:: This is a revised article written by Cliff Knox that had previously appeared in our Football Workbook.
The sports bettor’s work in handicapping games is both much easier and much harder today than it was even a decade ago. Technology makes it much easier to gather and sort through the key stats you need to do your research. Technology also means there is much more of it to sort through.
In additional to daily and weekly publications, the Internet has become an instantaneous source for stats and angles that old-school cappers like myself used to find only after researching and crunching numbers for hours.
A brief visit to NFL.com, the National Football League’s official site, can be both rewarding and overwhelming. The site offers 18 different statistical categories and 75 sub categories.
So where do you start?
All statistics have some value, but the key to successful handicapping is finding which ones have a bearing on which team will win. Many handicappers invest a great deal of time scrutinizing the ‘yards per stats.’ These include yards per rush, yards per pass, yards per play and yards per point.
I’m going to take it a step further. In this article, I will concentrate on the ‘yards per’ stats, specifically focusing on the differential between the offense and the defense in their respective categories.
Yards Per Rush Differential:
Offensive yards per rush minus Defensive yards per rush
A positive differential in yards per rush can benefit the handicapper, but the stat on its own is very limiting. Neglecting to factor in the passing game or special teams is a recipe for disaster.
Case in point, last season the top 10 teams in plus yards per rush differential finished with a combined SU record of 86-64, for a winning percentage of 53.7%. Of the top 10 teams Minnesota (+ 2.21), Baltimore (+1.19) Philadelphia (+.88) San Francisco (+.38) and Carolina (+.29) all finished the season without a winning record.
Surprisingly, one of the most widely used stats by handicappers as a deciding factor in their selection is yards per rush differential. The common theory is that the team with the yards per rush differential in their favor will be able to dominate on the ground and in time of possession, wearing their opponents down in the process.
Yards Per Pass Attempt Differential:
Offensive yards per pass attempt minus Defensive yards per pass attempt
While limited to only one aspect of the game, the yards per pass attempt differential has been solid throughout the years and was very successful last season again. All of the top 10 teams in this category finished with a winning record and a combined SU record of 114-46 for a winning percentage of 71.2%.
Slightly more than half (18) of the league’s 32 teams finished on the plus side in this category, notching a total of 173 wins in 272 games played for a winning percentage of 63.6%. The NY Giants were the only team in the league with a winning record that didn’t register a plus differential in this category.
Yards Per Play Differential:
Offensive yards per play minus Defensive yards per play
By factoring in both rushing yardage and passing yardage, a more accurate view of the respective team’s offense and defense can be gained. On its own, yards per play differential has always been very successful, but unfortunately, this stat is seldom overlooked by the lines maker.
In the 2007 season, the Patriots led the way with a plus (+1.3) differential followed by the Cowboys (+1.1), Colts (+1.0), Packers (+1.0). The top four finishers in this category had an overall SU record of 55-9 for an outstanding 85.9 winning percentage, while the top 10 combined for an SU record of 110-50 good for 75.6%.
Not one of the top 10 finished with a losing record.
Yards Per Point
Without a doubt, yards per point is a most relevant handicapping stat. Because this stat doesn’t separate the offensive, defensive and special teams points, all facets of the game are reflected in this number.
If the team has a poor kicking game, turnover ratio, rushing attack, passing attack or other inadequacy, it will be factored in this number. Last season, 13 teams finished on the positive side of this category. Of the group, 12 of them had a .500 or better record with only the Bears (+2.04) finishing under 500.
The top 10 teams in yards per point differential finished with a combined record of 112-48 for a winning percentage of 70%.
Keep an eye on all four stats during the first four games of this coming season. Week 5 will present the first opportunity for you to put them into practice for effective and comprehensive handicapping. Use all of these stats in your analysis, but employ further scrutiny when examining the yards per point differential.
Pay close attention to teams with a positive yards per point differential that hold an edge of at least 1.0 over their opponents. You will be surprised at how often a team fitting a 70% winning profile will be a small favorite or even the dog.
Good luck in this upcoming NFL football season and remember: beating this game takes a great deal of research and analysis. If you commit yourself to making the effort, you’ll see the results in your growing bankroll.
Cliff Knox is one of the North America’s top statistical handicappers. His handicapping theories and mathematical formulas are going to be put to use in our computer software that will be available online at www.winnersedgeonline.com next season.