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Sports betting tutorial: Handle early-season stats with care

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

September 27, 2017 12:16 AM

Our weekly Wednesday tutorial is a refresher on football stat handicapping, plus our first crack at college Power Ratings today in VSiN City.

Sports Betting: Why season-to-date total yardage stats need adjustment
We’ve broached the issues in today’s discussion before. But they bear repeating now because we’re getting to a tricky part of the football season. College and pro football teams have been playing long enough to create the illusion of having played an adequate sample size. College teams are entering their second month. All but two NFL teams have played three games, which is enough for the mainstream media to start chatting about how teams rank overall in total offense or total defense. 

Nobody even thinks about “year-to-date” stats in the first couple of weeks. About a month from now…there's probably an adequate sample size for most of the bugs to be worked out. Right now, as September turns to October, the stats are still very polluted, and much more likely to lead you astray than to smart bets. 

Let’s go over a few of the major areas of pollution.

Strength of schedule: This is a huge issue in college football of course, where many programs run up impressive numbers against cupcake non-conference opponents. But even in the NFL, you’re going to find slates that are unbalanced. Maybe an early disappointment has played twice against good teams, just once against a loser. Maybe it’s one game against a good team and two against bad teams for an early surprise. Either way, this dynamic is likely to mess you up. 

If you’re going to use statistics as a guide this week and next, quickly review the schedules of the teams under consideration. Better, break it down further to the offenses and defenses their own units have faced. For example, if a team has faced Baltimore…they were taking on a struggling offense but a thriving defense. Evaluate each unit in the proper context.

Pace: So many teams are capable of running up-tempo offenses now, that it’s possible for season-to-date stats to get warped by playing in fast-paced games. That’s particularly true if the fast pace came against a prevent defense after falling way behind. If a team gains 450 yards in a game fueled by extended garbage time, that doesn’t tell you much about what they’ll accomplish in a close game where the opponent is still trying to shut them down. Worse, it pollutes a three or four-game sample size to make that offense look better than it really is. Many websites itemize drives (ESPN.com for both college and pro, nfl.com for pro), so you can take extra time if needed to evaluate how teams performed when they were within one score or maybe 10-14 points…and how they performed after falling behind by more that. This extra effort will sharpen your perceptions.  

Home/Road Splits: More of an issue in college football, where many quality teams will play home-heavy schedules out of the gate because it’s so lucrative to do so. Be careful that you’re not falling in love with your alma mater because they’ve been compiling nice stats playing nothing but home games. Reward strong road efforts. Don’t be impressed with “barely holding on” at home vs. non-entities. In the NFL, the hurricane took away a Miami Dolphins’ home game…which may lead to first-month stats in other stadiums painting too gloomy a picture. 

Tank Jobs: Usually, this term is used to describe teams who are losing on purpose to improve their position in the draft. But it’s becoming more common to see NFL teams give up early in relatively low priority games in a way that just kills short-season stats. Generally speaking, the most important games for all teams are their six divisional clashes. If you win your division…you go to the playoffs. Second-most important are the other conference games because of tie-breakers for home field in the playoffs or for additional playoff spots. Least important are non-conference games when somebody from the AFC plays an NFC team or vice versa. We’re not suggesting that these teams show up planning to tank. But if things go south early…and there’s some margin for error in the playoff chase…then it’s actually smart percentage-wise to accept the loss and save your resources for later games. 

Oakland’s loss at Washington this past Sunday night (AFC at NFC, the week before a huge divisional rivalry game at Denver) is a great example of this. The Raiders were outgained 472-128…which is going to badly warp their season-to-date offensive and defensive stats for several more weeks. Baltimore vs. Jacksonville in London (AFC North vs. AFC South, the week before a big divisional rivalry game vs. Pittsburgh) is another. Baltimore was outgained 410-186, which will drag down its season-to-date stats for awhile. 

Stats are a very important tool for handicappers because they help define the team skill sets or weaknesses that will matter in determining future outcomes. Polluted stats cloud your vision in a way that can cause bad misreads. Do the extra work it takes to make sure you’re seeing things clearly.

NFL: Tony Romo’s insights a boon for serious sports bettors
Speaking of seeing things clearly, Tony Romo’s knack for reading opposing defenses and explaining offensive schematics have been a boon for sports bettors looking to pick up an edge. He mentioned after Cincinnati’s hot start in Green Bay this past Sunday that the Bengals had gone through their “scripted” plays that had been planned out in advance. That suggested to Romo that the Pack defense would more easily recognize what was coming the rest of the way. A 21-7 Cincinnati lead turned around to a 27-24 overtime loss as Green Bay won “the rest of the game” 20-3. In-game bettors noting Romo’s comment were able to anticipate that rally.

Time is likely short for Romo to be as forthcoming with viewers as he’s been in the Oakland/Tennessee, New England/New Orleans, and Cincinnati/Green Bay telecasts. Players and coaches don’t like being made to look bad…and tend to shut out access to media members who do that. Romo may not care now…but CBS will. In the meantime, learn what you can. Sharp bettors are already doing that on the fly, and by reviewing recordings of those games to pick up team or key player tendencies that may influence straight up and ATS results.

Sharp bettors are always looking for an edge. Many of you have told VSiN you appreciate our finding keys that could give you a potential advantage over the rest of the betting market. Tony Romo is running a weekly tutorial for bettors in games that most of you are going to be watching already on Direct TV or your local over-the-air channel. If we’re lucky, other TV analysts will follow that lead and be more forthcoming regarding coaching tactics, offensive “read and react” skill sets, and other real factors that determine winners and losers on the football field. 

