NFL’s top rushing teams give bookies a run for their money

Running the football is going the way of Vine and land lines, with NFL teams passing for an average of 355.6 yards per game heading into Week 8 – putting 2016 on pace to become the highest-passing season in league history.

And when teams are throwing the ball that much, which all but one NFL team does on over 50 percent of their snaps, that means they ain’t running it.

It should be no surprise that the league’s current average of 108.1 rushing yards is the lowest that number has sunk since 1991 and stands tied as the fourth lightest ground work for a season going back to 1932.

The lone wolf when it comes to living and dying by the run are the Dallas Cowboys, who top the NFL in yards on the ground at 161.2 per contest and call run on 51.4 percent of their offensive plays. Fueled by the most talented offensive line in the business and the fresh legs of rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas comes into Week 8 at 5-1 SU and ATS.

Behind that dominating running game, the Cowboys have controlled tempo and gorged on clock like Larry Allen at an All-You-Can-Eat BBQ buffet. They lead the NFL in time of possession (33:08) which has limited the exposure of an otherwise ho-hum defense and taken pressure off of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.

Given all those positives, you would think NFL teams would be more committed to the run. I know football bettors would like to see their weekly wagers run more, especially considering teams are a collective 772-425-37 ATS since 2011 (821-407-6 SU) when they surpass the league’s rushing average in a game – covering in 64.5 percent of those run-heavy outings heading into Sunday’s action (this includes games in which both teams rushed for more than the league average, which would basically cancel each other out of the ATS equation).

That number includes a 47-29-3 ATS record so far in 2016, where teams topping the league average in rushing yards are a 62 percent winner – most recently the Tennessee Titans’ 36-22 win Thursday night, rolling the Jacksonville Jaguars for 214 yards on the ground, which decimated the current 2016 NFL rushing average of 108.1 yards per game.

Here’s a look at the last five NFL seasons and how teams that topped the league average in rushing yards in a single game have paid against the spread:

• 2011 (117.1 rypg) 134-76-9 ATS (64%)
• 2012 (115.9 rypg) 151-78-5 ATS (66%)
• 2013 (112.9 rypg) 136-89-5 ATS (60%)
• 2014 (111.3 rypg) 153-72-9 ATS (68%)
• 2015 (108.8 rypg) 151-81-6 ATS (65%)

The proof is somewhat in the pudding, when sizing up this year’s top rushing teams. Dallas, as discussed above is the NFL leader in rushing play percentage and stands 5-1 ATS heading into a Sunday night showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8 (-4). If you simply take the combined ATS records of the Top 11 teams in rushing play percentage (Dallas, Tennessee, San Francisco, New England, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Denver, Miami, Seattle, and Atlanta), you get a 44-30 ATS mark – 59.5 percent payouts. And only three of those teams have a losing ATS mark heading into Week 8 (Tennessee, San Francisco, and Miami).

Now, there’s no way to actually predict the exact number of rushing yards a team will post in a said matchup. However, sizing up run offense versus run defense is a good place to start the handicapping process, given those results above.

It’s funny. In a league consumed with the pass (and they don’t even know what a catch is), it’s still the run that has the final say – at least at the sportsbooks. And that’s all that matters come Sunday.

See dog, see dog run

Breaking down the angle above, and focusing strictly on underdogs who have broken the season rushing average for a single game, you get a 25-11-1 ATS mark for the first seven weeks (and a Thursday nighter) of the 2016 season, with those teams covering in 68.5 percent of those games.

Going back to 2011, teams getting the points that amassed an above average rushing day (by league standards) are a collective 353-174-19 ATS, covering the spread almost 67 percent of the time.

Home bodies

Heading into Sunday, NFL home teams are vanilla 53-53-2 ATS with home underdogs doing the heavily lifting at 20-14 ATS (59%). Home-field advantage is a bit of a phantom number in pro sports, with the suggested 3-point swing in football more a product of group think than actual fact – like waiting an hour after eating before you go for a swim. It’s kinda bullshit.

That said, there are some NFL teams that thrive on their own turf. We crunched the home ATS numbers going back to 2000 to find out just who are the best and worst home bets in the league. Here’s what we got (regular season records only):

• To no one’s surprise, the Patriots are the best home bet in football. But it is surprising to find out just how good a bet. New England has covered the spread 59 percent of the time at home since 2000 (73-50-5 ATS), outscoring opponents 27.5-17.2 versus an average spread of -6.97. Despite a near touchdown spread, the Pats cash for the Boston masses with more than a field goal to spare.

• Pittsburgh (57%), Seattle (56%), Green Bay (56%), and Minnesota (55.5%) round out the notable home bets of the past 16 NFL seasons.

• The Oakland Raiders are the biggest money pit when it comes to home bets since 2000, going just 49-77-2 ATS as hosts, covering only 39 percent of the time in the Bay Area. And despite their turnaround in recent years, the Raiders are just 2-9 ATS in their last 11 home games going back to 2015. Maybe they’ll have better luck in Las Vegas?

• There’s no shortage of bad home bets over the years, with teams like Tennessee (44%), Miami (43%), and even Denver (44%) bringing up the rear. But the worst home bet in the NFL seems to be a NFC East home bet, with Dallas (47%), New York (44%). Philadelphia (47%) and Washington (42%) all rotten wagers in front of their faithful.

Chalky little bugger, ain’t you?

The NFL makes its final stop in London for the 2016 season when the Redskins and Bengals battle at Wembley Stadium Sunday. Cincinnati is a 2.5-point favorite at the neutral site.

After the Giants defeated the Rams 17-10 as 3-point favorites at Twickenham Stadium last weekend, betting favorites are now 11-5 ATS in those London games, covering the spread 69 percent of the time.

Sharps like…

San Diego. The Chargers already knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos just a couple weeks back, and wiseguys are on the Bolts to do it again – or at least cover as underdogs in Denver Sunday. According to Peter Childs, supervisor of risk management for Sportsbook.ag, they opened San Diego +6.5 before sharp action pounded the line all the way down to +4 with limit plays on the road side. But it’s not just sharps taking a shine to the Chargers.

“We’re still seeing some public support on the dog and it’s pushed our number down to Broncos -4, a full 2.5 points lower than our opener of 6.5 points,” says Childs.

Biggest move…

San Diego at Denver. As mentioned above a mix of sharp and public money on the Chargers +6.5 walked this spread all the way down to +4.

Biggest sweat…

New England at Buffalo. Depending on where you play, this spread has jumped from Patriots -6 to -7 with one-sided action on Brady in Buffalo.

“Bettors can’t get enough Patriots and we knew they’d get bet in this game when we originally hung Pats -6 (last Sunday night),” says Childs. “Every single bet that came in that Sunday evening was on the Patriots, we got to -6.5 that night and eventually got to Patriots -7 by mid week.”

Banker game…

New England at Buffalo. While surviving parlays from the early games will likely be linked to the Eagles-Cowboys Sunday nighter, the Pats-Bills game is quickly becoming more than sportsbooks bargained for, and could ultimately decided whether Week 8 is a winner or a loser for those crafty fellows on the other side of the counter.

“Biggest decision and the game that will make or break our day is Pats vesus Bills,” says Childs. “The Patriots have been money ATS all season, going 6-1 and has bettors cashing in week in and week out. It’s by far the most bet-on game (Sunday) and with 90 percent of the action on the Patriots, they are the most bet on team this week.”

Injury to watch

Nick Mangold, center New York Jets

Center is one of the most undervalued positions in all of sports, and the Jets could be without theirs in Week 8’s tilt with the Browns. Mangold is nursing an ankle injury and missed practice this week, leaving the Jets to turn to Wesley Johnson to snap the ball and read the defense.

Mangold has missed only four games in his time with New York and taking the starting center out of the mix can easily disrupt the timing on snap counts, especially on the road where opposing crowds can drown out the quarterback. Yes, even Cleveland fans can get noisy – if they’re drunk enough. Toss in the fact, Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a turnover factory this season and it’s not hard to see the Jets putting a couple balls on the ground this Sunday.

We know how to pick’em

The Raiders are still on the East Coast after knocking off the Jaguars in Jacksonville last week. Instead of going back to the Bay Area, Jack Del Rio kept his crew in Florida for the week, so bettors don’t have to worry about that West-to-East nonsense when Oakland visits Tampa Bay in Week 8.

Like we do every week in this section, we take the game with the pick’em spread (or closest thing to it) and turn the handicapping over to each team’s sideline sirens. Bet on the team you think has the hotter cheerleaders.


Sunday menu

My wife started one of these ketogenic diets, and like the good man that I am, I’m doing it with her. OK, she pretty much made me, but whatever. We’re about a week in and for what it’s worth, the shit works. I’m down a few pounds, as is she.

But the keto meal plans have put the clamps on my Sunday consumption, especially the rules on nachos and beer. Oh man, what I wouldn’t give for a big-ass plate of fully-loaded nachos and a frosty cold one right about now…

Huh? What happened? Where am I? Oh, right! Sunday football food. Keto-friendly nachos (these sound like the devil’s work) washed down with low-carb Bud Select (1.9 grams of carbs).

Easy (money) like Sunday morning

A week of bitching and moaning about how bad my football betting has been led to pay dirt with my pick on the Raiders +1.5 at Jacksonville last Sunday, knocking up my season record to 2-5 ATS.

Rather than go back to the well with Oakland at Tampa Bay, which is tempting, I’m siding with Seattle making the trip to the Big Easy. I think many bettors are soured on the Seahawks, after they were left kissing their sister in a 6-6 tie with Arizona last Sunday night, and this line is now down to Saints +2.5.

Seattle’s defense is still among the NFL’s stingiest stop units, allowing only 14 points per game. And after last week’s offensive pooting, I believe there will be a big push to get some points on the board. This is Jimmy Graham’s revenge game, after being dealt by New Orleans to Seattle two years ago, adding some extra motivation for the 6-foot-7 tight end to get his ass in gear.

Pick: Seattle -2.5

Song for Sunday

My Cowboys are back in action after a bye week, hosting the Eagles for the Sunday nighter. Hopefully, if my digging into rushing stats and their impact on the outcome bears any fruit, it’s in this one.

I’ll have this tune ringing in my ears as “Zeke the Freak” puts 2-hundy on the She-agles Sunday night! How Bout Them Cowboys!

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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