Monday, October 22 at 11:45 PM ET
For the weekly football review blog throughout the season, I am stealing a page from our weekly football podcasts (while also preparing for said podcasts) and will identify three things that stood out to me in college football and the NFL from the weekend as well as a play or two from the Live ScoreCaster in game projected results that had the most notable bearing on a pivotal game.
NFL Week 7 Thoughts:
Do running backs matter?... They certainly matter in fantasy football, but the evolution in rules and play-calling has almost entirely devalued the running back position.
Chad Millman of ESPN.com has a weekly update regarding individual player values as they relate to the spread (as polled from others who do something similar to what we do). While simulation is the best way to evaluate any player’s impact on a specific game – due to the interactions between that player and the others in the game – I would agree with the general structure of the list. Quarterbacks make up the first 18 spots, with Aaron Rodgers leading the way. The gap between Rodgers and Graham Harrell against a neutral team is more than a touchdown. (Another way in which we very much agree is with Haloti Ngata as a top 25 player in the league with respect to value. I mentioned this quite a bit last week when I was asked about Ray Lewis. Ngata means more – and he is not near 100% right now… Also, after San Diego won over Oakland on the opening Monday of the season, I mentioned that, during the game, the most valuable players in the league may be long snappers because the gap between a long snapper and his active back-up is great.)
I check in to see the list weekly, though, to see where we disagree as that may give insight into where future value may occur. There are five running backs in the top 55 (meaning a value of two or more points). That is too many. Because they carry the ball and because they dominate fantasy drafts, running backs are overvalued. The only players in the league at the position that have significant worth are high-efficiency, high-usage, low-fumble, consistent play-making home run threats who do not have similar players behind them on the depth. In the NFL right now, going into the season, that list only included LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles (and even he has had issues with fumbles and consistency this season). Jamaal Charles is close, but his value is limited by a team that is not going to be good either way. And, I think Trent Richardson and Darren McFadden can get to that level if/when they can play healthy.
Just this week, we saw Pittsburgh win without Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman. Jacksonville lost Maurice Jones-Drew early and looked essentially the same with Rashad Jennings in a close loss at Oakland. Donald Brown missed time for Indianapolis. The Colts were fine against Cleveland. Andre Brown starred in a Giants’ victory after Ahmad Bradshaw was lost to injury. The Green Bay Packers have played, by far, their best two offensive games without Cedric Benson in the lineup. Those are just very recent examples.
I was going to write about this either way today, but the timing is complimented by the fact that Marty Hurney, who, in the last two years as a General Manager for the Carolina Panthers, handed out $90.8 million in contracts to DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, was fired today.
Bye Weeks… Teams coming off of bye weeks are 7-2 against-the-spread this season (Chicago is still playing as I write this). Atlanta and Philadelphia (the Eagles are 13-0 straight-up after a bye week under Andy Reid) are coming off of a bye week and facing each other this week (Philadelphia is a 2.5 point home favorite at this moment). Denver (hosting New Orleans as a six point favorite right now), Kansas City (hosting Oakland as a 1.5 point favorite), Miami (at the New York Jets as 2.5 point underdogs) and San Diego (at Cleveland as three point favorites) are the other teams coming off of a bye.
While the “trend” is worth noting, it is also worth noting that teams coming off of a bye week have covered 54% of the time in the last ten years. That’s profitable, but not close to the 78% we have seen in this year’s limited sample. We are not the only ones paying attention either. In all four games featuring one bye week team, the early line movement has moved in the direction of the team coming off the bye. We’ll continue to approach the bye as we have historically. An overreaction that creates an exploitable market is probably more likely than the trend is to continue at that rate.
ATS Stats… Here are some fun quick hitters from our new NFL ATS Team Stats pages:
No team is better than 5-2 against-the-spread. Simple randomness suggests that, if covering is essentially assumed to be a 50/50 proposition by team, among 32 teams, all playing six or seven games, at least one team should have at least six against-the-spread wins.
St. Louis and Houston are each 5-2 ATS.
