Remember all those high-scoring games back in September? Through the first four weeks, games averaged 51.3 total points per game with 36 Overs and just 24 Unders in addition to three Pushes. It seemed as though scoring records would be smashed in this most unusual of seasons.
As this past Sunday’s results rolled in, I noticed that six of the seven early games had stayed Under the total and the seventh went Over due to Tennessee’s overtime win at Baltimore. Seattle’s win over Arizona Thursday night had also stayed Under.
The rest of the weekend produced five Overs and one Under. But it got me thinking about what we might see vis-a-vis totals over the balance of the season. That 36-24-3 start has been followed by a 47-49-2 run in the ensuing seven weeks that has also seen scoring drop to a season’s average of 49.8 points per game. Still a record pace but trending downwards.
Over the past six seasons, Weeks 1 through 10 have seen just 29 more Overs than Unders for the 882 games in that time frame. Yet in 654 games in Weeks 11 through 17 over those six seasons there have been 75 more Unders than Overs. Percentage wise, ignoring pushes, Weeks 1 through 10 saw 51.7% Overs but weeks 11 through 17 the results were 55.8% Under.
Weather, injuries and fatigue are among the factors that develop as the season wears on. Linesmakers are quicker to make in-season adjustments more than, say, 10 years ago. Yet that’s a dramatic contrast between the ‘meat’ of the season and the ‘stretch run’. And early season perceptions of the public (i.e. high scoring games are the norm) are often slow to change (if at all) despite changes in performance.
To be totally forthright about this research between 2014 and 2018 the Weeks 11 through 17 edge in Unders vs. Overs varied from a low of four more Unders to a high of 27 more. In 2019 there were actually five more Overs (56) than Unders (51). But whether that was the start of a reversal of historic form or a one season outlier remains to be learned.
I’ll be looking to mostly back history over the final weeks of this season. You’ll read of one exception shortly.
Ravens +5.5 at Steelers: Baltimore’s playoff hopes are effectively on the line but are compromised by COVID-19 issues. RBs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins are already doubtful and their absence would put even more pressure on QB Lamar Jackson. He struggled in their first meeting, tossing a pair of interceptions including a ‘pick six’ on the game’s third play in a 28-24 home loss.
The Ravens were -3 in turnovers yet the defense was stellar, holding Pittsburgh to 221 total yards (4.4 per play). Despite the turnovers, Baltimore gained 457 yards (5.8 per play) so on several levels they outplayed Pittsburgh.
COVID-19 issues could result in a postponement. But if the game goes as scheduled, the fundamentals are there for another typically close contest. Taking over a FG is attractive with a team playing with desperation that’s better than their 6-4 record suggests. RAVENS
Browns -6.5 at Jaguars: Only one of Cleveland’s seven wins is over a winning team (Colts) and four others are by five points or less.
Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew is on track to start after missing three starts with an injured thumb. Six of Jacksonville’s losses have been by eight points or more.
In strength vs. weakness, Cleveland’s rushing offense faces a vulnerable Jaguars defense. With games up next at Tennessee and against Baltimore, the Browns can’t let this winnable game get away as they control their Wild Card fate. And their defense has played well, holding three straight and six of 10 foes to under 5.0 yards per play, something the Jags have not done all season. BROWNS
Titans +3.5 at Colts: The line for this game is interesting. Indianapolis closed 1.5-point road chalk when the Colts won at Tennessee two weeks ago, 34-17, outgaining the Titans by 136 yards and 1.3 yards per play.
For many years, the line for this quick rematch would be closer to a full touchdown to account for the change in venue. But as I wrote a few weeks ago, road teams have had much more success since the start of 2019 than in prior seasons. Visitors are 82-78-1 ATS this season including 57-46 as underdogs.
This game’s more critical to Tennessee — a loss would put them a game behind Indy for the AFC South lead with the Colts holding the tiebreaker. I have both teams on my “play on” list for the stretch run which I define as starting with game 11. TITANS
Chargers +5.5 at Bills: Still smarting from their loss in Arizona prior to last week’s Bye, the Bills know the importance of this game. Thanks to Miami’s loss at Denver, Buffalo has a one-game lead over the Dolphins in the AFC East and want to wrap up the division title before hosting Miami in Week 17.
The Chargers have been known to blow leads all season, even in wins such as last week against the lowly Jets when a 17-point halftime lead was cut to a one-score game in the fourth quarter.
Buffalo’s other two losses were also to playoff-bound teams. They’re 4-1 at home with the lone loss to Kansas City.
The Chargers have lost four straight road games since a season-opening win at Cincinnati and are making a second trip to the East Coast after losing at Miami two weeks ago. Despite solid stats, my metrics show the Chargers as the NFL’s most inefficient team. BILLS
49ers +7 at Rams: This is revenge for the Rams, who lost 24-16 as 2-point road chalk last month. At 7-3 they’re tied with Seattle atop the NFC West but still have two games with Arizona and a Seahawks rematch.
Injuries, especially to QB Jimmy Garoppolo and TE George Kittle, have ruined a promising season for the defending NFC champs. They’ve lost three straight — each by double digits — to likely playoff teams (Seahawks, Packers, Saints).
Off their Bye, the 49ers’ offense figures to be challenged by a balanced Rams defense that ranks fifth against the run, second against the pass and second in allowing just 19.2 points per game. RAMS
Chiefs at Buccaneers, Total 56: Kansas City leads the NFL in scoring (32.1) with Tampa sixth (29.1). For the second time in three weeks, QB Tom Brady had a miserable game in Monday’s loss to the Rams. Following a one-sided loss to New Orleans two weeks earlier Brady and the Bucs responded with 540 yards of total offense in a 46-23 road win at Carolina, the fourth time tallying 38 or more points.
Kansas City has scored 33 or more in four straight games, topping 30 in three others. They’ve also allowed 31 points in back-to-back games, both wins. Look for Brady and Tampa’s offense to bounce back while their defense — which excels against the run — will be kept off balance by the magical arm and legs of Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. OVER
Last week: 2-4