As we chug along in this NFL season, I am going to talk about value, but in different ways. One is value in a team the market might realize is really good under the surface. The other comes in the shape of two disgusting dogs that were dropped by a combined 44 points last weekend.
Value On The Vikings
Last week I placed a wager on the Minnesota Vikings to win the NFC at 30-1 odds. This is not a long shot I am placing in hopes of a massive payday. This is a bet on odds I believe to be inflated on a team that has shown real improvement since the start of the season and is being undervalued by the betting market. That live underdog status extends to the Vikings’ home game against Dallas this weekend, but first let’s analyze the numbers behind Minnesota’s improvement over the last four games, in which it is 3-1 SU.
This conversation will begin with the Vikings’ defense, which has quietly put itself among the elite in the NFL yet again. Minnesota now ranks sixth in defensive EPA (Expected Points Added) per play (-0.06) and defensive DVOA (-8.8 percent). PFF grades the Vikings as the seventh-best overall defense in the league, and much of this stems from a suddenly ferocious pass rush. The Vikings lead the league in pressure rate as of this week (32.1 percent) and are doing so without blitzing at a high rate (23.5 percent blitz rate). Danielle Hunter is tied for the eighth-most pressures among edge rushers in the league (31), and Everson Griffin has 21. They dominated Carolina’s shoddy offensive line, pressuring Sam Darnold on 35.4 percent of his drop-backs. It’s not just the pass rush that is getting the job done, either, as Minnesota owns PFF’s fifth-best coverage grade and has allowed the fourth-fewest air yards (702). The offseason was spent revamping this unit, and those efforts have paid dividends. Now all the Vikings need is an offense that can hold its own, and they might just have that as well.
Heading into this weekend, Kirk Cousins is PFF’s third-highest-graded quarterback with an overall 89.9 grade, the highest of his career. Cousins has been tremendous in almost every facet of his game this season, but he has thrived on traditional drop-backs with no play-action. On those attempts Cousins is completing 69.4 percent of his passes for 7.2 yards per attempt on an average depth of target 7.1 yards downfield. He has thrown nine touchdown passes while committing just three turnover-worthy plays with an adjusted completion percentage of 84.1 percent. He is also the league’s highest-graded quarterback on intermediate throws of 10-19 yards. On those attempts he is completing 82.5 percent of his passes for a league-leading 14.3 yards per attempt. As a result, the Vikings have the fourth-best graded passing attack by PFF standards and the sixth-best passing offense via DVOA (34.9 percent). Should any other team with any other quarterback have these numbers, the market would be all over it. Instead, the Vikings are home underdogs Sunday and have an implied probability of 3.2 percent to win the NFC. Consider me a Vikings fan this weekend and the rest of the season.
Buying On Bad News
Last weekend in the NFL was a perfect example of an adage I use quite a bit in sports betting: Buy low, sell high. Multiple teams reached what seemed to be the floor for their power rating, and bettors flocked to play against them only to get burned by the time the clocks reached zero. Always remember that every bit of negative news around a team is baked into a line, both side and total, but the market seems to forget that by regularly betting into lines that have already been adjusted. Last week had three prime examples, and this week we have two more spots to potentially find some value on ugly dogs.
This time last week the Cleveland Browns were desperate. After opening at -6 over Denver, the injury situation looked bleak and the market reacted strongly, pushing the line to as low as Browns -1.5 on game day. Forgotten in the talk about Baker Mayfield’s injury was that Cleveland’s lengthy injury report was getting shorter by the day, and once kickoff arrived, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry were active, as were two of the three injured offensive linemen, and the Browns ended the day with a win and cover.
How about the Dolphins and Giants? Both teams were coming off terrible losses, and the market had had enough, making both teams home underdogs to the Falcons and Panthers, respectively. When all was said and done, Atlanta had to drive 57 yards in 2:27 to kick a game-winning field goal, while New York was sitting on a 22-point win over Carolina. Teams are never as bad as perceived and news is always accounted for in the betting market, and as bettors it is our job to pounce on overreactions by our fellow man.
This week Chicago and Detroit classify as potential ugly dogs to get behind. Both enter the week as home teams catching points and facing teams in their own poor situations. The Bears host a 49ers team that has clearly been overvalued by the market, as evidenced by the 0-4 SU and ATS slide they carry into this game. San Francisco is 19th in defensive EPA per play against the run, and that showed in a loss to Indianapolis in which it allowed 148 yards rushing on 4.5 yards per carry. The offense is no better, ranking 19th in overall EPA and 21st in passing DVOA. This team should be laying points on the road? And what of Philadelphia, which has lost five of six and allowed 32.4 points per game over its last five contests? Detroit ranks ahead of the Eagles in offensive and defensive EPA per run play, and this is the same number Cincinnati was laying two weeks ago in Detroit. I am not sure about you, but I know I do not power-rate the Eagles and Bengals similarly. It might be hard to bring yourself around on teams like Chicago and Detroit, but at the very least do not get caught up in the negativity. It is always baked into the number, and more often than not, there is value in betting against perception.