While strategies for betting on team productivity are almost identical to betting on win totals, there’s a huge difference that sets the two apart: wins versus on-field productivity.
What you need to be looking for here isn’t so much the win-loss column, but how each team ranks in productivity. Now, there are different avenues to take for productivity.
You can bet on the overall productivity of an entire offense. It doesn’t matter if that team finishes 7-9 and under their projected 9-win total. What matters for the offense are statistics like points scored, yards gained, team passing, team rushing, etc.
There’s a big difference than wagering a team’s projected win total. That said, there are 4 strategies you can use for the upcoming season and beyond.
1 – Strength of Schedule
Pay attention to a team’s overall strength of schedule well in advance before the season begins. For example, if a team whose offense you like faces 3 of the top-5 projected defenses, it’s a red flag.
Even if the offense projects to be decent, playing 3 defenses loaded with stars early is enough to shatter an offense’s confidence. Look at the 2019 Browns. They faced hot defenses like San Francisco’s early in the season.
It wasn’t bad, but it disappointed those betting on the Browns’ offense to soar to new heights in 2019.
A common NFL betting mistake is not paying attention to the units each team faces. The same goes for a defense projecting to be top level. Super Bowl LIV should’ve given you a heads up into how in today’s game a great defense can fall to a great offense. San Francisco allowed 31 points in that game to Kansas City.
In the 20th century, great defenses always beat great offenses barring specific exceptions. Today, they’re neck and neck. This is because rule changes affected what defenses can do and the league isn’t as defense-friendly as it was in 1999 or even 2005.
Great defenses no longer beat great offenses and great teams no longer start with great defense. Don’t fall for that dated axiom. Can it still happen? Sure. But it’s not as prevalent.
2 – Strength of Division
Those who bet the 2019 Rams to have a repeat of 2018 learned it the hard way. The Rams didn’t produce well on offense in 2019 compared to their 2018 numbers when they lit up the scoreboard.
The offense’s overall production dropped points-wise from 527 points in 2018 to just 394 points in 2019. Not exactly an encore of ‘The Greatest Show on Turf.’
Instead, their defense kept them in games, but often couldn’t hold because of the offense’s regression. Points-wise, the defense performed better, ranking 13th in total defense and 17th in points allowed. Compare that to 2018, where the defense ranked 19th in total defense.
But the Rams also played the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers twice. They finished a combined 1-3 in those games and scored 7 points. In November, the Baltimore Ravens came to town and won 45-6 in a blowout.
The Baltimore game is something so many bettors forget. Not only do you need to worry about the strength of schedule and strength of a team’s home division, but you need to investigate the divisions they’re playing against.
Here, you’re taking strength of schedule discussed in the 1st section and dissecting the most favorable schedules you see for the season into 3 subgroups: intra-divisional games (6), intra-conference games (4), and inter-conference games (4).
Remember, each team plays 2 other divisions every year. After 2020, this could alter slightly if the league adds a 17th game in 2021, but it shows the importance of breaking down each division your targeted teams play.
But we’re not done yet. You filtered teams with unfavorable schedules and now you filtered out teams whose divisional matchups pose a problem. The goal is to target 3 to 5 teams and find those edges.
How do you continue?
You dissect opposing units.
3 – Strength of Opposing Units
Now you’ll have a list cut down to about 10 teams or 20 units (offense, defense) who’ve passed the overall strength of schedule and divisional tests. Now, it’s time to look at the opposing units played. I covered this in passing, earlier in the article, but this section will dive further in-depth.
Look at each remaining team and study their opposing offensive, defensive, and special teams units. What you want to look for is how the unit performed last season, and, if they performed well, ask whether their core is returning.
For example, the Seattle Seahawks had the best defense in football during the ‘Legion of Boom’ era with Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Byron Maxwell. But when those players left, Seattle’s defense predictably lost steam.
So, see which units are still intact and which are rebuilding. Some however, can surprise, so look at units who were weak last season and ask if they signed or drafted anyone that will dramatically improve the team.
