NFL Handicapping: Looking Back at QBR Rating
by Trevor Whenham - 1/4/2012
At the start of the NFL season ESPN announced their revolutionary new statistic — the QBR or Total Quarterback Rating — with much fanfare and hyperbole. They had redefined the way we look at quarterbacks and understand their significance, they claimed.
It’s too early to know for sure whether they have done that, but it certainly doesn’t seem like the QBR has gained a whole lot of traction in the sporting world despite ESPN’s efforts. There are a few good reasons for that:
- Since it is an ESPN stat no other media outlet has any incentive to report it.
- The means of calculating it are confusing and unclear, and there seems to be a subjective element to how it is determined. If you can’t easily understand how a stat is determined then it is hard to manipulate and test it, and therefore harder to embrace it.
- The general public doesn’t particularly understand the QB rating and the problems with it, so they feel no urgency to find something better.
- This year, at least, it didn’t particularly tell us a lot that the QB rating didn’t. The Top 4 players in QBR this season were Rodgers, Brees, Brady and Romo. Those were the Top 4 in QB rating, too — and in the same order. Eight of the Top 10 players in QBR were in the Top 10 in QB rating as well. QBR was supposed to turn our understanding of the world upside down, but this year it appeared to be — at least on the surface — just another, more confusing way to tell us what we already know.
While we still have to wait for the true start of the QBR revolution it certainly doesn’t hurt to look at how the stat performed in the inaugural season as an indicator of NFL betting success. After all, any stat that can point us at winners is a good thing regardless of the problems and annoyances surrounding it.
The Best QBR Players
San Francisco led the league in ATS performance this season at 12-3-1 ATS. Alex Smith was a big part of that success because of the leadership and decision-making that he exhibited far more this year than in the past.
In QBR terms, though, his accomplishments didn’t measure up.
He ranked 22nd in the league, and his QBR of 46.3 means that he was actually a below-average performer by this measure — a QBR of 50 represents an average QB. Smith was a much more favorable ninth is the league in QB rating.
While the QBR didn’t perform well there, it performed better with the rest of the Top 4 ATS teams. New Orleans was second best at 12-4 ATS, with Green Bay just behind them at 11-5 ATS. Drew Brees was second in QBR just behind Aaron Rodgers, and well ahead of the rest of the players in the league.
Houston is next at 9-5-2 ATS. They went through three different QBs, so it is hard to really measure. They were 6-3-1 ATS with Matt Schaub at the helm, though, and Schaub finished sixth in the league in QBR, so it is another success for the stat.
Overall, the Top 10 quarterbacks by QBR were just a combined 81-73-6 ATS — essentially just a break-even performance. There were only four QBs among those 10 (40 percent) that played for teams that were profitable ATS on the season. There were 14 of the 32 teams in the league that were profitable on the season (44 percent), so the QBR actually performed below expectations as an indicator of betting success — on the surface at least.
The Worst QBR Players
The worst players by QBR that played a significant portion of their team’s games were Blaine Gabbert, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, and Kevin Kolb. You certainly would struggle to argue that any of those guys don’t belong at the bottom, and they are all in the bottom half of the QB rating rankings as well.
It’s not surprising that the five teams those players play for are just 32-46-2 ATS, and that the Cardinals at 9-7 ATS are the only one that was profitable on the season.
While the QBR can claim success at identifying players that aren’t performing well — betting against those teams would have been nicely profitable on the year — it’s hard to get too excited because there are many ways you could identify that those teams just aren’t that attractive as a betting option.
The conclusion from this quick look shouldn’t be that surprising — the QBR isn’t a quick way to get rich. Teams with quarterbacks with strong QBR ratings are more likely to be betting successes than teams with poor QBR performers at the helm, but you can’t blindly rely on the QBR as an indicator of who to bet on or against. There isn’t a magic pill that will find winners for you, but if there was then QBR would not be it.
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