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Not ready for prime-time players? Definitely the Giants

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

September 19, 2017 12:14 AM

The New York Giants continued to struggle badly without a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. He played, but wasn’t at full speed in another ugly prime time performance. MNF stats plus NFL Power Ratings and MLB futures Tuesday in VSiN City!

NFL: NY Giants fall to 0-2 after 24-10 loss to the Lions
It wasn’t quite a replay of last Sunday night’s 19-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. But it’s crystal clear that the NY Giants don’t have much of an offense if Odell Beckham Jr. isn’t at 100% strength. It’s also obvious that preseason optimism about this team being favorites to win the NFC East was misplaced. Divas don’t win divisions by themselves!

Detroit (plus 3.5) 24, NY Giants 10

  • Yards-per-Play: Detroit 4.6, NY Giants 4.9
  • Third Down Conversions: Detroit 47%, NY Giants 33%
  • Turnovers: Detroit 1, NY Giants 1
  • Rushing Yards: Detroit 138, NY Giants 62
  • Passing Stats: Detroit 15-21-0-119, NY Giants 22-32-1-208
  • TD Drive Lengths: Detroit 54-29, NY Giants 75

It would be easy to slam a mediocre performance by Detroit’s offense if New York’s wasn’t so much worse. The Lions had a punt return TD, or they would have finished with 17 points on 4.6 YPP. All of their points were relatively cheap, as you can see from the scoring drives. But the Lions did have…

  • Balance: which helped them win the running game by more than a 2-1 margin
  • Efficiency: only 6 incomplete passes from Matthew Stafford, just 1 giveaway
  • Ball Control: moving the chains did help them cash opportunities that arose

If you play clean football, you can win games like this even at 4.6 YPP and only 119 passing yards. A hidden reason we’re seeing so much ugly pro football of late is that playing conservatively works if the other team isn’t executing. 

Without the use of Beckham at full strength (affectionately called a “diva” while warming up in gold footwear by Brent Musburger on Monday’s “My Guys in the Desert”), the Giants…

  • Are 8 of 24 on third down tries, for a poor 33% conversion rate
  • Have one touchdown drive and two field goals in 21 possessions
  • Have been outrushed 129-35 and 138-62, because defenses can stack the line
  • Have only gained 4.4 and 4.9 yards-per-play

There’s a lot of that going around this season. Modern defenses are making it very difficult for offenses to click unless multiple healthy weapons are able to spread things out. We were going to list all the teams that managed 5.1 YPP or less this week, but the list would have featured more than half the league. Amazingly, in mostly great weather, a little over a third of the league (12 of 32 teams) managed one touchdown drive or less this week. Dallas and Tampa Bay both had two, but all were under 40 yards. 

Here’s a handy way to show who’s moving the ball and who isn’t so far in 2017. Let’s look at the number of touchdown drives of 50 yards or more by each offense. We’ll leave Miami and Tampa Bay out because they missed a game. Miami only has one, TB none. 

Total TD Drives of 50 yards or more through 2 games
8: Kansas City
7: New England
6: Oakland, Denver
5: Pittsburgh, LA Rams
4: Atlanta, Jacksonville, Washington, Green Bay
3: NY Jets, Buffalo, Chicago, Philadelphia, Arizona, Detroit, Cleveland, New Orleans, Minnesota, LA Chargers
2: Houston, Tennessee, Baltimore, Indianapolis
1: Seattle, NY Giants, Dallas
0: Cincinnati, Carolina, San Francisco

Very nice symmetry there. We have 10 teams at 4 or more, 10 teams centering the league right at three, and then 10 teams at two or fewer. Three drives of half-the-field or more over two games is just 1.5 per game. Boring! Definitely some challenges for handicappers and bettors. There are teams you just can’t lay points with until they show they can score on purpose. Don’t force any Over bets unless you’re confident in both offenses.

NFL: New Estimated Market Power Ratings
We’ll be updating our estimate of “market” Power Ratings every Tuesday throughout the football season. For now, it’s just the NFL. Once we have more internal conference action in the colleges, we’ll be able to produce fairly accurate estimates at that level as well. Look for at least some preliminary numbers next week. 

First, here are NFL point spreads for Week 3. We’ll use these as the basis for our “market” ratings. 

LA Rams (-2.5/40) at San Francisco
Baltimore (-4/39) vs. Jacksonville (in London, England)
Cleveland (-1.5/40) at Indianapolis
Pittsburgh (-7.5/45.5) at Chicago
Miami (-6/41.5) at NY Jets
Denver (-3/40.5) at Buffalo
Houston at New England (-13/43.5)
New Orleans at Carolina (-6/48)
Tampa Bay at Minnesota (no line pending Bradford status)
Atlanta (-3.5/40) at Detroit
NY Giants at Philadelphia (-3.5/44)
Seattle at Tennessee (-2.5/43)
Kansas City (-3/46.5) at LA Chargers
Cincinnati at Green Bay (-9/45)
Oakland at Washington (-3/54)
Dallas at Arizona (-3/47)

Last week, the market had Sam Bradford about three points better than Case Keenum for the Vikings. Keenum played worse than that…but having to play on the road at Pittsburgh is a tough spot. Assume Minnesota will be around -4 or -5 over Tampa Bay with Bradford, around -1 or so with Keenum.

Those result in the follow estimate of how “the market” has NFL teams Power Rated. We use a standard three points for home field advantage to make it easy. Even if teams have recently showed an extreme better or worse than that, those extremes will likely regress back toward the three in the future. Baltimore/Jacksonville is a neutral site game. So the Ravens go four spots higher on the ladder than the Jags as a four-point favorite. 

87: New England
84: Atlanta, Pittsburgh 
83: Dallas, Green Bay, Kansas City, Oakland
82: Seattle
81: Philadelphia, Minnesota (with Bradford), Tennessee, Denver
80: Carolina, NY Giants, Baltimore
79: Tampa Bay, Miami
78: Detroit, Minnesota (with Keenum) 
77: Washington, New Orleans, Arizona, Cincinnati, Houston, LA Chargers
76: LA Rams, Jacksonville 
75: Buffalo
74: Chicago, Cleveland 
71: San Francisco
70: NY Jets, Indianapolis (with Brissett, 69 with Tolzien)

Who was tricky this week? 

  • Miami is laying -6 at the NY Jets, which means a 9-point differential on this scale. It feels weird to lift the Dolphins up to 79 with Cutler still adjusting to his new surroundings. We already have the Jets tied for being the worst team in the NFL at 70. Maybe those should be 78 and 69? Maybe some quant market influences have moved the Jets all the way down to 68-ish on this scale because the defense allowed easy yardage to Buffalo before the Bills couldn’t do anything at Carolina, while also allowing easy yardage to the Raiders. (Jets opponents have scored on TD drives of 77-64-80-81-85-84-79 plus two shorter ones, through two games). For now, we’ll go with 79 and 70 and see what future point spreads suggest. 
  • We have Houston and New England 10 points apart at 77 and 87 respectively because the Pats are -13 at home. We knocked New England down a point from 88 after they lost to the Chiefs. It could be that the market didn’t do that…and would have this at something more like 88 and 78. We’ll see what happens when the Pats play a more respected side. (The market underestimated their ability to move at will in New Orleans!)
  • Dallas is -3.5 at Arizona, which would suggest a 6.5 differential on a neutral field. That’s a big drop for Arizona…not out of line given their early season form. We pushed the Cards back to 77 and left Dallas at 83.

If you disagree with our assessment of how “the market” is rating teams, please drop us a note. Remember to make a case for the “couplet” needing to move. If you think Denver should be an 82 or an 83, then you have to lift Buffalo to 76 or 77 because the Broncos are a 3-point road favorite. 

College Football: Clemson rises to #2 in AP poll after crushing Louisville
Because many of you are casual fans who are most interested in betting games you’ll be watching on TV, we’ll try to straddle the fence between what’s important in the betting marketplace, and what’s important in the college football championship chase in the coming weeks. Clemson took a HUGE step toward getting back to the Final Four with a prime-time blowout of Louisville this past Saturday night. 

Clemson (-3) 47, Louisville 21

  • Yards-Per-Play: Clemson 7.6, Louisville 6.3
  • TD Drive Lengths: Clemson 79-90-66-79-75, Louisville 95-75-85

Louisville brought its yards-per-play up to respectable levels after falling behind 33-7. So, when it was “a game,” Clemson moved the ball effectively and dominated. Garbage time was a wash that you probably shouldn’t hold against Clemson’s defense moving forward. 

