Understanding NFL Totals

Who’s the best team in the NFL right now? Who’s the worst team? Chances are you know the answers to those questions. You probably also know which teams score the most points, and who has the best defense, but do you know which teams go over their posted total the most? Or go under the most?

Totals are perhaps the simplest bet type, yet most people don’t fully understand how to handicap totals. With totals, you don’t need to worry about which team is better than the other; all you need to figure out is how the game is going to be played. Is this going to be a game with a lot of passing and lots of plays, or is this going to be a big running game with fewer plays? There are teams that get big plays or give up big plays, which can quickly add points to a game. We saw that in the Monday Night Football game last weekend with Baltimore and Kansas City. Baltimore had a punt return for a touchdown and another trick play that resulted in a touchdown. Those two big plays took less than 30 seconds off the clock, but without those two plays, the score is 27-10 and you’ve got a game that goes under.

Law of Averages?

While I admit I don’t have any magic systems or formulas for totals, perhaps I can give some direction on where to start looking for a handicapping system.

One simple system many bettors use is a simple average of the points for/against for each team. For example, let’s say Team A and Team B are playing next Sunday. Team A is averaging 19.7 points/game and Team B is giving up 17.9 points/game. Averaging those out gives Team A an estimate of 18.8 points. Team B averages 29.7 points/game and Team A is giving up 15.7. Averaging those out gives Team B an estimate of 22.7 points. Thus a quick estimate of the total would be 41.5 points.

The system can be refined to break it down for home/away, indoor/outdoor, grass/turf trends etc. More advanced systems may take league averages into account. For example if Team A scores 28 points per game and Team B gives up 26, the prediction looks to be 27 for Team A. But if league scoring average is only 24 points, this would be a match-up of an above average offense and a below average defense. Thus the prediction should be higher, right? One method is to start with the league average and add or subtract to it based on team stats. In this case, the league average is 24 and you could add 4 points for Team A being 4 points above average on offence and add 2 points for Team B being below average on defense for a predicted score of 30. Do the same thing for Team B and you have a predicted game total.

Play around with these ideas and hopefully you will find a system that works for you. There are lots of ways to handicap totals, and hopefully these very simple suggestions will act as a good starting point.

One caveat: always be sure to check the weather for any total you bet. Bookmakers take weather into account and so should you. Rain and snow aren’t as big of factors as many people make them out to be as defenders are just as likely to slip as offensive players and one or two big plays can drive a total way up. Wind on the other hand is underrated (in my opinion) and forces teams to run more. This can eat up the clock and help lower total scores.

Looking ahead to Week 5, I see a couple of totals that remind me of an old betting adage: in the NFL, bet over a total of 34 or less, and under a total of 51 or more. I haven’t looked at this for a couple of years so I don’t know how it holds up any more but when I saw a 52 and 34 listed for totals, it popped into my head. You would be 1-1 using this so far this season. (Philly/Minnesota in Week 2 went under 51 but Dolphins/Steelers in Week 3 went under 31.5, a really low total!).

More Power to the Home Dog

Earlier this week I received an email from a Bodog.com Sportsbook player and in it he makes a good point with regards to something I forgot to mention in Issue #81 (Power to the Home Dog). The following is an excerpt from his letter:

I loved your recent article! I’ve been a player for over 10 years and I have often played home dogs and had some success doing it. I agree with all the factors you note in your article as to why the home dog has been so successful in recent years, but I feel you have left out one of the biggest factors: the referees. I think questionable calls often go against the road team in crucial situations. That is not to suggest that this is something the refs do on purpose, or that their integrity is in any way compromised, but when 80,000 screaming fans are crying for a flag for pass-interference, it is human nature to be slightly swayed.

My response: I agree. There was such a case in the Monday Night Football game where, Baltimore was driving in the 4th quarter and a pass interference penalty was called that really shouldn’t have when the crowd reacted. Baltimore wasn’t a home dog in this case, although after watching the game, I think you could make a case that they should have been!

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Good luck with your wagers!

I always welcome comments, questions and suggestions via email at rob@Bodog.com
Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino