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A passing interest in handicapping the NFL Draft

By Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

With Thursday’s NFL draft racing toward us, we spend some time studying the most important stat indicators for offensive success in pro football…and then veer into NBA playoff recaps and NHL series previews. 

NFL: Key passing stats
Modern-day NFL is very much a passer’s game. We’re not saying running backs are irrelevant. But quarterbacks carry offenses on their shoulders because they’re trying to mix big plays downfield with short, safe, ball control connections that move the chains. Short passes are basically long handoffs in terms of their role in modern offenses…which means the essence of a team’s attack will show up in the most important passing skill sets. 

  • Can you make big plays downfield?
  • Can you move the ball all the way to the end zone?
  • Can you avoid throwing interceptions that kill drives?

To help you evaluate the potential immediate impact of Thursday’s offensive draft selections, we’ve compiled 2016 team passing stats in the following areas:

  • Yards-per-pass-attempt
  • Touchdown/interception ratio

You’ll quickly see which teams don’t need much help in the passing game…which may be able to leap from “adequate” to “very good” with the right draft picks…and which will need multiple talented athletes to come in and help right away. We’ll start at the top…

Dynamic passing teams:

  • Atlanta: 9.2 yards-per-pass-attempt, 38/7 TD/INT ratio
  • Washington: 8.2 yards-per-pass-attempt, 25/12 TD/INT ratio
  • New England: 8.1 yards-per-pass-attempt, 32/2 TD/INT ratio
  • Dallas: 7.9 yards-per-pass-attempt, 25/6 TD/INT ratio
  • Miami: 7.8 yards-per-pass-attempt, 27/15 TD/INT ratio
  • New Orleans: 7.8 yards-per-pass-attempt, 38/15 TD/INT ratio
  • Seattle: 7.8 yards-per-pass-attempt, 23/12 TD/INT ratio
  • Indianapolis: 7.7 yards-per-pass-attempt, 32/15 TD/INT ratio
  • LA Chargers: 7.6 yards-per-pass-attempt, 33/21 TD/INT ratio

Every single team in that sampling gained more than 7.5 yards per pass attempt and posted a double-digit differential in TD/INT ratio. Notice that the two Super Bowl teams were better than 8.0 and plus 30! You thrive in these areas, and you’re a championship contender. Washington threw a few too many interceptions. Miami, New Orleans, Indianapolis, and the former San Diego Chargers all saw 15 or more picks erase gains made in the other categories. Reward without risk is the essence of success in all sports.

Productive (one exception):

  • Cincinnati: 7.5 yards-per-pass-attempt, 18/8 TD/INT ratio
  • Chicago: 7.4 yards-per-pass-attempt, 19/19 TD/INT ratio
  • Tennessee: 7.4 yards-per-pass-attempt, 29/11 TD/INT ratio
  • Detroit: 7.3 yards-per-pass-attempt, 24/10 TD/INT ratio
  • Pittsburgh: 7.3 yards-per-pass-attempt, 33/15 TD/INT ratio
  • Green Bay: 7.2 yards-per-pass-attempt, 40/8 TD/INT ratio
  • Kansas City: 7.2 yards-per-pass-attempt, 19/8 TD/INT ratio
  • Tampa Bay: 7.2 yards-per-pass-attempt, 29/18 TD/INT ratio

A tight grouping here because the NFL is a league of parity. Notice that Pittsburgh and Green Bay were able to play at a very high level despite barely sneaking past the 7.2 threshold. If you have QBs who know how to finish drives, you don’t necessarily need big per-play volume. We talked yesterday about Tennessee having multiple first-round picks (pending trades between now and their time “on the clock”). The Titans really look like a team ready to jump a level. The Chicago Bears (our “one exception” to “productive” because of all the interceptions) might be better than you think if they can find the right arm in 2017. 

Not good enough (one exception): 

  • Carolina: 7.0 yards-per-pass-attempt, 21/19 TD/INT ratio
  • Minnesota: 7.0 yards-per-pass-attempt, 20/5 TD/INT ratio
  • Buffalo: 6.9 yards-per-pass-attempt, 17/7 TD/INT ratio
  • Denver: 6.9 yards-per-pass-attempt, 20/11 TD/INT ratio
  • Oakland: 6.9 yards-per-pass-attempt, 29/7 TD/INT ratio
  • Arizona: 6.8 yards-per-pass-attempt, 28/17 TD/INT ratio
  • NY Giants: 6.7 yards-per-pass-attempt, 26/16 TD/INT ratio

Oakland is the one exception here…because they clearly were good enough to go deep in the playoffs when Derek Carr was healthy. He got hurt at the worst possible time! His personal numbers were 7.0 and 28/6. Otherwise, teams at 7.0 or below weren’t as dynamic as needed to truly thrive. But, the right draft pick for the receiving corps or offensive line could easily vault any of these teams up to 7.2 in yppa or better. 

Disasters, needing a lot of help:

  • NY Jets: 6.6 yards-per-pass-attempt, 16/25 TD/INT ratio
  • Cleveland: 6.5 yards-per-pass-attempt, 15/14 TD/INT ratio
  • Baltimore: 6.4 yards-per-pass-attempt, 20/16 TD/INT ratio
  • San Francisco: 6.4 yards-per-pass-attempt, 21/10 TD/INT ratio
  • Jacksonville: 6.3 yards-per-pass-attempt, 24/16 TD/INT ratio
  • LA Rams: 6.2 yards-per-pass-attempt, 14/20 TD/INT ratio
  • Philadelphia: 6.2 yards-per-pass-attempt, 16/14 TD/INT ratio
  • Houston: 5.9 yards-per-pass-attempt, 15/16 TD/INT ratio

If you followed the NFL closely last season, these teams won’t surprise you. Casual fans might not be aware that Baltimore struggled so badly. And people who only listened to early season media hype but didn’t watch Eagles games might be shocked that Philadelphia had such a horrible composite with a highly touted rookie quarterback. There probably won’t be any quick fixes here. But, perhaps there could be improvement in a way that catches the betting markets napping this Fall. 

We hope you print out today’s newsletter so you can have those stats handy through this weekend’s draft coverage. Don’t forget that VSiN will have a BONUS 4-hour broadcast hosted by Brent Musburger and featuring his “guys in the desert” Thursday beginning at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. here in Las Vegas. You can have ESPN or the NFL Network on your TV…but put VSiN on your laptop or dial us up on Sirius channel 215 on satellite radio.

NBA: Rockets advance, Spurs and Jazz take 3-2 series leads
Three games to review. Let’s take them in the order they were played.

Houston (-7) 105, Oklahoma City 99

  • Two-Point Pct: Oklahoma City 47%, Houston 60%
  • Free Throws: Oklahoma City 19/29, Houston 33/39

Oklahoma City was at its best when fresh, winning the first and third quarters 55-37. Once fatigue set in, Houston would storm right back faster than the little girl on the big wheel (whose commercial would follow an OKC timeout). The Rockets won the second and fourth quarters 68-44. On a night where the winners were just 6 of 37 on three pointers.

Once again we saw OKC struggle badly when Russell Westbrook was off the floor. Over the final four games of the series…

Game 2: plus 11 with Westbrook, -15 when he sat
Game 3: plus 3 with Westbrook, -1 when he sat
Game 4: plus 14 with Westbrook, -18 when he sat
Game 5: plus 12 with Westbrook, -18 when he sat

That plus Westbrook’s poor shooting in the fourth quarter (2 of 11, with both makes at the rim) sealed the Thunder’s fate. OKC is blowout fodder when Westbrook’s legs go because his erratic three-point launches are virtual turnovers. 

This was ultimately a slower series than anticipated. Both teams played below their quick regular season paces, rather than lifting each other into a frenzied track meet. 

  • Possession counts by game: 98-97-97-103-98 (average 98.6, median 98)
  • Scoring totals by game: 205-226-228-222-204 (average 217, median 222)

Three of the five games went Under, with market prices centered around 225. OKC covered three of the five because Houston’s revolutionary three-point onslaught wasn’t particularly accurate. The Rockets were 48 of 169 from long range over the five games, for 28% (rounded equivalent of 43% on two’s). Houston wins the series 4-1, and will now await the winner of Memphis/San Antonio. Which…looks like it will probably be San Antonio…

San Antonio (-11) 116, Memphis 103

  • Three-Pointers: Memphis 9/22, San Antonio 14/28
  • Rebounding: Memphis 31, San Antonio 34
  • Turnovers: Memphis 9, San Antonio 7

You just read that Houston’s been struggling from long range in this series. San Antonio plays at a much slower pace (particularly in this series), but is still getting themselves a lot of good looks against a defense that’s better than OKC’s.

  • Houston treys: 48 of 169 for 28%
  • San Antonio treys: 52 of 124 for 42% (equivalent of 63% on two’s)

That’s for more makes for patient San Antonio on 45 less attempts than the Rockets! You may recall how unworldly the Spurs looked in that 111-82 win in the series opener. They scored those 111 points on 86 possessions. Tonight, it was 116 points on an even fewer 83 possessions. This series has mostly been slow as molasses…but four of the five have gone Over because of sharp shooting. 

