I will have a couple of posts this week before the week 1 picks that help preview the 2016 season. For team by team previews they are far better places to get that type of info, basically start from Bill Barnwell and Aaron Schatz and work from their. My focus will be on early season betting, this is the first post with teams to look to bet on early in the season (4-5) weeks, tomorrow I will do one with the top teams to fade.
One thing I want to mention, there is a lot of talk in these posts about luck, for whatever reason I think too many people that cover sports don’t like attributing results to luck or randomness. It’s why we hear so much about things like ‘team chemistry’ and ‘leadership’ used to explain results that don’t make sense statistically.
In terms of football, I believe for the most part, 1) turnovers 2) close game results 3) injuries are all reliant mostly on luck/randomness, and the data shows we see major swings year to year in all three of these, where teams usually regress to the mean.
Now there are certainly cases where some QBs have proven to be better at avoiding Int’s (Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers) or more prone to throwing them and some players may be more injury prone but those cases are the exceptions. So many turnovers are based on luck; fumble recoveries is almost all random, tipped balls, dropped Ints vs a receiver falling and causing an interception totally random.
These posts obviously come with some major caveats; the point of the post isn’t to say these are teams that you should be blindly bet on or against but rather teams I think will be undervalued in the betting market and teams that will be overvalued. Most of this is based on the perceptions I think majority of bettors will have based on last season and the offseason’s of these teams. And things can change quickly, so three weeks in I may have a very different opinion on some of these teams but for now I feel good about these teams below offering value in 2016.
- Dallas Cowboys
Coming into training camp I felt like it was wrong to infer very much from the 2015 numbers on offense for the Cowboys because of the Romo injury in ’15. Tony Romo played only 4 games and the QB play behind him was amongst the worse in the league. Dallas ranked 31st in offensive DVOA, giveaways and passer rating (not the triple crown you want), this after finishing the 2014 season 5th in DVOA and 8th in passer rating with Tony Romo at the helm.
The defense finished in the bottom 3rd again in 2015 season but the big difference between ’14 and ’15 was turnovers. In 2014 Dallas was 5th in takeaways and in 2015 finished dead last with just 11. Generally turnovers regress towards the mean, there may be something to playing a lot more from behind in 2015 but I think it’s fair to expect them to be somewhere in the middle of 2014 and 2015 takeaway totals.
Early Season Betting: Bet On
Even though the roster to start the year is depleted and worse off than last year (Romo Injury, McClain, Gregory and Lawrence suspensions) I do think there will be value in betting the Cowboys early in the year. My big reason to bet to Cowboys early is I think there will be an overreaction to the Romo injury based on last year, where the whole season fell apart. Bettors will look to fade them based on ow ugly 2015 got and oddsmakers will have to offer a little extra to get Dallas money.
While losing Romo for half the season is a huge blow, I do not think the QB play this season will be as bad as last year where Matt Cassel had a QBR of 33.7 and Kellen Moore had one of 19.0. That’s an impossibly low bar to beat and I can’t see Prescott or Sanchez being quite that bad. The Cowboys feel very good about the rookie Prescott and while he is likely to regress once the real season begins the fact that they have had almost all of the preseason to prepare an offense sans Romo is a big advantage over last year. I also think having Sanchez on the roster is quality insurance and I think both guys are improvements over last years crew.
Secondly Dallas was a really unlucky team last year. The biggest swing in luck we can expect is turnovers. The Cowboys finished -22 in turnovers last year which was dead last, that alone moving towards the median should make them much more competitive. Remember in 2014 the Cowboys finished +6 and on defense had 25 takeaways compared to just 11 in 2014. The Cowboys were also unlucky in close games, last year they finished 2-6 in 1 score games, again these things tend to swing back year over year so they should be able to win some more of those.
- Baltimore Ravens
2015 was a disastrous year for the Ravens, they finished with a record of 5-11 and 6-9-1 ATS but I think the record was partly due to bad luck and injuries. Think about this, the Ravens first 9 games were all decided by 1 score (8 points or less) and amazingly they won only 2 of them.
On Offense the Ravens finished 20th in DVOA but of course its important to remember that Joe Flacco was hurt after week 10, Steve Smith was hurt after week 7 and there were a myriad of other injuries. On the plus side Kamar Aiken took a big step up and should be ready to be the number 1 even with Steve Smith back this year.
The defense also finished 20th in DVOA and like the offense they struggled with injuries in key spots. For all the love Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens have got for their drafts, the last couple have been poor and that was shown when their young players could not step in for injured vets and play well.
Early Season Betting: Bet On
This is really an exercise of trying to find gaps in perception of teams based on last season and their offseason and what the actual performance will be to start the year. The Ravens are not a team that wins the offseason and combined with the record last year and the teams at the top of the division (Steelers & Bengals) I do not expect the Ravens to be a public team early.
Last season the Ravens were unlucky in basically every way you can be. They finished tied for 30th in turnover margin at -14, in 2014 they were +2 and we know this usually swings back.
I mentioned a couple of the key injuries above but that was only the tip of the iceberg, the Ravens last year were 30th in Football Outsiders Adjusted Games Lost metric, in 2014 they were 7th healthiest. Again we should expect this to even out and when healthy the Ravens have been very good.
