It wasn’t long ago that Chip Kelly was a hot-shot coach winning with a high-octane offense in Philadelphia and Peyton Manning had made Denver’s prolific offense nearly defense proof. Because of new rule changes, it seemed like only offenses could win in the NFL, and if you didn’t have a top-end QB and the receivers to go with him, you might as well tank and stock up on the skill positions in the draft.
Those Philly and Denver teams had a lot of regular season success, but never reached the pinnacle. Two of the last three Super Bowls have been won by dominant defenses (2013-14 Seahawks; 2015-16 Broncos). And now, dominant defensive units are even starting to find their share of regular season success.
There are five unbeaten squads through three weeks (Patriots, Ravens, Broncos, Eagles, and Vikings). What they have in common is the ability to get stops consistently. Each one is among the top quarter of the league in points allowed, with Philly, Minnesota, Baltimore, and New England ranking among the top-five.
For all of the credit being heaped on Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz, Minnesota is number one in the NFL with a +8 turnover margin, and the Eagles are second at +6. The Vikings and Broncos have each scored a pair of defensive touchdowns, too.
But you’re not here to talk straight-up records. You’re here to talk betting. Are these dominant defensive efforts translating into ATS wins?
The five unbeaten teams are 14-0-1 versus the number this year. This tells us two things: first, so long as the signal caller is capable, there is value betting on names that don’t cost juice. In other words, as a bettor, you pay a fine in point spreads for wagering on Andrew Luck (1-2 ATS), Cam Newton (1-2), and Russell Wilson (1-2), but there is no such penalty, and in fact often times extra points, for siding with lesser names like Wentz and Siemian.
Second, the spread is a lot slower to react to defense than it is to offense. Take the Rams, for instance. Their offense is awful (to put it mildly), but the team is 2-1 (SU and ATS) because they get stops. They head into Arizona as eight-point dogs this week, even though the Cards just got pasted by the 0-2 Bills. Vegas and bettors alike are more swayed by Zona’s high-scoring ways from 2015 than they are by the Rams’ often dominant front-seven.
Don’t get me wrong, sportsbooks and the general public won’t take too long to react to the teams that are cashing each week, no matter how they’re doing it. As a bettor, you need to be a step ahead of the game. Which teams are playing better on defense as the year moves along? Which below-the-radar squads have an ability to turn takeaways into points? Those are the squads you should be wagering on.
My advice at the moment: Keep an eye on the Chiefs in the next few weeks. They are just 1-2 against the number, but they lead the league in interceptions. No one pays much heed to QB Alex Smith, yet he’s consistently solid and mistake-free, enabling his defense to win games.
Photo credit: M&R Glasgow (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/].