NFL Season Over/Under Win "morphers"

NFL Season Over/Under Win "morphers"

NFC Season Over/Under Win "morphers"
By Teddy Covers
Sportsmemo.com

I’ve been waiting patiently for the NFL Season Wins market to mature, but that doesn’t happen quickly here in June.  Most of the notable offshores have not posted Over/Under win totals yet, leaving Vegas as the only active market right now. As a result, all the numbers used in this article are from right here in Sin City.

Of the 32 NFL teams, only 11 have Over/Under win totals that are different from their final record last year by two games or more.  In other words, the markets are telling us to expect ‘more of the same’ from 21 of the 32 teams in the league.

In my Vegas Wiseguy Report article over the next two weeks, I’m going to focus on those eleven teams that are expected to morph positively or negatively from last year.  The goal of this discussion is to focus on why these particular teams are expected to improve or decline significantly compared to last year.  I’ll do that by looking at how the broader market conditions affect the numbers.  What do the markets fixate upon?  What do they largely ignore?  Read on to find out.

This week’s focus will be on the seven NFC teams that are projected to improve or decline by two wins or more in 2014 based on the current market numbers for their season win totals.  Teams are listed in alphabetical order.  Next week, I’ll break down the four AFC teams with an extended look at the team I called the ‘poster child for expected improvement’ last year – the Kansas City Chiefs.

Washington Redskins: 3-13 in 2013; O/U 7 in 2014

Washington was a significant underachiever last year and the betting markets are expecting a bounceback in the direction of the form that allowed the Redskins to win the NFC East when RG3 was a rookie in 2012.  The concepts here are basic. The new coaching staff is a positive after the chemistry issues really reared their head last year. RG3’s QB rating declined by 20 points from 2012 to 2013 while his rushing yardage and rushing TD’s fell off a cliff as well.  No teams in the division made significant offseason improvements.  And the 2014 O/U number for Washington still prices them as a sub .500 team.  Bottom line: the ‘outlier’ performances from last year (teams that finished with eleven or more wins or five or fewer wins) always are lined with a ‘return to the mean’ theme.  And when a team ‘returns to the mean’ we can expect a line between 7 wins and 9 wins, where at least half the league is likely to finish.

Green Bay Packers: 8-7-1 in 2013; O/U 10.5 (10 -170 at Cantor) in 2014

The Packers went 6-2 when Aaron Rodgers started and finished the game behind center during the regular season last year, and neither loss was his fault, guiding the team to 28 points in a loss at San Francisco and 30 in a loss at Cincinnati.  Obviously, when Rodgers was hurt, Green Bay struggled with the likes of Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn at QB. The franchise has been very successful in recent seasons, notching 11 and 15 wins the previous two years following their Super Bowl title.  So basically, the markets are saying that a healthy Rodgers should make all the difference for this team; lined in the same range where they were lined last year.

Carolina Panthers: 12-4 in 2013; O/U 8 or 8.5 (Cantor) in 2014

Two major factors come into the Panthers anticipated decline for 2014.  First is a return to the mean.  The Panthers went 6-10 and 7-9 in 2011 and 2012 before last year’s huge five win improvement in the standings.  Five of those twelve wins came by four points or less – the Panthers were luckier than average in close games last year.  The markets do not expect ‘more of the same’ in that regard.  And secondly, the Panthers offense was below average last year; saved by their +11 turnover margin.  The markets hate their offseason moves, with significant attrition on the offensive line and among the receiving corps.

Atlanta Falcons: 4-12 in 2013; O/U 8.5 (8 at LVH) in 2014

Just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for Atlanta last year following a string of three consecutive double digit win seasons and playoff appearances.  They got eaten up by a tough schedule and numerous key injuries while coming up short repeatedly in close games; losing six games by less than a touchdown.  Plain and simple – the markets are viewing last year as an anomaly, not likely to be repeated; a classic ‘return to the mean’ situation.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 4-12 in 2013; O/U 7 in 2014

The Bucs were outgained by a full yard per play last year; tied for last in the NFL with Jacksonville. And they somehow finished +10 in turnovers with a rookie QB who is not a top prospect primed to be a franchise savoir. Given those two stats alone, the current level of market support for the Bucs is somewhat surprising; expecting a three win improvement.  But again the theme of ‘returning to the mean’ comes into play – many of the squads that finished worse than 6-10 last year are expected to notch a few more wins just because the ‘luck’ factor between winning and losing in the NFL is relatively high.  And the Bucs faced a positively brutal slate of opponents last year. This year their strength of schedule is much weaker; at least when using the conventional formula to determine SOS (the combined records from last year for all 16 teams on their slate).

