After handicapping all 266 regular and postseason NFL games to date, we finally reach game 267: Super Bowl 54! It seems as though we’ve gotten the matchup nearly all NFL fans outside of Wisconsin and Tennessee wanted to see and from the looks of things early on, it should be an excellent contest. San Francisco brings the cache of being 5 time Super Bowl champions and the ability to tie the New England Patriots for the most all-time with a win on February 2nd while Kansas City’s appearance in the big game has broken a 50-year drought for the franchise and the possibility of HC Andy Reid collecting the one missing piece from his 20 year NFL head coaching career. This should be an entertaining and fitting finale to the 2019 season as it pits two very deserving representatives against one another. Betting markets seem to agree that this will be a closely contested game so let’s dig deep into this matchup and see if we can find some value on the final meaningful NFL game till next September (insert sad emoji)…
A quick look back at the Conference Championship game shows that I should’ve just stuck to my usual straight sides, teasers, and totals recommendations where we went 2-1 with regards to those types of bets. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my own advice, got a bit too cute, and pushed in a few props and alternative lines which went a disappointing 0-4. This isn’t to say they were all complete misses as our Mahomes passing yards over prop came up less than in 10 yards short and our longest TD over 40.5 yards in NFC title game came up just inches short as Jimmy Graham’s apparent 4th quarter TD was overturned as he was marked down just outside of the endzone. A 2-5 Conference Championship weekend is certainly disappointing, however, a kick in the nuts isn’t always the worst thing if you learn from it which in my case is simply a reminder to stay in my lane (sides and totals) and steer clear of prop bets which has never been my forte. All and all, we’re still in the green for the 2019 season and will finish there as last week’s results brings us to 37-31-1 (54.4%) on sides, 74-61-1 on totals (54.8%), and a comfortable 111-92-2 (54.7%) overall for the year. So, let’s shake off last week and finish up the season strong…
Just to recap here, this is my 3rd season writing NFL for Bangthebook.com and as past readers likely know, my approach is mostly model-driven. An explanation of how I construct my model can be found below. The model is updated every week for injuries as best as possible (given the mid-week posting of this article) and bi-weekly for the player and team data after Week 3 of the season. Additionally, I have built a 10-year database that I use to create home-field advantage numbers for each team which is further separated into divisional and non-divisional HFA when large splits are seen in the historical data. An updated article explaining how I created an HFA database can be found here.
Altogether, it’s been a fairly successful run using my model to handicap the NFL as we’ve accrued a 135-106-4 (56.0%) lifetime record with NFL sides from this weekly article. Last year I also tracked some of the model data and applied it to NFL totals with even more success as well as we collected a 183-140-3 (56.6%) record to date. Generally speaking there will be more volume this season with totals than with sides as an offseason review of the data showed the model totals blindly hit 54.7% while blind sides hit 51.9% in 2018. Therefore, there will be many more instances where I fade or ignore the model with regard to a side but nearly always back it with the total simply because it has a greater record of success in this area.
I’m admittedly not much of a social media guy but I can be found on Twitter @sciflyguy and occasionally will post a thing or two. This season however I will look to be more active and plan to post my raw look ahead model numbers on Sunday mornings so you can apply them early in the week however you see fit. If anyone has any questions or would like to contact me feel free, otherwise let’s get at it again and look for a successful Super Bowl 54 to finish up the 2019 season!
Sunday, February 2nd
6:30 – San Francisco 49ers / Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5 / 54)
|San Francisco||Kansas City|
|Model Offense Rank||7th||2nd|
|DVOA Offense (Run/Pass)||7th (13th / 8th)||3rd (14th / 2nd)|
|Opp. Def. Efficiency (Run/Pass)||10th (20th / 8th)||27nd (26th / 25th)|
|Model Defense Rank||1st||24th|
|DVOA Defense (Run/Pass)||2nd (11th / 2nd)||14th (29th / 6th)|
|Opp. Off. Efficiency (Run/Pass)||13th (3rd / 16th)||6th (19th / 4th)|
|Model Predicted Final Score||29||27|
What the Model Says: The model sees San Francisco as a 1.7 point favorite in the game and predicts a total of around 56.5. Therefore, the model would blindly recommend San Francisco +1.5 and would recommend over 54 points.