Baltimore is 2-5 ATS, while the Eagles actually have a worse win percentage at 1-4 ATS. Those teams are 8-5 straight-up.
The Over has covered in five of six games each involving the Saints, Patriots and Titans. The average total has been 51.9 points in games involving New Orleans.
The Under has covered in six of seven games each involving the Seahawks and Cardinals. Miami Dolphins’ games have had the lowest average totals at 40.4 points.
Seattle is 4-0-1 ATS as an underdog.
The Houston Texans are the only team to be favored in every game. The Texans have averaged being a league-high 7.1 point favorite.
The Rams, Jaguars, Browns and Titans have not yet been favored in a game. Cleveland Browns games have averaged being a league-high 6.3 point underdog.
The Over has covered in all three Buffalo Bills home games.
College Football Week 6 Thoughts (very quick thoughts as running low on time):
Ok, maybe Oregon is #2… We have our most definitive “#2” of the season. BCS computers cannot give Oregon the credit it deserves because they are only allowed to look at wins and losses and must ignore margin of victory. The Predictalator is the opposite. We don’t care about actual wins and losses when trying to determine which are the best teams. Oregon has taken its foot of the gas in every game after halftime. The Ducks have won the first half 234-36 on the season (against the 57th ranked schedule thus far in 2012 – that’s tougher than the schedules to-date of Georgia, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisville, Mississippi State and 63 other FBS teams). While they have their starters in the game, the Oregon Ducks have the second best team in the country (with a top 25 offense and defense).
However, on a neutral field, against Alabama, Oregon would be an 8.5 point underdog (34-26 average score) and have less than a 40% chance to win over the Crimson Tide.
You win Bill Snyder. You win… Going into the season, Kansas State was a team with a consensus line of seven wins (we had the OVER!) in sportsbooks offering season over/under win totals. The Wildcats were coming off of a ten win season and returned their starting quarterback among 14 total returning starters. However, Kansas State ranked 101st in yards-per-game and 106th in yards-per-play in 2011, were out-gained (by 40 yards a game) and out-scored (by four points-per-game). Especially against a schedule that featured an improved Big 12 conference and with a roster that looked like it only had one true NFL prospect (LB Arthur Brown), regression was expected.
This is not that team. The 2012 Kansas State Wildcats beat up Oklahoma and blew out West Virginia (in those two games, they covered the spread by a combined 66 points) en route to an amazing 7-0 record against the 45th ranked strength of schedule thus far. Bill Snyder, a 73 year old head coach with a 166-83-1 record in 250 games at Kansas State, has built his program around not making mistakes, running a unique “knuckleball” (I’ve coined this term since it is so different to play against KSU than almost any other team) offense, giving talented players second chances and strong special teams play. These Wildcats epitomize that style – an approach that has built a quality program from something very close to scratch since 1989.
As it stands, Kansas State looks like the third best team in the country right now. The Wildcats would actually be favored by two points (37-35) in a head-to-head projection against Oregon, yet would be a 9.5 point (33-24 average score) against Alabama.
Dri Archer... As much respect as I have for Collin Klein (KSU), De’Anthony Thomas (Oregon) and Kenjon Barner (Oregon) from the teams I just referenced, Dri Archer is the college football player most deserving of more Heisman buzz. If you have not been reading my weekly picks synopses, you may not even know who Archer is. The 5’8”, 164 lbs junior from Kent State has been the key element to the Golden Flashes’ 6-1 start to the season out of the MAC. Archer leads the nation with 10.1 yards-per-rush. But he is more than an electric running back. Archer has 68 carries for 687 yards and eight touchdowns, 20 receptions for 278 yards and three touchdowns, 11 kickoff returns for 525 yards (47.7 yards-per-return) and three touchdowns and one pass attempt for 24 yards and a TD (his college QB rating is 631.6). That’s exactly 100 touches on the season for a combined 1,514 yards and 15 TDs. He is doing this for a team that was selected to finish seventh in the conference as he (as well as defensive standout Roosevelt Nix) wills Kent State to impressive wins.
