Analyzing Win Totals From the Last 10 Years: Underachievers
Remember the kid who would always slack off on the group project when you were in high school? Nobody liked that guy. Over the last 10 seasons, nobody who has bet win total overs has liked this particular set of NFL teams either. This O/U data is normally not available to the public but we painstakingly scraped it from over 100 emails to bring you this chart.
This is the second installment of a three part series where we break down the data. The focus: The Underachievers, teams who consistently didn't make their win total. Of the NFL’s 32 teams, ten fell under their over/under win total at an average rate distinct enough to catch our attention.
Listed in order of how many wins they miss their projection by, on average, over the last 10 years:
1. Cleveland Browns - 2.2 wins below projection per season (1-8-1 overall)
2. Jacksonville Jaguars - 1.36 wins below projection per season (2-7-1 overall)
3. Los Angeles Rams - 1.25 wins below projection per season (3-7-0 overall)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 1.15 wins below projection per season (4-5-1 overall)
5. Washington Redskins - 0.95 wins below projection per season (4-6-0 overall)
6. Houston Texans - 0.81 wins below projection per season (6-3-1 overall)
7. Chicago Bears - 0.75 wins below projection per season (3-7-0 overall)
8. New York Giants - 0.7 wins below projection per season (3-6-1 overall)
9. Detroit Lions - 0.7 wins below projection per season (5-5-0 overall)
10. Los Angeles Chargers - 0.65 wins below projection per season (4-6-0 overall)
It’s important to note that most of these teams (save for maybe the Browns) are still very close to their overall projections over the long run. For example, the Jaguars, the second-highest team on this list, have still only lost about 13-14 more games than projected over the last 10 seasons. Oddsmakers know what they’re doing and their job is to force you into hard decisions. Hopefully, with a look at this data in detail, those decisions will be more informed and will seem a little easier.
Just as we pointed out with the Patriots and Steelers on the opposite end of the spectrum, the Browns have been so bad, it’s been hard for oddsmakers to set an U/O line on them. It’s not as if they could have set the line at 0.5 wins last season when Cleveland finished 0-16.
Their 1-8-1 record is the most lopsided in the league, good or bad (Patriots are best at 7-2-1). They have lost or pushed 90 percent of the time, meaning if you kept pounding the under, you’ve made a lot of money. More importantly, the Browns have the second lowest standard deviation in results of any team in the league. The standard deviation represents consistency. The Browns is low and so is the Pats, whether good or bad, these teams have held steady over the last ten years.
The Texans, on the other hand, are a team whose results we’re going to throw out the window. Despite hitting the over 6 out of 10 times, they still are averaging 0.81 wins below their projections. What does that tell us? When they hit the over, they do so barely. When they are under on their win projection, they are way under. Add in the uncertainty of what a healthy Deshaun Watson might bring to the table and they are an absolute wild card on the betting scene this year.
We then get to the pair of teams who do not currently embody what they’ve been for the past decade. We’re talking about the Jaguars and Rams. Neither of these teams saw sustained success over the past decade, but each is seemingly on its way up. Each team made the playoffs last year and many expect them both to repeat that performance in 2018. An explanation for why each team underperformed its win projections lies in unreasonably high expectations.
Each has been picked to have multiple breakout years that never came to pass. These high expectations, warranted or not, inflated the U/O line and make them less likely to hit the over. The two teams are a combined 5-14-1 on hitting the over in the last 10 years, but the Rams have been so variable (fourth highest standard deviation in the league), it’s hard to expect them to go under in 2018 purely based on the last 10 years. Again, the Jaguars are such a different team than they have been for the better part of the decade, it’s hard to say the data tells us much about them either.
Two teams the data can help us with are ones consistently in the national spotlight: the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. Each team plays in the NFC East and take up a disproportionate amount of time on talk radio, TV, and in media coverage in general. They play in huge markets and expectations often are inflated based on that. While playing in the NFC East, which has consistently seen nine-win teams win the division and in which everyone beats up on one another, it’s hard to hit your win projections.
As far as standard deviation goes, these two teams are right in the middle of the pack, meaning they don’t fluctuate all that often from one end of the win-total spectrum to the other. They’re a combined 7-12-1 at hitting their win projections. There is reason to believe we can draw some value from the data for these teams; we will touch on that later.