Evaluation and Recommendation: Being that we only have one final game to look at this week, let’s take a slightly different approach and go through the strengths and weaknesses of these teams and attempt to project how they will play out in Super Bowl 54.
Kansas City Chiefs
Strengths: Well, this is an easy one as anyone who has watched the NFL over the last few seasons would likely be able to tell you that the Chiefs offense is a clear strength of the AFC Champs but for the sake of this exercise let’s dig through the pieces which make this KC offense so dangerous. An obvious starting point here is QB Patrick Mahomes who comes into the game off two very impressive performances against Houston and Tennessee in which he threw for 615 yards and 8 TDs versus 0 interceptions. Mahomes’ legs make him even more dangerous as he’s collected another 106 on the ground in the playoffs. The Chief’s signal-caller sits at or near the top of the leaderboard in nearly all metrics including PFF grade (tied #2), yards gained per pass attempt (4th), QB Rating (7th), QBR (2nd), and DVOA (3rd). Mahomes is undoubtedly aided by his skill position players which are among the best in the NFL as they rank as the #4 overall group according to the player model.
This group is led by elite talent at the WR and TE positions in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce who provide matchup nightmares for defensive coordinators and rank within the top 10 at their position according to PFF. Secondary wide receivers Sammy Watkins and rookie Mecole Hartman complement Hill’s speed with well, more speed as this unit will undoubtedly be one of the most talented groups of receivers the 49ers will have faced this year. Lastly on the offense is the line and namely the tackle positions. Tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz are the standouts on this group as they are as solid a group of tackles as you’ll find in the NFL and along with the rest of the line rank 4th in pass protection according to Football Outsiders. Collectively, the Kansas City Chiefs offensive ranks in the top 5 in offensive efficiency, passing efficiency, 3rd down success rate, and points per game.
On the defensive side of the ball, it’s a little more difficult to find standout units, however, the Chiefs do boost some elite talent in S Tyrann Mathieu, DE Frank Clark, and DT Chris Jones. Each has the ability to change the game with pressure and explosive plays. It should be noted that while this unit doesn’t grade out particularly well according to the player model, it has improved dramatically this year and is not the liability it has been in past seasons. Some examples of this improvement include a rise from 24th in points allowed in 2018 to 7th this season and a similar rise from 26th to 14th in defensive DVOA. Areas, where the KC defense does demonstrate top 10 performance in 2019, includes one-score game pass defense (#2), pass defense efficiency (#6), and explosive pass defense (#7). Again, the defense is not the strength of the Chiefs however, they have certainly shown improvement in 2019 and are an above-average unit against the pass.
A couple of final strengths of the Chiefs include their coaching and special teams. HC Andy Reid is a grizzled veteran of the game and an excellent designer of an offensive game plan which exploits an opponent’s defensive weaknesses. This talent is highlighted on bye weeks in which Reid holds an impressive 22-5 record straight up and is 18-9 ATS throughout his career. Lastly, the Special Teams carries a weight of about 5% within my player model and this continues to be an area of strength for the Chiefs as they were the #2 unit in both 2018 and 2019 according to Football Outsiders.
Weaknesses: It goes without saying, that if an NFL team goes 14-4 through 18 games and finds itself in the Super Bowl, then that team likely has very few weaknesses. However, we also know that no team is “perfect” and without fault. Therefore, while the Chiefs (and 49ers) are well-rounded and one of the best in 2019 there are a few areas which they are below average at and which may be exploited by San Francisco.
