Finding the stats that speak the truth requires digging

Sep 12, 2017 3:00 AM

The best time of the sports calendar is here, the opening month of the pro football campaign!

There are mountains of stats and angles available for sports bettors to digest from this season and years past. Information certainly is a huge key when analyzing games and point spreads. Sometimes it can seem that there is too much info, but it’s essential to understand stats are only a starting point. They don’t always tell the whole story.

In fact, stats can sometimes lie, something to keep in mind when searching for football picks. Sure, it’s important to ask such questions as, “How many yards passing per game does his team get? How big is this offensive line compared to the opponent? Is a great quarterback going up against a team with slow defensive backs? What’s their home record the last five years, straight up and against the spread?” However, it’s important to learn when to look beyond stats.

For example, here are some stats from the 2016 NFL season:

• The 49ers were 4th in rushing.

• The Chargers were 8th in passing offense and 10th in run defense.

• Buffalo was No. 10 in scoring offense.

• The Jaguars were No. 6 in total yards allowed.

• The Bears were 14th in passing on offense and ranked 7th in pass defense.

• The Jaguars ranked 9th in pass defense.

• The Rams ranked No. 9 in total yards allowed.

Now, all of those 2016 stats are true. However, they don’t tell the real story about a football team’s strengths, either. For instance, San Francisco could run the football under their no-huddle attack, but when it came to putting the pigskin in the end zone – the real test of an offense – they were a terrible 27th in points scored.

San Diego has a pair of impressive stats on that list. They racked up a lot of passing yards behind QB Philip Rivers out of necessity since they couldn’t run the football. The defense surrendered points and passing yards, No. 29 in points allowed. Playing from behind a lot can mean a lot of passing yards, but it doesn’t always reflect a strong team.

The Bills had plenty of rushing yards and points, but the offense had no balance, No. 30 in passing yards. And a closer look at their schedule finds the offense rolling up 25-plus points twice on the Dolphins, 31 on the Jets, 30 on the Rams, 28 on Jacksonville, 33 on the Browns, and 45 on San Francisco. When stepping up against better teams the offense was less impressive, which is better reflected in their record (7-9).

Wins are the name of the game, not yards.

Jacksonville’s defense was outstanding in yards allowed so why were they 3-13? No. 25 in points allowed tells the story of the defense more than the overall yards surrendered. And the pass defense is a misleading Top 10 because the secondary was soft, ranked 19th. They gave up 24 or more points to teams that have legitimate quarterbacks (Titans, Raiders, Packers, Chargers, Lions, and twice to the Colts).

The Chicago Bears have respectable stats in yards passing and a Top 10 pass defense, but let’s be honest about it: the passing offense was not good, with five QBs combining for 19 TDs and 19 picks. And the pass defense was only good because they couldn’t stop the run for the second straight year, getting gouged for 121.9 yards per game (27th).

The L.A. Rams returned to the City of Angels, bringing back memories of the Fearsome Foursome and last season ranked Top 10 in yards allowed! Or maybe not. The Rams’ offense was so putrid teams didn’t need to open up the playbook. Even Tom Brady and the Patriots only scored 26 points… and still won by double digits.

Successful handicappers dig deep and weigh all the strengths and weaknesses before heading to the betting window.