NFL Handicapping: Kurt Warner's History Against the Spread
by Trevor Whenham - 1/14/2010
Kurt Warner made quite a splash before his playoff game against the Packers last week when news leaked out that Warner was likely eyeing retirement after this season. He made an even bigger splash wen he didn't let the distraction of that news bother him and went out and played close to a perfect game.
Warner threw for five touchdowns while only throwing four incomplete passes. It was a tour de force. Given that he is clearly still capable of being at the top of his profession I can't imagine why he would feel like he needs to leave now. Whenever he retires, though, he is in my eyes a sure fire hall of famer. He's a two-time MVP, a five-time Pro Bowler, he's won one Super Bowl and played in two more, and was MVP of his Super Bowl win. He also possesses a boatload of records - he has the second highest yards per game average in league history, he's one of only two guys to throw 100 TDs for two different teams, and he has several records for passing efficiency and scoring in the playoffs. Warner is frighteningly good, and would have been even better if he had have made the league sooner, or if he hadn't floundered around looking for playing time after leaving St. Louis.
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What Warner has accomplished on the field is more than impressive. Given that he's still alive and well in the playoffs this year, and facing a potentially winnable game in New Orleans, I thought that it would be interesting to look at his career performance against the spread to see if he has excelled on that front like he has at piling up the points.
Overall - Warner has not been a profitable play over the course of his career, but he has come reasonably close. His regular season record sits at 58-59-3 ATS, and improves to 65-63-4 ATS when you factor in the playoffs. The seasons he has had can be split by the competence he showed in them. He has had three years in St. Louis and three more in Arizona in which he enjoyed personal success and the team was reasonably successful as well -- 50-36-2 ATS in those seasons. That would have made for a very healthy profit - he was covering spreads at a rate of 58 percent over that time. His first two years in Arizona weren't particularly successful, and neither were his last two in St. Louis. He was also pretty uninspiring when he was with the Giants. Over those times he was 8-23-1 ATS, so he was covering the spread less than 26 percent of the time. Warner is a player who experiences long-term streaks, and the difference in betting success between when he is in the groove and he really isn't is striking.
The best of times - Warner's best season ATS was 1999 - the year that he came from nowhere to erupt on the scene and take the world by storm. The Rams won the Super Bowl over Tennessee that year, and Warner was regular season and Super Bowl MVP. During the regular season Warner was a gaudy 13-3 ATS. All three of the games that the Rams didn't cover that year were on the road, and they were the three games they didn't win, so the team was pretty close to unbeatable on the home turf that they were built to play on. The team covered some serious spreads that year as well. Five of the spreads were in the double digits, including -19 against the Browns - a number that's almost incomprehensible in the NFL. Warner was at the helm of a truly ridiculous offense that scored more than 30 points 12 times in 16 games, and never scored fewer than three touchdowns. Their only low-scoring affair was an 11-6 battle against Tampa Bay in the conference championship.
The worst of times - Warner had a very rocky year in 2005 - his first year in Arizona. He was named the starter coming out of the season, but he injured his groin after three games, and then lost the starting job to Josh McCown. McCown was supposed to be the starter for the rest of the year, but he was lousy, so Warner took over again after two games. He lasted until Week 15 when he injured his MCL and was out for the year. In the 12 games that he started (two he didn't finish), Warner was a pitiful 2-9-1 ATS. Despite his betting struggles, one of the games he covered is one that probably tasted incredibly sweet. Warner led his team into St. Louis to face the team that unceremoniously dumped him, and played brilliantly to lead his team to a 10-point win as nine-point underdogs.
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Playoff performer - Warner obviously rises to the occasion in the playoffs. That's how he has won three NFC Championships. He's been a solid bet over the years as well - he's 7-4-1 ATS in the dozen playoff games he has played. What's particularly striking, though, is that he has gotten better with age - he has covered his last five playoff games. It isn't hard to figure out why that is - Arizona has always been a lightly regarded underdog, while St. Louis always played in the playoffs with the weight of heavy expectations and a big spread to match.