Finally the Ravens played an incredible number of close games, 14 of their 16 games were decided by 1 score and they lost 9 of them. Turnovers and injuries surely contributed to that incredibly poor record but if they end up around .500 in 1 score games as we would expect, I think their ATS record will get a big bump in 2016.
- San Diego Chargers
Like the teams above the Chargers season was a disappointment in 2015 and was largely shaped by injuries and poor record in close games. The Chargers won only 4 games but did have the 15th ranked offense and that is in spite of having the 31st ranked rushing game, as season 1 with Melvin Gordon was a huge failure. Gordon averaged 3.5 yards per att on the season and Danny Woodhead his backup was at 3.4 which was what the team averaged on the season finishing dead last, the league average was 4.1Y/A. The absolute lack of running game only highlights how good Phillip Rivers was last year, the Chargers had the 8th best passing offense by DVOA despite losing their #1 WR Keenan Allen the final 6 games.
The defense was bad all year, finishing 28th overall, 21st vs the pass and 28th vs the run, injuries were certainly a part of it but so was just a lack of playmakers on defense.
Early Season Betting: Bet On
The Chargers come in to the season as the least talked about AFC West team, The Broncos won the Super Bowl, the Raiders are everyone’s sexy pick as AFC sleeper team along with the Jags and the Chiefs are popular picks as AFC West champs after winning 11 games last year. Which is one of the reasons I think we will find value early this year betting on the Chargers.
Lets begin with the fact that San Diego was the team with the largest Pythagorean Win Differential from 2015 at 1.9 meaning based on their point differential from last year the Chargers should have had 6 (5.9) wins not 4.
The Chargers finished 27th in adjusted games lost, they were 31st in 2014 so is there a reason they have been one of the most injured teams in the league or have they just been really unlucky 2 years in a row? I think its more likely to be the latter and we should see a healthier team this year.
Like the teams above the Chargers also had a terrible record in close games, going 3 -9 in the 12 games decided by one score, if the Chargers can go .500 in close games they will have a chance to compete for the division
I expect the Chargers offense to be very good and for there to be improvement in their run game. Melvin Gordon was awful last year but he was hurt by the fact that three starting lineman (Fluker, Franklin and Dunlap missed a combined 20 games. Having a healthier line and an experienced OC like Ken Wisenhunt added to the staff should help the run offense get on track.
The defense will likely remain the a bottom 3rd defense but even a jump of 5 or 6 places with better health and addition of a playmaker like Joey Bosa could have significant impact on their win loss record.
Detroit’s season was really a tale of two seasons. The Lions started the season 1-7 and then finished the year after their bye 6-2, a key change that seemed to propel the Lions back into winning form was the firing of OC Joe Lombardi and replacing him with the all-time great coach name, Jim Bob Cooter. The Lions also made changes to the O-Line coaches. The biggest beneficiary of the change at OC was Mathew Stafford, through the first 7 weeks Stafford was averaging 5.8 yards per pass att (30th) and had a passer rating of 73.5 which was dead last in the NFL. The Lions offensive DVOA was at -14.8 which ranked 28th. Stafford finished the year with a passer rating of 93.5 and had 20 TDs to just 2 Int’s in his last 9 weeks.
Much of the offseason perception is built around losing Calvin Johnson and while that is a huge loss, the Lions added quality professional receivers Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin to join Golden Tate and form a very respectable group. The O-Line is young and could take a step forward but we will have to wait and see.
Defensively the Lions were the 16th best unit and while it was not as dramatic as he offense, the defense too was much better in the 2nd half of the season. Some of that may have had to do with adjusting to life without Ndomukong Suh and the fact that his replacement Ngatta was also hurt to start the year.
Injuries were definitely a part of the struggles as the Lions defense was 30th in Adjusted Games Lost, with better luck in that department and increased depth we should see an improved unit. If the Lions stay healthy and get a few more takeaways from the 18 they got last year this could easily be a defense inside the top 12
In the end betting on the Lions depends on how much you believe the offensive efficiency of the 2nd half of 2015 carries over, while its not fair to expect Stafford to play at the level he did the final 9 weeks, I do believe this is an offense better suited to his skills and the Lions will offer value early in 2016
Well one of these teams is different than all the rest in this post, unlike the others we are probably not going to see the Seahawks as underdogs in many games and I would expect the majority of the bets to be on Seattle but even with all that I still think they may be undervalued.
I have Seattle as the best team in the league, they are currently tied with the Steelers and Patriots as Superbowl favorites at 8-1. Seattle last year finished with a 10-6 record but their Pythagorean wins was at 11.7 making them the 3rd ‘unluckiest team’ record wise last year behind the Chargers (see above) and the Titans.
I know everyone knows that Seattle is a good team I’m just not sure most bettors know quite how good and we may get some value early on because of it. The 10-6 record last year(8-7-1 ATS), the bad playoff loss to Carolina, the buzz around the Packers and Cardinals, the retirement of Marshawn Lynch and injury to Thomas Rawls all kind of kept their buzz down this off season, they are not the sexy team anymore.
On the negative side, the questions about the offensive line are real, starting 5 players all in 5 different positions from last year is not ideal and PFF ranks Seattle’s line 32nd. I just don’t think the line will be as bad as last year and in the 2nd half of the season they were able to work around the line by moving to a more quick attack passing game. Other than that this team has everything you could want in an elite team and I think at least early oddsmakers will not be pushing lines up quite to the level they should be and we can get some value.
Tomorrow- Teams to bet against early in the year