For as good a passing team as Kansas City is, they are not nearly as dangerous with their ground attack. Kansas City’s lead Super Bowl running back will be Damian Williams with a sprinkling of rookie Derwin Thompson or perhaps even Shady McCoy. While these names may have some fantasy value, none currently grade out better than average according to PFF nor do they present as a unique threat like some of the other skill position players in this game. While HC Andy Reid has never featured a heavy dose of the run game throughout his coaching career (averaging about 60% pass over the past 4), this shouldn’t have any effect on how efficient it is when it is used. Yet, the Chiefs running game is at best average in this regard as they rank 14th in running DVOA and 20th in yards per rushing attempt. Another area of weakness on the offense that could be exploited is the interior of the offensive line where Wisniewski, Duvernay-Tardif, and Reiter have graded out below their career averages according to PFF and have demonstrated poor run blocking along the left side of the line and defensive pressure up the middle (yet some of this is mitigated by Mahomes’ scrambling abilities).
While the player model flags KC’s defense as a major weakness and it is certainly the weaker of the two units, it is likely not the 24th best unit in the NFL as the model suggests. The likely biggest hole on the defense is the linebacker position where KC’s top 3 LBs in terms of snaps (Niemann, Wilson, and Hitchens) all grade out as below average according to PFF and are not difference makers. As stated above, the other defensive groups (line and secondary), are a mix of elite talent along with other players who have flashed in the past but for whatever reason grade out below what their past performances suggest they are capable of. Some examples include CBs Kendell Fuller and Bashaud Breeland as well as defensive lineman Derrick Nnadi, Terrell Suggs, and Tanoh Kpassagnon. Overall, while KC’s defense is underrated within the player model, it grades out as about league average overall according to Football Outsiders (14th). While they are solid against the pass, this unit is quite susceptible to the run as they rank a poor 29th in rushing defense DVOA, a league-worst 32nd in rush D in one-score games, and 27th in defending explosive runs. The Chiefs did a fine job minimizing the effect of Titans RB Derrick Henry in the AFC Championship game but, this is certainly an area which the 49ers will look to take advantage of in Super Bowl 54.
San Francisco 49ers
Strengths: The San Francisco 49ers have allocated significant draft capital toward addressing their defensive line over the past five years to the point where they have used 4 of their past 5 1st round draft picks at the position. This commitment to the defensive line has paid off in spades this season as three of those former 1st round picks (Armstead, Buckner, and Bosa) all have logged over 800 defensive snaps in 2019 and grade out as above-average players at the position. These numbers highlight the fact that while offense is the calling card of the Kansas City Chiefs, their opponents, the 49ers, have made it to this point largely on the back of their defense. Overall, the San Francisco defense grades out as the NFL’s #1 overall unit according to the player model and has elite talent all three levels, not just the homegrown defensive line. As we move out to linebacker, we see recent 3rd and 4th round selections in Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw as well as free-agent signee Kwon Alexander. While Alexander has been injured at times this season and his PFF grade is below his typical output, he is a clear difference-maker on the defense and is well supported by Warner and Greenlaw who have each contributed over 800 snaps this season. This very solid front seven, is backed up by perhaps the defense’s best unit, the secondary. Headlined by PFF’s #1 overall cornerback, Richard Sherman, the 49er secondary grades out as above average or better at all starting positions in the back field. This talent rich unit has produced some impressive statistics this season as the 49ers have allowed league lows in yards per pass attempt (4.8), total passing yards allowed (2707), and 1st downs via the pass (150). Additional metrics supporting the 49ers defensive dominance against the pass include their rating in pass defense DVOA (2nd), one-score game pass defense efficiency (3rd), and explosive pass defense (2nd). These high rankings all mesh well with the secondary’s #1 overall grading within the player model.
