Could this year’s Patriots be a smarter NFL bet than the 16-0 2007 team?

Although Tom Brady might not be ready to talk about it, with the New England Patriots halfway to their second perfect season in the past decade, many have already begun to compare this year’s team to the 2007 Patriots. With various types of comparisons out there, I decided to take a look at how they compare from a betting stand point.

To begin with, through their first eight games the 2007 Patriots were 8-0 against the spread, while this year’s team is 5-2 ATS, with one push. In the second half of the season, however, the 2007 squad went 2-6 against the spread, presumably as bettors kept on betting on them to win, driving up the line.

For example, in their final eight games, the Patriots were on average 16.25-point favorites, favored by under 10 points only once. If the lines on the Pats’ games keep on drifting further and further in their direction, you may want to bet against them. As I pointed out earlier, betting against Belichick generally isn’t a good idea, but if the rest of the betting public keeps on picking them to win by larger and larger amounts, that may be the play.

The 2007 team was also insanely favored in games in the first half of the season, by about 10.5 points on average. This year’s team has only been predicted to win by a little over six points a game, and were actually underdogs in one game (away at Buffalo). However, the Patriots are one of three undefeated teams and have largely surpassed all expectations.

Despite their dominance in games though, they still aren’t close to matching the dominance of the 2007 squad. Not only did the 2007 team beat opponents by more (25.5 margin of victory, compared to 16.5 for 2015 team), but they closed out games quicker as well. In 2007, after eight games the Patriots had a win expectancy of, on average, on 93.8 percent. That’s an absolutely ridiculous number. By comparison, this year’s Patriots have had “only” an 89.5 percent going into the forth. That’s still incredibly high and the next highest win percentage going into the forth is 79.1 percent, from Carolina.

Below, I have plotted the win expectancy of every team over every second of every game so far this year, highlighting the paths of the Patriots, Carolina and Cincinnati – the final three undefeated teams. Note that Carolina and Cincinnati’s curves don’t end at 100 percent because they have gone into overtime for some wins, which I treat as a tie (finish at 50 percent for that game). Also notice high above every other curve the Patriots’ curve is.

One big difference in how the 2015 Patriots are beating expectations compared to how the 2007 team did is that this year’s version is more reliant on their defense. The 2015 team has actually been projected to be in higher games, with their average total line being set at 49.8, compared to 47.3 in 2007.

It’s unclear what this says about the two teams. This could either mean bettors think the 2007 defense was better, the 2015 offense is better, or it may just be due to a general increase in scoring (23.5 per team per game so far this season, up from 21.7 in 2007). Whatever the cause, the Patriots have actually gone Under the total half of the time this season (4-4) while the 2007 version went Over seven of the first eight times. However, just like their Over/Under record, in the second half of the 2007 season it evened out and they went 4-4 against the spread.

Using the pointspread and total, we can extrapolate how many points Las Vegas was betting on the Patriots to score and how many they thought their opponents would score. For the first eight games of 2007, the Patriots were projected to score 28.9 points per game. They smashed these expectations, averaging over 41 points per game during that time period. Meanwhile, their opponents were projected to score 18.375 and scored 15.875.

The 2007 Patriots still outperformed on defense, but just not by as much as they did on offense. Meanwhile, this season the Patriots have been projected to score 28.9 points and give up 20.875. Compare these numbers to the 2007 squad, and you can see that Vegas thought their offenses were similarly capable of scoring points, while they regarded the 2007 as less likely to give up points.

As mentioned before, however, this may just be due to the fact that offenses are scoring more. Personally, I wouldn’t think that this year’s Patriots, as good on offense as they are, are as good as the record setting 2007 unit. Compare these numbers to how they’ve actually done, and we can see that Patriots have outperformed on offense (scoring 34.5 a game) and on defense (giving up 17.9). The table below compares to how these two teams outperformed expectations through the first eight games.




 

2007 Patriots

2015 Patriots

Actual PPG – Projected PPG (Positive is
good)

12.4375

5.5625

Actual OPPG – Projected OPPG (Negative is
good)

-2.5

-2.975

From this table, we can see that although both teams outperformed expectations on both sides of the ball, they primarily did so on offense. Furthermore, despite how the good the Patriots have been so far this season, the 2007 team outperformed expectations by even more.

Considering that expectations for the 2007 squad were probably higher, it seems clear that as good as this year’s team is, it doesn’t quite approach the legends of 2007.



Harrison Chase is the Co-President of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, a student-run organization at Harvard College dedicated to the quantitative analysis of sports strategy and management.

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