Seattle Seahawks: 13-3 in 2013; O/U 11 in 2014

The markets are not expecting any kind of major decline from the defending Super Bowl champs, just your standard ‘return to the mean’ O/U wins adjustment between last year and this year.  Seattle is still expected to be elite; along with Denver, New England, Green Bay and San Francisco the only five teams lined at ten wins or higher at current numbers (New Orleans, Philly, Indy and Cincinnati are a notch behind).   But you won’t see O/U 12 wins or higher in the modern NFL season wins marketplace – numbers don’t get higher than 11 or 11.5, regardless of how good a team is supposed to be.  And given the Seahawks very tough opposing slate this year, ranked as the sixth toughest schedule in the league by standard formulas, it’s a no-brainer that their win total was going to be lower than their actual wins from their Super Bowl winning season.

Arizona Cardinals: 10-6 in 2013; O/U 7.5 in 2014

I could probably explain the Cardinals expected decline in 2014 in two words: Carson Palmer.  While the pundits applauded Palmer as a dramatic upgrade at the quarterback position last year, his long term interception issues were problematic once again in 2013 and he isn’t getting any younger.  That being said, this team finished with a negative turnover differential last year and still won ten games, despite an offense that finished below the league average in just about every statistical category. The markets are also worried about Arizona’s strength of schedule in a brutal NFC West division.

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Re: NFL Season Over/Under Win "morphers"

AFC Season Over/Under Win "morphers"
B Teddy Covers
Sportsmemo.com

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the seven NFC teams that are projected to improve or decline by two wins or more in 2014 based on the current market numbers for their season win totals.  I intended to write Part II of the article last week, talking about the four AFC teams that are also projected to improve or decline by two wins or more in 2014, but I got derailed by the College Football Game of the Year openers at the Golden Nugget; a “must report” event.  So, let’s just call it better late than never!

The markets are telling us to expect more of the same from 12 of the 16 AFC teams.  What makes these four squads different? My goal here is to focus on why these particular teams are expected to improve or decline significantly compared to last year.  I’ll do that by looking at how the broader market conditions affect the numbers.  What do the markets fixate upon?  What do they largely ignore?  Read on to find out.

Kansas City Chiefs: 11-5 in 2013, O/U 8 wins in 2014

Last year in this space, I called the Chiefs coming off a truly dismal 2-14 campaign “the poster child for the ‘expected to be the most improved team in the NFL’ category.”  Here’s an excerpt:

“Quite literally, just about every statistic and metric that we have to predict NFL success or failure points towards an immediate turnaround in Kansas City this fall.  It all starts with last year, when KC was an injury riddled mess with a lame duck head coach and a consistent void at the quarterback position.  The Chiefs were tied dead last in the NFL in turnover margin in 2012, finishing with an average of -1.5 turnover differential per game.  Only five players started all 16 games; fewer than the number of players who finished the season on injured reserve.

“They’ve got talented personnel in place.  They’ve made dramatic QB and head coaching upgrades, and all reports indicate the transition is going well.  Their turnover margin can only improve.  Their division is among the weakest in the NFL, and their schedule for 2013 features ten teams lined at eight wins or less.  Put it all together and you can see why there has been significant early wiseguy money showing for the Chiefs.”

