Power gets pulled on points in the second half of the NFL season

 

Winter is coming.

That means one thing to Game of Thrones diehards and another to football bettors. It also means I have to drop a dime on new snow tires. Ugh.

For those wagering on professional pigskin, winter means the playoff picture is coming into focus and games hold more weight with every week that goes by. It also means you should be leaning toward the Under in the final nine weeks of the schedule.

There has been a decisive edge for the Under from Week 9 to 17 over the past two NFL season, with those games finishing a combined 116-152-4 Over/Under – staying below the number 58 percent of the time. And, going back to 2011, the Under is a collective 417-318-11 (57 percent) in the final nine weeks of regular season action.

This trend is in part to teams getting more film on opponents, in order to construct a more effective game plan, as well as injuries taking their toll on the quality of football as the schedule trudges on. But perhaps a more accurate statement is that this trend toward the Under is a correction to the mean after Weeks 1 through 8 played to the Over.

From 2011 to 2015, the first eight weeks of NFL football have produced a total Over/Under record of 310-280-4 – topping the totals 52.5 percent of the time. That first-half lean to the Over is even more prominent this season, when teams boasted a 66-53-1 O/U count from Weeks 1 to 8, paying out to the Over more than 55 percent of the time.

Focusing on the past two seasons, average final scoring has seen a major drop off once the schedule hits Week 9.

In 2015, NFL games averaged a final score of 46.58 points versus an average closing total of 45.21 from Weeks 1 to 8. In Weeks 9 to 17, those numbers were cut to 44.78 points per game versus an average closing total of 45.01. That a difference of -1.8 points per game while the books trimmed totals by just -0.2 points.

In 2014, the first eight weeks of football produced an average final score of 46.64 against an average closing total of 45.99. From Week 9 on, the average scoring per game dwindled to 43.84 – a difference of -2.8 points – but the average closing total actually went up a tick to 46 points.

Heading into Week 9, NFL games are putting an average of 46 points on the scoreboard – making 2016 the fourth highest-scoring season in NFL history, going back to 1922. Oddsmakers and sportsbooks are combating all those points with an average closing total of 45.6 points.

The Week 9 slate currently features eight games with an Over/Under below the season average, including a 41-point total between the Lions and Vikings. So far this year, totals closing below that season average are 33-27-1 Over/Under (55 percent Over).

Now for something completely confusing

Above, we talk about a long-term trend toward the Under in the final nine weeks of football – a lesson you can take with you the rest of the way. But while I was digging through this data I discovered a specific Week 9 totals trend that kind of puts my foot in my mouth – which I’ve been known to do from time to time.

Going back to 2010, games played in Week 9 of the NFL season have produced a 44-28-2 Over/Under record, playing above the number 61 percent of the time.

So, there’s that…

MVP stands for “Most Valuable Prop”

The race for MVP is always an interesting prop market and one that has paid out fairly heavily, if and when you got the right player at the right time.

Last year in this column, we constantly tracked Cam Newton’s odds to win MVP, watching Carolina’s Superman open at +1,500 and slim that price with every “Dab”. And the year before, 2014 MVP Aaron Rodgers could be had as big as +800 before the season kicked off. Viking running back Adrian Peterson made MVP bettors very happy by cashing in at +2,500 pay check in 2012, becoming the only RB to win the honor in the last nine seasons.

The 2016 MVP prop market is ripe with value yet again, and sportsbooks are none too happy.

“We’re exposed on everyone,” laughs Peter Childs, supervisor of risk management for Sportsbook.ag.

There’s massive liability on Tom Brady, who opened +600 and went as high as +2,000 following his suspension, as well as Matt Ryan, who was as big as +10,000 after losing in Week 1 before making it rain in the following seven weeks. Throw young guns like Derek Carr and Ezekiel Elliott into the mix, and the MVP market is about as volatile as a Red Bull sponsored Trump rally without any AC.

Here are the pros and cons for betting these four MVP candidates:

Tom Brady (Opened 6/1, Moved 20/1, Now 6/5)

Pro: Brady’s pissed and is bringing the Patriots along for the ride. The worst thing the NFL could do to the rest of the league was give New England an excuse to be better.