For all their talent on the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers still have plenty on the offensive side as well. Like KC, the 49ers boost an array of skill position players which make them the #1 group within the player model. This diverse group of backs and receivers is led by elite TE George Kittle who was PFF’s #1 graded tight end and among the league leaders at the position in receptions, yards, and TDs. His middle of the field threat has made his complementary outside receivers Emmanual Sanders, and Debo Samuel more difficult to counter and therefore dangerous. Both grade out within the top 25 of all NFL WR’s according to PFF. This group of receiving threats has made San Fran the #1 ranked team in explosive passing plays and rank 8th in overall passing efficiency. Like many teams in the NFL, San Francisco does not utilize a bell cow running back but rather distributes the carries rather evenly between their three top RBs. Journeyman RB Raheem Mostart played the role of lead ball carrier in the NFC Championship game to the tune of 220 yards and 4 TDs in the wake of Tevin Coleman’s shoulder injury. Coleman is expected to play in the Super Bowl yet all three should see action and bring something different to the table. Lastly on the offense, we should mention the tackles of the San Francisco offensive line. 13-year veteran Joe Staley has played at an elite level throughout his career as evidenced by his 6 Pro Bowl selections and Matt McGlinchy was the 9ers 1st round pick in 2018 and has been a solid tackle on the right side for the past two seasons.
Weaknesses: Like the Chiefs, it is difficult to find weaknesses on a 13 win football team with as much talent as the 49ers but we’ll try. Our first look will be at the quarterback position.
While many teams in the NFL would love to have Jimmy Garoppolo behind center, I don’t think it’s a reach to say he’s not among the “elite” at the position nor would many give Garoppolo the edge over Mahomes on Sunday. This is not to say that Jimmy G has not been solid this season. In fact, many could argue that he is one of the main drivers of the 49ers success this season as they were a 4 win team in 2018 when he missed nearly the entire year with an injury. That being said, we know high level quarterback play is directly connected to a team’s success and the 49ers signal caller grades out with slightly above average numbers according to DVOA (11th), QBR (12th), and PFF grade (13th).
Additionally, Garoppolo is not known as a runner which makes him much less dangerous in the pocket than Patrick Mahomes and more susceptible to negative plays. This tendency is borne out in the numbers as he was sacked 36 times this season on 7% of his passes which a bit on the high side. Again, this is not to say Garoppolo is a below average or undesirable quarterback. However, if we look at the Super Bowl winning quarterbacks from the past 20 years, 14 have been won by Brady (6), Payton Manning (2), Roethlesberger (2), Wilson (1), Rodgers (1), Brees (1), and Warner (1) and it would be tough to argue that Chiefs QB doesn’t appear closer to this group of HOF or future HOF signal callers than Garoppolo.
Another area which could be considered a weakness of the 49ers would be the interior of their offensive line. Since the Week 14 injury to C Weston Richburg, the middle of the San Francisco offensive line has been composed of guards Laken Tomlinson and Mike Person as well as Richburg fill-in Ben Garland. All three of these players have been fine in the 5 games they’ve played together as the offense has continued to hum along by maintaining their 29 points p/g scoring average and allowing sacks on 7% of pass attempts however these 3 players standout as potential weak links in an otherwise stacked roster.
For all their offensive and defensive superlatives, the 49ers special teams units leave a bit to be desired overall. Football Outsiders ranks them 12th which is just slightly above league average but far behind the Chiefs #2 ranking and factor which could potentially be exposed against a better unit in a game as close as this Super Bowl appears to be on paper.
One last minor area to pick on for San Francisco could be their run game. Yes, we just saw them destroy Green Bay on the ground in the NFC Championship game and sure they have quality runners and an above average rush attack but it is not elite. Numbers which reflect this statement include the 49ers 13th rank in offensive rushing efficiency, and 16th rank in rushing success in one-score games. Again, these are not poor numbers however coming off the running display many just witnessed against the Packers, it’s important to keep their rushing efficiency from the other 17 games they played in 2019 in mind.
Picks and Leans
As we’ve discussed in the past, the NFL betting market is one of the most efficient markets in sports. Everyone knows the players, the coaches, the tendencies, and key injuries associated with the game. Sunday morning spreads and totals have been picked over by millions of people and essentially reflect their collective opinion. This is why sportsbook will allow 6 figure wagers an hour before kickoff but would scoff at that sort of action on a Monday morning. The situation is further highlighted for the Super Bowl where there is just one football game and everyone and their grandmother has some sort of action or opinion on the outcome. In other words, Super Bowl’s numbers are rightfully very tight however, we should also keep in mind that they also include more recreational money then a typical football Sunday which may skew things just a bit.