Everything broke right for KC from the get-go last year.  They got Jacksonville in Week 1 before everyone realized how bad the Jags actually were.  They stole a one point Week 2 win over Dallas thanks to late game Cowboys turnovers and penalties.  They got the Eagles on a short week before Philly had truly picked up Chip Kelly’s offense.  And that win over the Eagles was the ONLY win over an opponent with a winning record that KC notched all year – all ten of their other victories came against .500 or worse level foes.  The Chiefs mid-season stretch against Oakland, Houston, Cleveland and Buffalo – all playing with backup or third string QBs – was the easiest stretch of games that any team in the NFL played over a four game span all season!

Besides playing the easiest schedule in the NFL last year (or perhaps BECAUSE they faced such an easy slate), the Chiefs also finished the season with a +18 turnover margin; just one year after finishing with a -24!  Let’s not forget that the only two teams KC beat following their bye week were the 3-13 Redskins and the 4-12 Raiders – they closed out the campaign on a confidence sapping 2-6 slide.  And the Chiefs also had the lowest ‘adjusted games lost from injuries’ (factors in the importance of injured players, not just the number of injuries) in the NFL last year – they’re almost assuredly going to suffer more injuries in 2014.

Whatever first year bump KC got from the Andy Reid/Alex Smith coach/QB change is no longer a positive for 2014 – now that duo is just the status quo.  The Chiefs go from playing arguably the weakest schedule in the NFL to one of the hardest.  Bettors certainly don’t expect an outlier stat like their +18 turnover margin to repeat.  Put it all together and the projected three-win decline for KC makes perfect sense.

Cincinnati Bengals: 11-5 in 2013, O/U 9 wins in 2014

The Bengals stats from last year show ‘true contender’ type numbers.  They finished the season outgaining their foes by 0.7 yards per play – only Denver, Philly and Seattle were better; all double digit win teams from 2013.  Their pass defense was truly elite, holding foes below a QB rating of 75 for the season – not quite in the Seahawks range, but close enough to draw comparisons.  These are not numbers that indicate a significant potential for a substantial drop-off in 2014

And frankly, based on personnel alone, Cincinnati looks every bit as talented on paper as the two AFC elites (Denver and New England), with one notable exception -- QB Andy Dalton is no Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.  And that makes a huge difference in this nine win number because, quite simply, the markets don’t view Andy Dalton as an elite level QB, or anything close.

There’s also a strong negative bias about long time Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in the markets.  The Bengals lost both coordinators from last year, with Mike Zimmer taking the Vikings head coaching job while Jay Gruden landed the Redskins gig.  No other team that retained their head coach changed both coordinators in the offseason; just one more reason why the Bengals are lined as a good team, not a great one.

Cleveland Browns: 4-12 in 2013, O/U 6.5 wins in 2014

In general, the markets tend to show significant support for teams that put up decent stats in the midst of dismal campaigns the year before.  That’s why the Browns projected improvement is not heavily Johnny Manziel related.  In fact, if Manziel wins the starting quarterback  job over Brian Hoyer in training camp, I expect at least a modest move towards the Under on Cleveland.

The markets like the new coaching staff, with former Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine getting his first NFL head coaching job. But more than anything else, the markets love this defense, a unit that allowed only 4.8 yards per play last year, second in the NFL behind Seattle.  For the season, Cleveland outgained their foes by 0.2 yards per play; the only team in the league to finish with a sub .500 record and a positive ypp differential.  That stat alone is driving market support for the Browns; a team that needs a three win improvement to cash Over bets in 2014.

Houston Texans:  2-14 in 2013, O/U 8 wins in 2014

Houston was lined as a ten win team last year, but the bottom dropped out for the Texans early.  They won their first two games of the season, then dropped 14 straight to close out the campaign, resulting in a major offseason housecleaning.  The wiseguys tend to fixate on things like the Texans -20 turnover margin from 2013, anticipating a dramatic improvement in that key stat.  And the markets also believe in the ‘Plexiglass Principle’ – teams that underachieve by leaps and bounds one year tend to rebound the following season.  Last, but not least, Houston’s schedule for 2014 is projected to be the single easiest slate in the NFL based on this year’s win totals.  Given that rationale, the markets are expecting a huge six win improvement for first time NFL head coach Bill O’Brien even with Ryan Fitzpatrick and his 27-49-1 career record just named as the starting quarterback heading into training camp.

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