Con: It’s tough to see a prideful son of a bitch like Roger Goodell handing over the MVP to Brady after the whole Deflategate scandal. If he won’t cave on concussions, he’s sure as hell not caving on Brady for MVP.

Matt Ryan (Opened: 90/1, Moved 100/1, Now 3/1)

Pro: “Matty Ice” has “Hot-lanta” among the top teams in the NFC, passing for almost 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns so far. Still can’t believe I picked him up off waivers in fantasy in Week 2. Crazy.

Con: The Falcons have a bad reputation of shitting the bed and then some in the second half of the season. Atlanta is a face-palming 8-17 SU from Week 9 to 17 over the last three seasons.

Derek Carr (Opened 75/1, Now 15/1)

Pro: The Raiders are rolling and it’s all because of Carr. The second-year passer out of Fresno State looked like a seasoned vet in the fourth quarter of last week’s win at Tampa Bay. He was actually down as low as 12/1 before Ryan went off on Thursday Night Football.

Con: Oakland just sucks as at home. The Raiders have made a name for themselves on the road this year but play the next four in the Bay Area, and five of their final eight. A move to Las Vegas can’t come soon enough for a team that is always 3-5 SU as hosts.

Ezekiel Elliott (Opened 125/1, Now 15/1)

Pro: “Zeke the Freak” was as low as 10/1 on the MVP board, rushing for 799 yards and five scores heading into what should be more easy sledding against the Browns’ 31st ranked run defense. At this rate, he could easily eclipse 2,000 yards for the season.

Con: He’s a rookie, for one. Second, he’s a running back. Third, he could get tired, not being used to the NFL workload. And fourth, he’s sharing the spotlight in Dallas with fellow first-year phenom Dak Prescott (who opened 150/1 to win MVP and is now down to 40/1).

Ohhhhh, WHAT A RUSH!

Last week we looked at a crazy trend involving teams that surpass the season average for rushing yards in a game and their success against the spread in those contests.

Heading into Week 8, those qualified teams boasted a 772-425-37 ATS mark since 2011 (64.5 percent winners), including a 47-29-3 ATS count this season, covering the spread at a 62 percent clip.

That rushing trend continued to pay off big time last week, with teams rushing for 108 yards or more finishing Week 8 with a 7-2 ATS record (78%). And it wasn’t just teams running out the clock in blowouts either, as one insightful Twitter follower asked. The Packers, Saints, Jets, Raiders and Cowboys all qualified for this trend in close, hard-fought games last Sunday.

I put this to the test and handicapped strictly based on the rushing matchups for my weekly pick’em pool, and finished 8-5 ATS for the entire Week 8 slate. Not too shabby.

Biggest move…

Pittsburgh at Baltimore. “The biggest move, oh that’s got to be the ‘Roethlisberger game’,” says Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology, not even mentioning the teams involved.

The reason for that being that Big Ben has been rumored ready to go against his AFC North rivals, and that buzz bumped Pittsburgh over the fence, moving from +2.5 to a 1-point favorite visiting the Ravens. Roethlisberger is officially listed as questionable.

“We’re getting pretty good two-way action at this number now,” Simbal says of the move to Steelers -1. “We’ll need the Ravens to win by three or more to win all the money, even though this spread will likely go up to Pittsburgh -2.”

Sharps like…

Jacksonville. The Jaguars are a hot mess, all but quitting in last Thursday’s loss to Tennessee. But that hasn’t scared off the smart money, which grabbed Jacksonville +8 at Kansas City, trimming that spread to +7.5 (-120). The Chiefs are missing their two most important offensive pieces, in QB Alex Smith and RB Spencer Ware.

“We’re moving the juice around because we really want to stay off of seven,” says Simbal. “We also took some big Jaguars moneyline bets at +280.”

Biggest sweat…

New Orleans at San Francisco. “Without the Patriots playing, I have a different answer for this than the last few weeks,” laughs Simbal.

Both sharp and public money has poured in on the Saints, moving New Orleans from -3 to -4 at San Francisco. With this game being played at the 4:05 p.m. ET time slot, there will be plenty of early games tied to it through parlays and teasers.

