2009 NFL Totals at Halfway Point
by Trevor Whenham - 11/12/2009
It's halfway through the NFL season, and from a betting perspective it's been a crazy one so far. Favorites jumped out of the gate strong, and oddsmakers couldn't make a lNFL betting line big enough for the underdogs to cover early on. That's bad news for the books, though they did much better last weekend. The totals haven't been nearly as crazy this year. In fact, they have been pretty straightforward - at least compared to the sides. Here's a look at some of the interesting trends and developments that have happened with totals so far this year:
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Relative balance - Oddsmakers are very good at setting NFL totals. The balance this year is impressive - 65 games have gone 'over,' 62 have gone 'under,' and two have pushed. They are also pretty good at splitting the action each and every weekend. Week 1 was a perfect split - eight games 'over' and eight games 'under'. Weeks 5 and 6 were balanced, too. Four other weeks were within one game of .500. There were just two weeks where one side, the 'over' in both cases, had an advantage, and at 7-5-1 and 8-5-1 they weren't exactly overwhelming. The lesson here is that though you might find a total on any given week that has some value in your eyes, if you think that the oddsmakers are wrong on most or all of them then it's probably you that is wrong.
Balanced teams - There seems to a perception that there are clear 'under' teams - those that always play in low scoring games - and clear 'over' teams that score at will and don't play defense. What we have seen so far this year would indicate that those thoughts just isn't true. Of the 32 teams in the league, 10 are at a perfectly balanced 4-4 in the 'over/under'. 18 more teams are just one game away from balanced on one side or the other. That means that there are just four teams that have shown a significant tendency to regularly go 'over' or 'under' this season - the Broncos have gone 'under' seven times, and Houston six, while Philadelphia and Minnesota have both gone 'over' six times. With those four possible exceptions, teams haven't shown a particular leaning one way or the other - it all depends on the situation of the game.
Look at points per game - There is no silver ball that will magically tell you whether a team is going to go 'over' or 'under' on a given weekend. Over the long term, though, one of the stronger indications we have seen this year is points per game. That's not rocket science, of course - the more points a team scores, the more likely they would seem to be to go 'over'. What is significant, though, is that offensive competence seems to be a better indicator of how a team will do on totals than defensive performance is; or in other words the offense drives the totals more than the defense. Of the Top 10 teams in points per game this season, seven of them have gone 'over' more than 'under,' and an eighth is at even. At the other end of the spectrum, four of the bottom five teams by that metric have gone 'under' more often than 'over,' and the fifth is at even. If you look at the teams that make up those two groups you can't really say that there are any big surprises, so at the very least you could have had a reasonable sense of potential total performance before the season started.
Defense hasn't done it - As I said in the last point, defense hasn't been a great indicator of proficiency in the totals this year. The first reaction would be to think that a stout defensive team would keep games 'under' more often than not, but of the Top 5 defenses in the league so far this year, only one is and 'under' team. That one, Denver, has gone 'under' seven times in eight tries, so it's really working for them, but that's not the norm. Even with Denver's 1-7 mark the Top 5 defenses have only gone 'under' 21 times in 40 games - just barely enough to be profitable.
Don't get sucked in by the quarterbacks - The public loves nothing better than a gunslinger - a quarterback who throws early and often. There have been a number of impressive passing performances this year, and a few pivots seem to set passing records every time they take a snap. It would seem to make sense that a team led by one of these gunslingers would be offensively potent, so the public would likely look at them to go 'over' more often than not. That wouldn't be a good decision. Only one of the Top 5 passing QBs, Drew Brees, plays for a team that has gone 'over' more than 'under'. The five teams with the top passers - the Texans, Colts, Patriots, Steelers, and Saints - have actually combined to go 'under' 23 times in 41 tries - more than 56 percent of the time.
Turnovers are not a good thing - None of the bottom six teams in the league in terms of turnover differential have gone 'over' more times than they have gone 'under'. Those six teams have gone 'under' in 27 of 41 games - more than 56 percent of the time. So far this year, then, you simply can't turn the ball over a lot and hope to consistently go over the total.
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