  • Possession counts by game: 86-85-83-95-83 (average 86.4, median 85)
  • Scoring totals by game: 193-178-199-192 in reg-219 (average 196.2, median 193)

Four of the five games had market prices in the high 180s. Note that the 95 pace factor in Game 4 was pro-rated to 48 minutes. So it was a faster-paced game rather than just the same pace inflated by overtime. It’s worth remembering that many teams have been using ball movement to maximize the quality of their looks for years. Some of Houston’s record-breaking trey emphasis came from doing it fast instead of doing it patiently. 

We included rebounding and turnovers in the key stats even though they were minor wins because San Antonio has won rebounding in all five games (now 38 for the series) and seven turnovers is such a low number for a team that moves the ball so much against a quality defense. 

Game 6 will be Thursday in Memphis, following Game Six of Milwaukee/Toronto.

Utah (plus 3) 96, LA Clippers 92

  • Two-Point Pct: Utah 49%, LA Clippers 41%
  • Rebounds: Utah 43, LA Clippers 34

There was a perception in some circles that the Clippers would be "fine" without injured Blake Griffin (who was lost for the postseason after playing 18 minutes of Game 3). Others even thought the Clippers would be better because his bulk has a way of slowing down their own offensive flow. But, it's pretty clear now that his loss is being felt in fairly dramatic fashion inside the paint.

Utah won Games 3 and 4 by a combined 11 points (in a composite pick-em with short lines at each site). The Jazz own two-point shooting 54% to 46% in those games, and rebounding 85-65. Versus this opponent at least, Griffin's skill set is needed against a slow (pace counts 92-89-87-88-92 so far), strong opponent.

Game 6 will be Friday in Utah, where the Jazz will be favorites to wrap the series up, following Game 6s in Boston/Chicago and Washington/Atlanta.

Wednesday’s Game Five point spreads

  • Atlanta at Washington (-5.5, 212.5); 6 p.m. ET on TNT
  • Chicago at Boston (-8, 202); 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT

(Note the unique starting time for Hawks/Wizards. TNT paid good money for a doubleheader and the Warriors/Blazers sweep isn’t going to get in the way!)

NHL: Nashville/St. Louis and Edmonton/Anaheim start second-round series Wednesday
After some time off to recover from a very exciting first round, the NHL Playoffs return to the rink Wednesday with a pair of Western Conference semifinal series. Let’s preview those matchups now…then we’ll outline the two Eastern semifinals on Thursday. 

Nashville vs. St. Louis

  • Series Price: pick-em
  • Game 1 Price: St. Louis -120, total of 5 (Under -120)
  • Offensive Ranking: Nashville #11, St. Louis #12
  • Defensive Ranking: Nashville #15, St. Louis #13
  • Pace Estimate: Below average (St. Louis is very slow, but Nashville is faster than average)

You can see in the similar regular season stat rankings why this series is seen as a toss-up. Nashville’s goals-per-game totals had an average rank of #13, while St. Louis had an average of #12.5. Though, the fact that it’s a toss-up while St. Louis has home-ice advantage tells you that the market thinks Nashville is the slightly better side on neutral ice. Sweeping Chicago is more impressive than beating Minnesota in five games…though both were market shockers. Great defense and goaltending from both in the first round. Nashville only allowed three goals in four games (0.75 per game). St. Louis allowed eight goals in five games (1.60 goals per game) with some overtime action factored in. 

Edmonton vs. Anaheim

  • Series Price: Anaheim -135, Edmonton 115
  • Game 1 Price: Anaheim -135, total of 5
  • Offensive Ranking: Edmonton #8, Anaheim #18
  • Defensive Ranking: Edmonton #8, Anaheim #3
  • Pace Estimate: Slightly below average

Home ice by itself usually doesn’t put a team that far over pick-em in a playoff game. So, Anaheim is seen as the slightly better side by the marketplace even though Edmonton had a more balanced stat composite. Anaheim’s offense didn’t seem to have many issues while scoring 14 goals in a four-game sweep of Calgary. Edmonton only managed 12 goals in five games (with one coming in OT) in its 4-2 series win over San Jose.

Looking down the road…a key reason many hockey followers are seeing Pittsburgh/Washington as a virtual championship round is that any of these four Western sides would be a series underdog to both Pittsburgh and Washington.  

We’ll review Wednesday’s results then preview Pittsburgh/Washington and NY Rangers/Ottawa tomorrow in VSiN City.

That wraps up our Wednesday report. If you have any questions or comments about the newsletter or VSiN programming, please drop us an email.

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