“We are definitely rooting for the 49ers,” says Simbal.

Banker game…

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders. On top of all the surviving Sunday parlays connected to the Sunday nighter, there has been one-sided money on the Silver and Black. According to Simbal, this AFC West battle opened pick’em and jumped to Oakland -1.5.

“This is by far out biggest liability of the day,” he says. “We need the Broncos bad with about 10 times more money bet on the Raiders than the Broncos, but the ticket count is about even. A lot of this liability is because of one big bet we took on the Raiders. I thought the public would be betting the Broncos, so we’ll see what happens when the tourist come in.”

Injury to watch

Darius Slay CB Detroit Lions

Slay missed last week with a hamstring injury suffered against Washington two weeks ago and is a question mark for this week’s divisional tilt with Minnesota. Slay is Detroit’s most active corner, with one interception, a forced fumble, eight passes defended, and 22 tackles.

Detroit doesn’t have much height in the secondary and Slay at 6-feet tall is vital to turning away taller receivers. The Vikings passing game isn’t exactly striking fear in the hearts of defenders, but Minnesota runs big and physical at receiver with the likes of Adam Thielen (6-foot-2), Kyle Rudolph (6-foot-6), Charles Johnson (6-foot-2), and Cordarrelle Patterson (6-foot-2) lining up. Stefon Diggs, the team’s top WR, is the runt of the litter at 6-foot even.

We know how to pick’em

Depending on where you bet, the Broncos-Raiders game is as slim as pick’em. Oakland is back home after two straight road games in Florida, and that might not be a good thing. The Raiders are 49-77-2 ATS (39%) at home since 2000, including a 2-9 ATS record in their last 11 home games going back to 2015.

If you’re still on the fence with this one, just do what we do in this spot each week and bet on the team you think has the hottest cheerleaders: Broncos or Raiders?

Sunday’s menu

This ketogenic diet my wife has me on is working. I’m down 20 pounds in two weeks, thanks to a menu loaded with fats and proteins and void of carbs and sugar. Halloween was god damn torture but I’ve been strong – not one piece of candy.

That also means no buns on your burgers. I’m wrapping everything in lettuce now, and you know what? It’s not half bad. Craving BBQ burgers, so here’s my compromise…

Easy (money) like Sunday morning

Why didn’t I just pick the Raiders last week? Stupid.

I went for it with Seattle at New Orleans and the Saints bit me in the ass for the second time this season. I’m now a depressing 2-6 ATS on the year, which means in order to at least finish above .500 with my weekly picks, I’ve got to go 7-2 ATS in the second half of the season.

To steal from perhaps the most overused sports cliché’ out there, “We just gotta take it one game at a time.” And this week’s “one game” is Pittsburgh at Baltimore.

As mentioned above, it appears Roethlisberger is back, which means the Steelers receivers will be chomping at the bit to hit some deep strikes. Both teams are off the bye, giving Pittsburgh time to heal and figure out how to get Le’Veon Bell into the end zone and Baltimore has had a week to work under new OC Marty Mornhinweg and get inject some life into its sputtering scoring attack.

Pick: I’m going Over 43 points in a game that is traditionally a defensive slugfest.

Song for Sunday

After a HUGE overtime win against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football last week (my left arm is still tingling a bit from that one), my Cowboys roll into Cleveland where the mood among sports fans rivals that of the local DMV following the Indians’ collapse in the World Series.

This game against the winless Browns reeks of trap game, especially considering how Week 8 finished and that Dallas is at Pittsburgh for a possible Super Bowl preview in Week 10. The Boys are laying 7.5 points, which is the largest spread they’ve faced since giving nine points to Washington in Week 8 of the 2014 season.

Oh, by the way, Dallas lost that game outright and came into the contest with the Redskins in similar shape, having just won a big game over the Giants to improve to 6-1 SU the week prior and lined up for a showdown with Arizona in Week 9.

Fingers are crossed that the Cowboys aren’t taking the Browns lightly, and play this song in the locker room before the game. Watch your step Big D.

Follow Covers’ Senior Managing Editor Jason Logan on Twitter @CoversJLo. Check out JLo’s Covers archivefor his latest features and columns.

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