Between the Lines, Because Stats Can Lie
It's football season, which means there are mountains of stats available
for sports bettors to digest.
Information, while a huge key when analyzing games and point spreads, can
seem a bit too much. The important point to understand is that stats are only a
starting point for successful handicappers.
It's essential 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 last five years, straight up and against the
All good questions, but remember that sometimes stats can lie. Here are
some example from last season.
*Bengals were 18th in the NFL defensively.
*Vikings had the No. 2 offense in pro football.
*Broncos had the No. 6 defense and the No. 3 offense.
*Dolphins had the No. 1 rushing attack, No. 3 defense.
*Buccaneers were tied with two other teams with the second worst yards
per rush (3.5 yards per carry).
Out of 32 NFL teams, having the 18th-ranked defense isn't bad. The fact
is that stat alone is misleading - anyone who watched Cincy last season saw a
very poor all-around team, including the defense.
Cincinnati gave up the most points (456) in the NFL and as a team looked
lazy, sloppy and out-coached. The Bengals had a -16 turnover ratio (fourth
worst). Even the expansion Texans won twice as many games as Cincinnati. The
Bengals richly deserved getting the No. 1 pick in the draft.
When building a championship team, the old adage is "defense and
offensive balance." Bottom line: Teams that throw the ball all the time are
at a disadvantage in the playoffs, just as teams that rely on the run can be
vulnerable against tougher competition. A team relying almost exclusively on the
run or pass is susceptible to opposing coaching staffs devising game plans to
stifle one-dimensional offenses.
This happened to a degree in the Super Bowl. The Raiders had junked much
of their running game in the playoffs and ran into a Tampa Bay team that was No.
1 in the NFL against the pass. The Raiders played right into the strength of the
Bucs defense and were forced to abandon the ground game after falling behind
The Bucs were able to overcome a weak offense via a short passing game
that, in a sense, supplanted the run. This was the ingredient that was missing
prior to the arrival of Jon Gruden - an offensive-minded coach who knew how to
maximize what was available and put the ball in the end zone.
The stats may have pointed to a major weakness, but the truth showed
Tampa Bay was much better than the numbers suggested.
Statistically last season, the Dolphins and Broncos were two of the best
teams in the NFL and neither made the playoffs. The 2002 Minnesota Vikings
ranked No. 2 in overall offense with a big young offensive line, Daunte
Culpepper, Randy Moss, etc. Yet, the Vikes were -18 in turnovers (2nd worst in
NFL). Minnesota's undoing was a poor defense and coaching staff that failed to
produce in-game adjustments.
That No. 2 offense managed a shoddy 6-10 record last season and, the past
two years under Mike Tice, are a brutal 2-14 SU and 6-10 ATS.
Smart handicappers dig deep and weigh all different kinds of information,
not just stats. Sure, Tampa Bay might like to borrow that rushing offense, but
you can be sure the Vikings would much rather borrow that Vince Lombardi Trophy.