Luck

Early Season Betting: 3 Teams to Sell

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For part 2 of our early season betting preview I look at teams that I think we will get value betting against, teams where I believe the perception of how good they are is greater than what I expect from them this year.

Again like in part 1, the point is not that we bet against these teams blindly but these are teams that I think will underperform their expectations and therefore offer more value in betting against them than on them.

Also like the previous post there will be a lot of discussion of luck or randomness, the fact that a team had good luck doesn’t mean they weren’t also a very good team it just means the added benefit of luck overstates their quality.

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  1. Carolina Panthers

panthers

Its hard to have a better season than the Panthers had last year. Obviously losing in the Superbowl takes some of the shine off the season but really it shouldn’t, the Panthers had a remarkable season on both sides of the ball.

In what was a breakout year for both Cam Newton and the Panthers defense led by Luke Kuechly and Josh Norman, the Panthers mauled teams with a league high 32.88 rush atts per game and had the #1 scoring offense.

What was interesting about the Panthers last year is through the first 6 weeks, even though they were undefeated a lot of the key analytics didn’t reflect it, they were outside of the top 10 in DVOA through week 6 and outside of the top 10 in most passing stats.

The one place they were in 1st start to finish besides the standings is in toxic differential. Toxic differential is basically your turnover differential plus your explosive play (pass plays of 25 yards+, rushing plays of 10+ yards) differential. The Panthers finished with the best turnover margin and the 2nd best big play differential.

Early Season Betting: Bet Against

There is no question the Panthers are an elite team and I still expect them to win the NFC South this year but it is basically impossible for them to perform at the level they did last year because last year everything went right for them.

We start with the fact that their record last year outperformed their score differential more than any other team in the league as their Pythagorean Wins came in at 12.1. Essentially this means they outperformed their expected results by 2.9 wins. Only 1 other team in the league had a difference of more than 2 and that was the Broncos.

We discussed the Toxic ratio and while the big play differential maybe repeatable, it is absolutely unlikely that the Panthers enjoy the type of turnover differential in 2016 that they did in 2015. Carolina was +20 in turnovers, KC was next best at +14 which is just insane, think about the fact that Carolina was at +6 better than 2nd place team and exactly half of the league finished between +5 and -5. In 2014 the Panthers were +3 in turnovers and I think it is very reasonable to think they will swing back to a similar number which alone means their results will regress.

The Panthers also enjoyed some of the best luck in terms of injuries in 2015, in Football Outsiders Adjusted Games Lost metric the Panthers were the 4th healthiest team in 2015 and the 6th healthiest in 2014. Maybe they have great doctors and trainers but I would be surprised to see that trend continue in ’16.

Finally, the Panthers were great in close games which I guess is no surprise when you finish 15-1, Carolina was 7-1 in one score games.

Finally there will be major impact early from the fact that Carolina is expected to start rookie corners James Bradberry and Daryl Worley in place of Josh Norman who was rated as the top cornerback in the league by PFF. Sometimes we can as fans overrate player departures but the gap here seems to be enormous and even if they become quality NFL starters it probably will take most of the season to get there. (more…)

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Early Season Betting: Teams to Buy

buy-simpsons

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.

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  1. Dallas Cowboys 

2015 Review

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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.

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