rated QBs are a solid 65 percent ATS this season. This concurs with some general research showing that away teams which can pass the ball are strong bets.

   The final concept is to use the QB ratings to create a line we can compare to the real pointspread. We decided that a QB difference of 10 rating points should be worth four points of actual spread value, with a standard three-point home field advantage added in. So for a home team with a 20-point better-rated QB we’d say the “QB Line” on the game is the home team favored by 11. If the home team was favored by 6 points, we would conclude they were a five point overlay by our QB Line.

   Rating a starting QB who has yet to play as 50.0 in our system, the two largest overlay categories (6 to 7.9 and 8+) are both showing a nice profit. There’s enough evidence to make a case for using QB ratings like pitcher ERAs, won-lost records and WH/IP numbers.

   The next step is to accumulate more data and re-test some of these ideas. We’ll put together a 10-year run and report back the detailed performance in time for next season! features innovative statistical coverage of the NFL to help you win.


QB Rating


Under 60


60 to 69


70 to 79


80 to 89





QB Edge


Under 10 pts


10 to 19


20 to 29


30 to 39









Under 2 pts


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