With this in mind, I’ll like to first say that I don’t see a lot of value on Super Bowl 54. In fact, while I think this a great matchup and I’m excited to see how this plays out on February 2nd, I would probably pass on this contest if it was a regular season game in Week 6. That said, it’s the Super Bowl, and you’re here for an opinion so let’s provide a side and total pick by order of confidence.
With regard to the total, betting markets opened this line at 51 at the conclusion of the San Fran / Green Bay contest and it quickly got bet up to as high as 55 at some locations. Since that time the under has received some money and it currently sits at 54 points. My totals models projects this game at 56.5 points so it is in agreement with the market that Super Bowl 54 will be a high scoring affair, but do we look over 54 points? Well, not quite. While the totals model has a solid record if bet blindly during the regular season (54.7% in 2018), it has blindly recommended the over on 9 of the 10 post-season games so far with the lone exception being the San Francisco / Minnesota game when the model and betting market both projected around 44 points. If we would’ve have blindly followed, we’d have a 4-5 record with totals thus far through 10 post season games. Yet, if we look at the number of points the totals model has projected in comparison to the final score, we’d see that the model has over shot the number of points scored in 8 of the 10 playoff games. The reasons for this pattern are a bit unclear at this time and will certainly get a look over the offseason (should defenses get a boost in the playoffs?) yet the fact remains that the totals model has been too high in general in the postseason. Add to this the fact that the model is too low on the Chiefs defense. Yes they have allowed 55 points in just 2 playoff games but keep in mind that 2 of those TDs in the Houston game were essentially not on the defense’s watch as well as the fact that they were allowing an average of just 11.5 points over their last 6 regular season games and 15.5 per game during their current 8 game winning streak. The numbers do skew a bit higher for SF as over their past 11 games they’ve allowed an average of 24 points p/g however every team they’ve played during that span has had an offense ranked 16th or better in offensive efficiency and as we’ve already discussed, the Kansas City offense is quite efficient. Additionally, in Andy Reid’s 20 year career, he posts a widely known 18-9 ATS record after a bye but a lesser discussed 21-6-1 record to the under in such situations.
Therefore, although the totals model points slightly to an over and it certainly seems like a risky proposition to take gamble on the defenses given these offensive minded coaches and teams, were going to look to the under when considered in light of our other points. What I’m going to suggest however is to look at the 1st half only (at least pregame). A major reason for this relies on the nature of the Super Bowl in comparison to other games throughout the year as it sees an elongated introduction, anthem singing, and fan fair which draws out the typical pregame routine. The thinking here is that with two quarterbacks who are new to the Super Bowl the added time will make them more jittery and slow down the offenses early on. This concept is backed by the fact that in the past 20 Super Bowls, 15 have had higher scoring in the 2nd half versus the 1st and by a fairly wide margin (19.3 average 1H points vs 26.0 2H). With all this in mind, we’re going to 1st recommend the 1H under 27 (-120) where you may need to pay a bit of extra juice but in this case it seems worth it. I also lean to the full game under here as well, however I’d like to see how the 1st half plays out before wagering on it. Therefore we’ll simply leave the 1st half under as our main totals play and simply lean under for the full game.
