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A deeper look at NFL Week 1 totals

Since 2003, betting unders in Week 1 has been profitable, but betting specific unders has yielded an even more impressive result. Joe Fortenbaugh

July 16, 2013
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When it comes to NFL totals, the casual bettor is generally more inclined to wager on the over than they are the under. This information is neither groundbreaking nor surprising, as football fans are programmed to root for scoring. To bet an under is to go against human nature, with those who wade into the hopefully low scoring waters cursing every running back and receiver who dashes out of bounds and stops the clock. Many of us have developed our own approach to tracking under bets. Personally, I divide the game into 12, 5-minute intervals while continuously performing shoddy arithmetic to make sure my bet is on or close to a winning pace. Needless to say, I’m an absolute blast to be around in these aforementioned circumstances.

But as we’ve discussed time and time again, the betting public—yeah, that’s the same betting public that prefers to back overs—is rarely successful turning a profit wagering on sports over the long haul. Sure, it’s more than possible to produce a highly successful week or even a very profitable month. But over the course of the five-month NFL season, continuously supporting overs will more than likely yield a negative result.

With the start of the 2013 season just under two months away, let’s take a look at how NFL totals have played out over the last ten years in just Week 1. But before we get to the data, here’s a quick look at how NFL scoring has been on the rise since 2003. That must mean overs are hitting at a more consistent rate than unders, right? Actually…

2012: 45.51 pts/gm
2011: 44.35 pts/gm
2010: 44.07 pts/gm
2009: 42.93 pts/gm
2008: 44.05 pts/gm
2007: 43.37 pts/gm
2006: 41.31 pts/gm
2005: 41.23 pts/gm
2004: 42.96 pts/gm
2003: 41.66 pts/gm

On a per game basis, NFL scoring has risen by an average of 3.85 points from 2003 to 2012. But when we take a look at how that information affects NFL Week 1 totals…

2003-2012 NFL WEEK 1 TOTALS

Avg. total/gm: The average per game Week 1 over/under for the year in question.
Avg. pts scored/gm: The average amount of points scored per game for the year in question.
O/U overall record: Over/under record for the year in question, with the over listed first.

odds chart

…we immediately notice that under bets in Week 1 are the wagers that are turning a profit, with an overall winning percentage of .550 since 2003. Laying $110 to win $100 on each of the 160 unders offered in Week 1 over the last ten years would have resulted in a profit of $890. Not bad, but what happens if we dig a little deeper and divide the unders into more specific categories?

Using the above chart as our guide, you’ll notice that the most profitable subset occurs for the games that are totaled at 44 points or higher. Since 2003, 54 Week 1 games have been totaled at 44 or more points, with those 54 contests resulting in a .660 winning percentage and a profit of $1,520 for those who laid $110 to win $100 on every single under. That’s what we call a noteworthy trend.

Tom BradyBrady and the Pats led the NFL in scoring last year at 34.8 pts/gm, which resulted in 11 overs and 5 unders during the regular season.

But while this information is certainly worth keeping in mind as we inch closer to kickoff 2013, it’s also worth noting that over the last two seasons when NFL Week 1 scoring has been at its absolute highest point of the last decade, this same subset has gone just 5-6-1 to the under. In addition, unders are an abysmal 10-21-1 overall in Week 1 since 2011. Why? Because despite the fact that bookmakers have increased their Week 1 totals from an average of 41.15 pts/gm in 2011 to 43.93 pts/gm in 2012, NFL Week 1 scoring has increased at an even greater rate, from 36.56 pts/gm in 2010 to 47.0 pts/gm in 2011 to 49.93 pts/gm in 2012.

The recent rise in scoring has also had a noticeable effect on totals lined at 39.5 points or lower. This subset went 20-29-1 to the over from 2003 to 2010, but has gone a very profitable 7-1 over the last two years.

So what should we expect for Week 1 in 2013? That’s an excellent question. As you’ll notice below, the books are taking their totals on another trip north this season, with 11 of the 16 opening weekend matchups currently listed at a total of 44 points or higher, for an overall average of 46.40 points per game.

That’s a staggering 2.47 points per game higher than in 2012 and 4.47 points per game higher than what was offered in 2003.

2013 NFL WEEK 1 TOTALS (lines courtesy of the LVH sports book in Las Vegas)

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints: 54
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: 51.5
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins: 51.5
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers: 50.5
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos: 49.5
Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts: 49
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys: 49
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions: 47
Houston Texans at San Diego Chargers: 46
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers: 45.5
Cincinnati Bengals at Chicago Bears: 45
Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers: 43.5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets: 41
Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns: 40
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams: 40
Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars: 39.5

Again, a precedent-setting 11 Week 1 games in 2013 are currently totaled at 44 points or higher. Since 2003, no Week 1 slate has featured more than eight games (2012) totaled at 44 points or greater. The NFL per game scoring average rose from 44.35 pts/gm in 2011 to 45.51 pts/gm in 2012 and the books have followed suit, raising their average Week 1 totals from 43.93 pts/gm in 2012 to 46.40 pts/gm in 2013.

With an average Week 1 total of 46.40 pts/gm currently set for 2013, the books are anticipating both another high scoring opening weekend and an influx of public over money. The only question now is whether or not the NFL Week 1 scoring surge continues for a third consecutive season.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

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