Of course, some of you may have seen VSiN's Brent Musburger's take on Romo's specific habit of predicting the play before it happens. Not a fan.

College Football: Introductory “market” Power Ratings for Power 5 conferences
As promised last week, we’ll take our first crack at “market” Power Ratings for the major college football conferences today. Consider this a soft opening. College football is tricky because there’s not nearly as much connectivity as you’d like in advance of conference play. And, the system can break down a bit at the extremes. When elite programs are facing non-competitive opponents (like Ohio State/Rutgers or Washington/Oregon State this week), the market price may be more about whether or not the favorite is likely to run up the score. 

With all that in mind, here’s our first shot. Numbers are mostly based on this week’s point spreads (except for the extreme garbage games). We use a standard three points for home field advantage because future margins will regress toward that norm even if recent results are suggesting stronger or weaker margins. Texas is favored by 6 points on the road at Iowa State Thursday night. That means Texas should be NINE points higher on this scale. (We went with 74 and 65…but the margin for error is pretty steep in a first guess…maybe those should be 76 and 67…maybe 73 and 64…the longer the season goes the more we’ll learn.)

First, let’s start with the two major Independents who face the most Power 5 teams. We have Notre Dame at 80, BYU at 67. Otherwise, we’ll go by conference divisions, starting with the league that has the highest national Power Rated team. 

SEC West: Alabama 91, Auburn 82, LSU 79, Mississippi State 77, Texas A&M 74, Arkansas 72, Ole Miss 66.
SEC East: Georgia 81, Florida 76, Tennessee 71, Kentucky 71, Vanderbilt 69, South Carolina 68, Missouri 62.

It gets messy in the middle. South Carolina was recently a 5-point home favorite over Kentucky, meaning they were seen as the superior team at the time. The Gamecocks are plus 9.5 at Texas A&M this week, which is a market snub. We’ll probably need another couple of weeks to really pin the SEC down. 

Big 10 East: Ohio State 89, Penn State 86, Michigan 83, Michigan State 73, Indiana 72, Maryland 61 (with injuries), Rutgers 60.
Big 10 West: Wisconsin 84, Northwestern 72, Iowa 72, Nebraska 70, Minnesota 70, Purdue 69, Illinois 60.

Ohio State doesn’t seem to have been punished much by the loss to Oklahoma, though they haven’t played a threatening opponent since then. Also murky in the low 70’s here in both divisions. Anyone in the 70-73 range can scare a power, or look like dog food in any given week. 

Big 12: Oklahoma 86, Oklahoma State 82, TCU 74, West Virginia 74, Texas 74, Kansas State 74, Texas Tech 70, Iowa State 65, Baylor 60, Kansas 50.

Oklahoma State lost some steam with the home loss to TCU. Going to be interesting to see how all of those 74’s work themselves out in the coming weeks. Oklahoma is capable of stubbing its toe against any of them. The Final Four selection committee wouldn’t mind if one of the Power 5 conferences took itself out of consideration with some surprising league losses. 

ACC Atlantic: Clemson 85, Louisville 79, Florida State 79, NC State 73, Wake Forest 69, Boston College 63, Syracuse 63.
ACC Coastal: Miami 79, Virginia Tech 75, Georgia Tech 72, Duke 70, Pittsburgh 68, North Carolina 66, Virginia 65.

Miami’s been getting market respect through its messy hurricane schedule. Looking forward to seeing how they manage their coming gauntlet. 

Pac 12 North: Washington 85, Stanford 80, Washington State 78, Oregon 77, California 66, Oregon State 60.
Pac 12 South: USC 85, UCLA 75, Utah 74, Colorado 71, Arizona State 68, Arizona 68.

USC has only played to its rating once in four tries, but markets can be stubborn about high profile programs loaded with talent. Washington is in the more dangerous division this season. 

This will start our process. We’ll devote Wednesdays to sharpening these up through the next two months of more relatively contained schedules. 

Some interesting weeknight college games coming up. Thursday in VSiN City we’ll preview Texas/Iowa State on ESPN. Friday, we’ll take a look at that night’s ESPN doubleheader featuring Miami/Duke and USC/Washington State. 

MLB: Only FIVE days left, still several Regular Season Win props in play 
Our last chance to look at these. We’ll transition into playoff coverage next week. The AL Wildcard game is set for Tuesday, with the NL Wildcard game Wednesday. The AL divisional rounds (best of 5) begin Thursday, with the NL beginning Friday. The ALCS and NLCS (best of 7) are scheduled to begin Friday October 13 and Saturday October 14 respectively. The World Series is scheduled to begin on October 24.

A recap of Regular Season Win results through Tuesday night’s action… 

Already Winners (10):
Arizona, Cleveland, Colorado, Houston, LA Dodgers, Milwaukee, Minnesota, NY Yankees, San Diego, Washington.

Still in Play:
Kansas City: 77-80 (77 projected wins, already a push at worst)
Boston: 91-66 (91.5 projected wins, just one more win)
LA Angels: 78-79 (79 projected wins, one to push, two to win)
Miami: 74-83 (76 projected wins, work to do)
St. Louis: 82-75 (84 projected wins, work to do)
Tampa Bay: 76-81 (78.5 projected wins, work to do)
Oakland: 72-85 (74.5 projected wins, work to do)
Atlanta: 71-86 (75 projected wins, must sweep to win)
Cincinnati: 66-91 (70 projected wins, must sweep to win)

Already Losers (11):
Baltimore, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Detroit, NY Mets, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, Texas, Toronto. 

Back Thursday to preview the NFL matchup featuring the Chicago Bears at the Green Bay Packers, along with Texas/Iowa State in college football. 

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