With regard to the side, the current 1.5 point line indicates that whoever wins the game should cover the number. However, the model, the market, and the general public consensus seems to suggest that this will be a very evenly played game in which either side could win. In all honesty, I’ve attempted to look at this game through various lenses including patterns in games these teams won or lost as well as trends in games these teams failed to cover however no reliable pattern could be uncovered. That said, I came across a few interesting nuggets which I do feel are actionable however. The first comes from Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders who discovered that teams ranking in the top 3 in offensive DVOA (Kansas City) are 11-11 in the Super Bowl while teams listed in the top 3 in defensive DVOA (San Francisco) are 10-4 in the big game. Additionally top 3 defenses are 4-2 in the Super Bowl when playing against top 3 offenses. Another interesting statistic examines the fact that Kansas City has won and covered 8 straight games entering the Super Bowl and have covered them by an average of 7 points per game. Only 4 other teams had higher cover margins during their ATS streaks (including the ‘07 Pats) and none of the previous squads won the Super Bowl. It is certainly true that one could likely dig up numbers that would point to the Chiefs as the right side here, however I do feel as though both trends point out some interesting points. First is that while the Chiefs have a greater offensive reputation, both of these teams have very good offenses (2nd KC / 7th SF) in terms of efficiency. In fact San Francisco has actually played a much better slate of defenses over the course of the season as their opponents have ranked 10th in defensive efficiency while the Chiefs have faced one of the worst slates of defenses (27th) in the NFL. The opposite is true if we were to look at the defensive side of the ball, however the difference between SF and KC defensively (#2 vs #14) is more significant while the gap between the offensive capabilities of their opponents is less so (#13 vs #6). All and all, these points as well as the fact that the player model believes that the 49ers should be the favored team here puts me in the San Francisco camp for Super Bowl 54. So while my heart will be rooting for Andy Reid to finally capture his elusive 1st Lombardi trophy my money will be on San Francisco +1.5.
Well…that’s all I have for you from player and totals model for the 2019 season! It was a labor of love and I’ll enjoy the break however it was a pleasure to know that readers have enjoyed the information again this year and that I was (hopefully) able to help you turn a profit betting on the NFL for the 3rd straight season! I’d also like to thank Adam Burke and the crew at bangthebook.com for providing me the platform to write and share my information as well. I will have one final article as we move a bit closer to Super Bowl 54 that will examine the betting action at Pennsylvania’s most popular brick-and-mortar sportsbook, Parx Casino. Additionally, if anyone is interested in my props, feel free to check out my Twitter account but again, props are NOT my forte. Otherwise, thanks again for a great season, enjoy the college hoops, NHL playoffs, and MLB in the coming months and see you all again in September!
-END OF POWER RATINGS SUPER BOWL PICKS & PREVIEW-
-BEGIN MODEL EXPLANATION & OVERVIEW-
The foundation for my thinking when I decided to devise a method to evaluate NFL teams a few years back was to take a mathematical / data driven approach. I understand my personal limitations in attempting to evaluate NFL talent and recognize that others are much better at it then I could ever hope to be. Therefore I decided to use the evaluative numbers of the scouting experts who do it for a living and create grades for each starting player on a team’s roster. The sources I use include Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders, various NFL Draft guides, Warren Sharp, and even the current year’s EA Sports Madden game. These player grades and figures are then weighed according to how much impact each position or factor has on the entire team to create an overall team grade. To determine potential bets, team grades are compared to one another, home field advantage is added in (I also create these myself) and then examined in relation to the betting line. The greater the divergence between my number and the betting line then influences the likelihood that it will be a play that week.
Grading the Offense
It’s no secret that changes to the rules and the evolution of the quarterback / passing game have led to higher scores and a greater influence that offenses have on the outcome of a game. For this reason, my NFL model gives 52 out of a possible 100 points to the offensive side of the ball. These 52 points (or 52% percent of the team’s overall grade) are then divided up amongst the main parts of the offense. The greatest percentage of the 52 offensive points are given to the most important position of a team, the quarterback, (which comprises over 20% of a team’s overall score), followed by the offensive line, and finally the skill position players. The player scores or grades for each team, taken from the sources above, are then input into the model and weighted by position and influence (number of snaps). Let’s use the World Champs to illustrate:
|Position||Name||Weight||Grade (out of 100)||Weighted Grade||Total Off. Grade|
|RB2 / Utility||Michel||2.5%||79.98||2.0|
Therefore the Patriots team grade would get 43.36 out of a possible 52 total points allocated to the offensive side of the ball. There are a few points I would like to clarify. First is that the value of a player or position for a particular team varies. Last year, with Gronk, New England’s TE position carried a greater weight (3.5%) then it does this season (2.5%). This year that 1% was distributed to the WRs more. Likewise, for the Giants, Saquon Barkley carries 4.5% of weight within New York’s running offense and Wayne Gallman gets 0.5% while White and Michel represents 2.5% each for the Pats because of how the ball is more evenly distributed in that offense. Granted a player’s value and impact on a team could be debated ad nauseam and are fluid throughout the season however from previous experience, these weights have correlated nicely with the betting line impact of an injury to a player which seems like a good test. Typically, losing nearly any positional player outside of the quarterback will cause at most a 1 point deduction in a team’s overall grade whereas a quarterback injury could move a line by up 6-7 points in some cases. The NFL model oftentimes reflects this pretty closely.