Live ScoreCaster Play of the Week:
The Live ScoreCaster App has several notifications that can be turned on for games that will keep users up-to-date on things like quarterly scores and projections, games ending, projected lead changes and major swing plays. I love utilizing all of these, especially the latter two as it’s interesting to see which plays lead to teams being favored and ultimately winning the game (as it happens).
For the Major Swing notification, when the projected winning percentage in a game shifts by 35% or more over the course of up to two plays, the notification is activated and the user learns the play, the current score and the new projection. Most games don’t actually have these kinds of plays. And those that do often come in the form of late, game-winning field goals that are less than 65% likely to convert. But there will still be a few other plays each week that stand out for playing pivotal roles in big games.
We have added a publicly viewable page that will show the charts from all Live ScoreCaster games for a week after each game. These are available for free to everyone. In other words, you should check out the win probability charts from Washington @ New York, Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati, Arizona @ Minnesota, Dallas @ Carolina, Tennessee @ Buffalo and New York @ New England on our Live History page.
For this week’s highlighted play, I want to draw attention to a project we are now doing built around Live ScoreCaster™. John Ewing, our Manager, Research and Analytics, will be putting together a weekly summary of three game-changing plays – one critical decision, one play that decided the cover and one play that kept an upset from happening. The NFL GAMECHANGERS recap currently appears weekly on Monday mornings on our About Live page. If you are ever interested in the impact of a specific play from a Thursday or Sunday, Contact Us and we will try to include the play in the article.
Here is John’s recap from this week:
NFL WEEK 7 GAMECHANGERS
The Decision: 49ers vs. Seahawks
Jim Harbaugh declined a safety and decided to take over on downs with 43 seconds remaining because he did not want to give the Seahawks a chance to get the ball back. When San Francisco took over on downs the 49ers were a 99.9% favorite to win the game. Was Harbaugh right to decline the points and take the ball, did it change the win percentage?
If the 49ers take the safety, the score is 15-6, even given the possibility of the Seahawks recovering a free kick; the 49ers were still a 99.9% favorite to win. All the decision did was hurt everyone betting on the 49ers to cover a 7 to 8.5 point spread.
The Upset: Saints vs. Buccaneers
With 0:05 left in the 4th, the Buccaneers are trailing the Saints 35-28, and have the ball 4th and goal from the New Orleans eight yard-line. Josh Freeman throws a touchdown pass to Mike Williams to tie the game but the touchdown is waived off because the receiver went out of bounds before catching the ball. What would have happened if the touchdown counted?
Assuming the Bucs convert the extra point and the game goes to overtime, Tampa Bay becomes a 58.3% favorite to win the game and upset the Saints.
The Cover: Bills -3.5 vs. Titans
With 2:26 left in the 4th, the Bills are covering against the Titans 34-28. The Titans have the ball 2nd and 18 at the Tennessee 40. Matt Hasselbeck completes a 19-yard pass to Nate Washington who fumbles the ball in Bills territory. Fumble recovery is a completely random event in the NFL and in this instance the ball goes out of bounds, Titans retain possession and eventually go on to to score the game winning touchdown.
Had the Bills recovered the fumble they become a 95.4% favorite to win the game 37-28 and as a result cover the 3.5 spread.
New Football Content:
Just a reminder about our new content for this season. In addition to the weekly 3 Up 3 Down College Football (John Ewing), Tuley’s Vegas Beat (Dave Tuley) and NFL Draft Prospect Watch (Matt Richner) columns and the normal weekly Power Rankings, Playoff Probabilities and Fantasy Projections (including value projections for daily salary cap fantasy sites like DraftDay.com), we have added the following resources and articles:
Injuries – Thorough Listing of All Players Removed from College Football and NFL Simulations
Team Stats – In-Depth NFL and College Football Team Statistics
Player Stats - In-Depth NFL Player Statistics
ATS Stats – Comprehensive Against-the-Spread and Over/Under Records for NFL and College Football Teams
Rest of Season Fantasy – Fantasy Football Projections for Every Future NFL Week