When people are handicapping NFL football games – something millions of people will be doing every week for the next several months – there are some factors that they generally pay too much attention to, and others that don’t get enough attention. In a lot of cases people aren’t getting the type of information that they think they are getting – or they could be getting it more effectively in another way. The media doesn’t help casual sports bettors look in the right direction, either, because they tend to fixate on certain stats and types of performances. Here’s a look at four factors that get too much credit in the NFL handicapping of many casual bettors, and four related factors that don’t get enough credit.
Overrated – A football team’s record. People get fixated on the number of wins and losses a team has, and automatically think that a team that has six wins in eight games is dramatically better than one that only has three or four. If only it were that easy.
Underrated – The schedule. Instead of dwelling on the record, football bettors should really pay attention to who they have beaten, who they have lost to, and how they have won or lost. Are you more impressed by a team that has beaten the Bills and Bucs in consecutive weeks, or one that has lost by a field goal to the Colts and Saints. The former team has the better record, but the latter has shown that they are playing pretty good football even if they aren’t getting the wins to show for it.
Overrated – Passing yards. People love watching teams throw the football- the more, the merrier. As a result, people go crazy over a NFL quarterback that has piled up the yards. When a flashy, high octane passing quarterback goes against one with modest stats the public will almost always favor the better passer. On its own, though, passing yards don’t mean a lot. It’s easier to pile up the yards if your team doesn’t do anything other than pass. A QB can have big passing numbers because he doesn’t have a running back to share the load. Or he could have big passing numbers, but he could throw a lot of interceptions as a result of passing so much. Or he could struggle in the red zone. Always remember before making your NFL sports picks that without context passing yards are close to meaningless.
Underrated – Yards per attempt. In football, YPA is a much better way than passing yards to determine how well a QB is passing. You calculate it by dividing the number of passing yards by the total passing attempts. A YPA over 7 in the NFL is a sign of a solid QB. YPA tells us so much more than passing yards. In order to have a good YPA a QB needs to be accurate, he needs to be able to find open receivers to get solid gains, and he needs to have a solid offensive line and running game to keep the pressure off of him. YPA quickly tells us how effectively an offense is operating, while passing yards by itself doesn’t tell us much.
Overrated – Individual rushing yards. With the NFL, the public loves to hear about big rushing performances. A 100 yard rushing performance makes news, and a guy who rush for quadruple digit totals on the season are worshipped. The problem, though, is that having one big runner doesn’t necessarily mean a team will win, or even that they have a good running game. It could be that a guy has big running stats because he’s the only real running option for a team. Or maybe he’s averaging 100 yards a game but running it 35 times a game – not for a very good average. Rushing yards can also be skewed by one abnormally strong performance – especially early in the season. Like passing yards, rushing yards don’t mean much by themselves.
Underrated – Team yards per carry. This is a much more effective way to get a sense of how well a football team runs the ball. The better a team averages, the more effective their offensive line is, and the more difficult they are to defend against. The higher their average, the more likely they are to rely on their run to provide offense, and the more the opposing defense will have to prepare to deal with that. YPC can tell you how a game might play out.
Overrated – Individual sacks. Sacks are one of the glory stats, and people love hearing about them. The problem, though, is that guys who pile up stacks aren’t necessarily as valuable as people think they are. Sometimes guys who get sacks are all-round defensive machines, but sometimes they focus on getting sacks and aren’t nearly as effective when they don’t get to the quarterback. What you really want to know about NFL defensive studs is not really how many sacks they have, but what impact they have when they aren’t able to get a shot at the QB.
Underrated – Negative passing plays. In the NFL, NPP% is a much better way than sack totals of getting a quick sense of how good a defensive line is. This is a measure of the percentage of plays that a defense plays that end up as a sack or an interception. The idea is that either of those outcomes are far more likely to happen with frequency if the defensive line is able to apply consistent pressure on the quarterback. If the QB is constantly under attack he’s more likely to make passing mistakes, and he’ll obviously get sacked more. A team with a consistently high NPP% is a team that is going to make their opposing QB uncomfortable – regardless of whether any individual player adds to their sack total. You can readily use this when making your NFL picks.