For now, we are left with the Bears, Lions, and Chargers, teams that haven’t made much noise over the past decade. For most of those 10 years, each team had a steady quarterback at the helm, hardly what you’d expect for teams consistently missing on their win projections.
However, the Bears and Chargers have low standard deviations in their results, suggesting they were consistent in going under their projected win totals. This is evidenced by their combined 7-13-0 record on overs. The Lions are more variable and even though they’re on the list of underachievers, their record is 5-5-0 against their win projections, suggesting they flip flop too much to dependably bet on.
Now, of course, we want to apply this data to 2018. In our final article of the series based on this data, we will look at the best U/O bets for the 2018 season. For now, we will look at the U/O projections for this group of 10 for the upcoming year:
Over/unders for 2018:
Cleveland Browns - 5.5
Jacksonville Jaguars - 9
Los Angeles Rams - 10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 6.5
Washington Redskins - 7
Houston Texans - 8.5
Chicago Bears - 6.5
New York Giants - 7
Detroit Lions - 7.5
Los Angeles Chargers - 9.5
Data provided by Bovada
The top tier on this list includes the Rams, Chargers, and Jaguars, all of whom oddsmakers expect to win at least nine games this season. As mentioned in the overachievers article, it’s tough to reasonably bet over or under on a team projected in the double digits. As for the Chargers, 9.5 wins seems like a lofty projection. Their underachiever status is among the most reliable of any on this list and expecting 10 wins, even from a team who got red hot last season, is optimistic.
Then, you have the Jaguars, who may just have the best defense in football. Their division is so unpredictable with the Texans getting Watson back, the Colts potentially getting Andrew Luck back, and the Titans completely changing the offense they run. It’s hard to tell where the Jaguars fit into that mix. They certainly appear to be one of the best teams in the AFC on paper, but perhaps not enough to comfortably say they will hit their nine-win projection.
Speaking of Watson, oddsmakers clearly expect a lot out of the Houston QB, who is coming off a torn ACL for the Texans. Their win projection of 8.5 says oddsmakers are on the verge of calling Houston a playoff team. If you believe Watson will be as electric as he was before his injury, this could be a nice play for you.
After that, we have teams that oddsmakers expect to finish just below .500: the Lions (7.5), Redskins (7), and Giants (7). Detroit has a steady quarterback, Washington has a new quarterback, and New York has an aging quarterback. If you think the Packers and Vikings will each be the real deal this year, getting to eight wins might be tough for Detroit, having to play those two teams a combined four times. Washington seems to be a trendy pick to make some noise this year with Alex Smith under center, but losing rookie RB Derrius Guice hurts the team, but the injury didn't change the Washington line.
An outlier here appears to be the Giants. Expecting seven wins out of a team that went 3-13 a year ago is a stretch. Eli Manning has been in the bottom half of NFL quarterbacks for the last few years and there is no steady replacement waiting in the wings. Sure, the team added star running back Saquon Barkley in the draft, but if Manning can’t makes plays consistently, teams will stack eight in the box and Barkley’s effectiveness will be diminished. Unless you’re really buying into the Barkley hype train, this seems like another season you could profit by exposing east coast bias and taking the Giants under.
Then, there are the teams toward the bottom of projections on this list: the Bears (6.5), Buccaneers (6.5), and Browns (5.5). Chicago appears to be headed in the right direction with QB Mitch Trubisky in his second year in the offense and with the team adding weapons like WR Allen Robinson and rookie WR Anthony Miller (being compared to Antonio Brown by some).
The Buccaneers are in a very different situation. QB Jameis Winston is suspended for the first four games of the regular season and head coach Dirk Koetter appears to be squarely on the hot seat. In a strong division and without much leadership in the locker room, asking seven wins of the Bucs looks to be a tall order.
Perhaps the most interesting team coming into this season is the Browns. Can they really go from zero to six wins in one year? Based on the talent they’ve added, they just might be able to. It’s hard to depend on either Tyrod Taylor or rookie QB Baker Mayfield, but with WR Josh Gordon back for a full year and the defense looking stout, anything is possible.
There are even rumblings Cleveland could add embattled receiver Dez Bryant to the mix. With all of this being said, the Browns are likely to fall so close to their projection, it might not be worth the risk. It all depends on if you’re buying the excitement coming from a team that failed to win a game a season ago. The data says: don't buy the hype.