Betting Lessons from the 2015 NFL Season

With the NFL season getting underway this week, it is time to remind bettors about what happened last year. I’m not talking about the Broncos beating the Panthers in the Super Bowl; I’m talking about the little angles that led to the results for people like us.

Consider the following tidbits and trends when you start your handicapping this season.

 

Games Lost to Injury

The Patriots were the most banged up franchise in the league last year with 245 regular-season games missed due to injury. That fact that New England overcame those bumps to reach the conference title game is remarkable. The next most injured teams, the Giants and Ravens, sputtered to disappointing campaigns. Denver and Carolina were both bottom-six in games lost. Injury luck doesn’t tend to repeat year after year. The law of averages says both healthy and injured teams will regress to the mean. Thanks to the folks at mangameslost.com for their data.

Schedule

This is trite to say, but there are two teams on the field every week, and who you play is as big a factor as your own team. The Panthers went 15-1 but benefitted from the easiest schedule in the NFL. The Jets (9-7) and NFC West-winner Washington (9-7) had the second and third-weakest schedules, respectively. The three teams with the toughest schedules – Chicago, San Francisco, and Detroit – all finished under .500. When assessing a squad, remember to consider who they played to achieve their mark a year ago. On paper, the Bears have an easier schedule this year; the Jets slate toughens considerably. Don’t be surprised if Chicago is underrated against the spread while the Jets are overrated.

Turnovers

We micro analyze so much of football, but one of the biggest plays in the sport, a change of possession, often has a large degree of luck involved. That’s not to say there isn’t skill in intercepting a pass or scooping up a fumble, but where the ball bounces, and whether a tip caroms perfectly is not exactly science. Turnover margins, particularly lopsided ones, are unlikely to repeat themselves. Much like injuries, teams that have huge turnover margins tend to regress to the mean.

The Panthers were +20 last year. Kansas City, second-best in the NFL, was a full six turnovers worse (+14). The Bengals were the only other team in double-digits (+11). On the flip side, the Cowboys were -22 in turnover margin, with Baltimore and Tennessee both -14, and Jacksonville -10. Certain quarterbacks and running backs are more likely to lose the ball, sure, but the outlier figures are likely to come back to the middle in 2016.


Photo credit: Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.

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