Grading the Defense
The defensive players of each team represents the next 41 of 100 total points for each squad. Again it is set up similarly to the offense with individual player grades and various positional weights. In this case the front 7 of the defensive unit comprises 25 points (or 25%) of the overall team score while the secondary is 16%. Due to the high amount of defensive line substitutes and the extensive use of nickel packages common in the league some teams have up to 14 defensive players included in their defensive team grade. Again let’s use New England to illustrate:
|Position||Name||Weight||Grade (Out of 100)||Weighted Grade||Total Def. Grade|
|DE||Wise / Winovich||4.25%||66.10||2.81||
|DT||Butler / Pennel||4%||72.22||2.89|
|S/LB||Roberts / Ebner||2%||69.46||1.39|
No. For special teams I do not attempt to use grades for marginal roster players, rookies, kickers, and long snappers. What I do use is Football Outsiders special teams DVOA which is typically updated on their site midweek. To briefly summarize I take these numbers / rankings and modify them produce a score out of 5 points. Teams with the best special teams in the league earn close to the full 5 points while poor teams on special teams may only earn a point or 2. Because special teams are one of the more variable units from year to year (with the exception of the Ravens who are routinely very good on special teams), we start the year with the past year’s special teams numbers modified slightly so teams are more closely bunched together. In this case, for the first three weeks all teams in the NFL will have a special teams grade between 2 and 4 points which reflects how they did last season in that area. To continue our Patriots look, they finished 14th in special teams DVOA last year and will get 3 special teams points to begin the season.
As I mentioned earlier, this model is continually a work in progress in an attempt to fine tune it to best reflect the capabilities of each NFL team. Last year I wanted to incorporate some data that relates to the overall efficiency of teams which I felt was lacking from past versions of my NFL model. To do this I used Football Outsiders Total DVOA and Yards Per Play Differential. I chose these metrics because they are closely correlated with winning football games and this year they will count for the final 2 points of the team’s 100 possible points. Again I use a little math to make the numbers fit but basically teams better at these two key metrics will earn closer to 2 while those who are not will earn closer to 0.
Summary and Preseason NFL Power Rank Numbers
I’d like to share some additional information about the NFL model regarding how it’s updated and how I would recommend using it. For the first few weeks of the season, the model grades remain largely unchanged regardless of how teams perform in their first couple of games. This is to prevent overreaction to a small sample size. Therefore the only modifications to teams early on will be due to injuries to starting players. From Week 4 on, the player grades, special teams DVOA rank, and other metrics will be updated on a bi-weekly basis while injuries will continue to be updated weekly.
Finally, each week throughout the season I will pick a few sides that I will be playing. Usually the model implies there is value against the line in the game and that is typically my starting point. However, that is not the only criteria that I will use. Carefully watching the games, identifying the ebbs and flows of the schedule, and many other factors are important and affect my choices as well. If you plan on following along this season I suggest that the Power Rankings be used as a starting point and not the “final say” in determining your weekly picks. On the other hand, I rely entirely on the model for my totals plays. These are derived from examining the strength of the opposing offenses and defenses to create a number (“+” number equate to more offense in the game while a “-” suggests more defense) and plotting that over historical totals. This approach to totals has been successful and I would advocate greater volume in this area based on the numbers produced by the model. Hopefully that helps to clarify my approach and how the model I use works. I look forward to another fun season writing here at BangTheBook and with some good fortune together we can profit from the NFL season.