The market is still likely to price teams like Alabama, Ohio State (even with the loss to Oklahoma), and maybe even a few other powers (Oklahoma, Penn State, even USC, Washington or Okie State) as equal to or better than Clemson. Remember that Clemson was an underdog to both Ohio State and Alabama in last year’s Final Four before clean statistical and scoreboard victories. Not much left for Clemson to do this season in terms of impressing vs. dangerous threats. Remaining highlights…

  • September 30: at Virginia Tech
  • November 11: vs. Florida State
  • December 2: ACC Championship (possibly Miami, or Virginia Tech again)

That could be a fun one in Blacksburg. We’ll know a lot more about Florida State’s new quarterback by early November. The ACC Championship game will be played in Charlotte. Clemson certainly controls its own destiny in terms of another return to the Final Four. The early tests vs. Auburn and Louisville have been passed. 

The ACC champ might have been an obvious choice to “leave out” of the Final Four this season if the Tigers took a step backward with the loss of Deshaun Watson. You figure the SEC champ is in (unless powerhouse Alabama loses TWICE). You figure the Big 10 champ is in because the survivor will have some quality wins (Ohio State’s probably in if they win out even after the loss to OU). The Big 12 champ is now seen as a true title threat with Oklahoma’s win in Columbus. Okie State is getting respect…and one of those teams will have a great resume once they’re done with each other. The Pac 12? USC or Washington will have a case to make unless they run into surprising struggles down the road. 

Clemson’s win put the ACC back in the driver’s seat…which may leave the Big 12 or Pac 12 standing angrily in the annual game of musical chairs. 

South Point National Championship Futures Prices

  • Alabama 5/2
  • Clemson 4/1
  • USC 4/1
  • Oklahoma 5/1
  • Michigan 8/1
  • Ohio State 10/1
  • Oklahoma State 10/1
  • Washington 10/1
  • Penn State 12/1

Everyone else is 20/1 (Miami) or worse in this week’s prices. The market says the Final Four is VERY likely to come from that group of nine. Wisconsin at 25/1 will have a chance to crash the party because they have a slightly easier pathway through the Big 10 West. 

MLB: Updating Odds to win the AL, NL, and World Series
It’s been awhile since we’ve had a chance to run through futures prices for the rapidly closing Major League Baseball season. Just over a-week-and-a-half to go. We’ll use the Westgate odds because those are fairly in synch with “true odds” from an analytics perspective (with some house edge naturally built in). 

As always, shop around to see if you can find better returns on your favorite team. Some stores, like the South Point, are influenced by money taken in earlier in the season…leading to prices that protect the house from exposure (which is why you can get Colorado at 20/1 to win the NL, rather than 10/1 at the Westgate, but Milwaukee only returns 6/1, compared to 30/1 at the Westgate). This particular postseason looks LOADED, with a number of teams talented enough to go the distance without playing too far over their heads.  

American League (only Wildcard contenders currently over .500)

  • Cleveland: even money to win AL, 9/4 to win WS
  • Houston: 12/5 to win AL, 5/1 to win the WS
  • Boston: 15/4 to win AL, 10/1 to win the WS
  • NY Yankees: 11/2 to win AL, 12/1 to win the WS
  • Minnesota: 25/1 to win AL, 50/1 to win the WS
  • LA Angels: 50/1 to win AL, 100/1 to win the WS

If Minnesota or the LA Angels fall apart to such a degree that some of the other AL stragglers get back within arm’s reach…we’ll update those prices at the time. For now, the Yanks and Twins are best positioned for the play-in game, with the Angels the natural beneficiary if Minnesota falters. That could happen imminently because Minnesota is visiting the Yankees right now, dropping a 2-1 decision Monday night. 

National League

  • LA Dodgers: 6/5 to win NL, 5/2 to win the WS
  • Washington: 14/5 to win NL, 7/1 to win the WS
  • Chicago Cubs: 7/2 to win NL, 8/1 to win the WS
  • Arizona: 11/2 to win NL, 14/1 to win the WS
  • Colorado: 10/1 to win NL, 25/1 to win the WS
  • Milwaukee: 30/1 to win NL, 80/1 to win the WS
  • St. Louis: 40/1 to win NL, 100/1 to win the WS

The Dodgers are still the favorite even with their massive recent slump. They did win two of three in Washington this past weekend…and are the best team in the senior circuit at anything approaching 100% health. Milwaukee is currently two games out of a Wildcard spot, and 3.5 games behind the Cubs for first place in the NL Central. Cinderella’s coach may turn into a pumpkin soon…but it’s been a much longer ride than anyone expected. 

See you again Wednesday with our next weekly handicapping tutorial. If you have any particular topics you’d like covered in the future, please let us know! If you haven’t subscribed to VSiN City, please click here for weekday morning email delivery and free access to those handy South Point betting sheets. It’s also easy to sign up for Point Spread Weekly. Just $99.99 for the full season of comprehensive reference material. 

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