In 2018, the 49ers ranked 28th in points allowed and 13th in total defense. They ranked 11th in pass defense and 14th in rush defense. That was middle of the road but decent for a team who finished 4-12 in 2018.
For 2019, the 49ers added help like Kwon Alexander and Dee Ford, while drafting the most coveted prospect in the NFL Draft, defensive end Nick Bosa.
3 additions, which accounts for over 25 percent of the starting defense, meant oddsmakers who may have bumped the Niners up a little in overall defensive production, made a mistake, and a smart bettor would’ve seen through it.
San Francisco would not be the same pushover they were the season before. Their defense in 2018 wasn’t as bad as their 4-12 record. The team couldn’t score and turned the ball over a lot.
But in 2019, they strengthened what was already a strength and on offense their franchise quarterback returned after missing most of 2018 with an outstanding running back committee consisting of Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and Matt Breida.
They also had the best tight-end in football in George Kittle and one of the hottest rookie receivers in Deebo Samuel.
So, if I were looking to bet on either Seattle or Los Angeles in 2019, thinking Arizona (worst team in 2018) and San Francisco (2nd worst team in 2018) would be pushovers, I’d have made a huge mistake making bets on either team while thinking the Niners were still a bad team.
Had I looked at the 49ers’ units and how strong they really were, I would’ve refrained from betting on the Seahawks’ or Rams’ production. Also, those final 2 games in every NFL schedule are based on where a team finishes in their division the previous season.
Since Seattle and Los Angeles finished 2nd and 1st, they had to play the other teams in the NFC finishing in the same position in 2018. Los Angeles played Chicago and Dallas while Seattle played Philadelphia and Minnesota.
Regardless, Seattle and Los Angeles would’ve been risky. Studying their opponents’ units would’ve told you so.
And when you look at the math, the Seahawks scored only 7 more points than they allowed despite their 11-5 record and playoff berth. The Rams suffered a Super Bowl hangover and missed the playoffs.
It shows that things aren’t always clear cut as they look to be on paper.
4 – Strength of Opposing Position Groups
And finally, the 4th NFL betting strategy involves scouting opposing position groups. The difference between a position group and a unit is the breakdown. On offense, you have your quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, and offensive line.
On defense, you have the defensive line, linebackers, and safeties.
By now, you’ll have between 5 and 7 potential targets and that number will drop to 3 to 5 (6 to 10 per unit) as you look at this final number.
Let’s say you like the Bengals for 2020 in terms of production since they drafted a new quarterback to pair with added offensive talent. Dissect each opposing team’s position group. For this example, we’ll use position groups in the Browns’ offensive unit.
The Browns disappointed in 2019, but they didn’t have a good left tackle so quarterback Baker Mayfield ran for his life when he dropped back. Their high-end spell back in Kareem Hunt spent the first 8 games on the reserve/suspended list, and they lost starting tight-end David Njoku in Week Two.
Also, the right guard position was as unsettled as the left tackle position and the team’s incumbent right tackle in 2019, Chris Hubbard, regressed.
Therefore, Cleveland disappointed fans and everyone else who pegged them to be one of the better offenses. The Browns were very unsettled and had disciplinary problems even before the season began, which would’ve prompted smart bettors to stay away from them.
But many who refused to look at position groups, despite the team’s favorable matchups down the stretch and even in their own division, would’ve bet on the team overachieving in productivity.
A smart and seasoned bettor would’ve looked at the team’s offensive line, knowing it was a weak link. Greg Robinson and whoever else the team put there wouldn’t lock down the blindside.
The Browns signed Hubbard to fill the right side in 2018, but there’s a reason he spent his time in Pittsburgh as a backup before coming to Cleveland. The right guard position was unsettled as early as Organized Team Activities (OTA’s) in May.
The receivers? Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry hadn’t played together since college and Beckham was and still is a diva. Pairing the receiver with a new coach in Freddie Kitchens wasn’t compatible. David Njoku has been injury prone his whole career and there wasn’t a viable backup tight-end.
This raised question marks for the team’s receiving corp.
And with Hunt’s absence, the Browns turned to running backs who had no business being on an NFL roster to fill in for Chubb when he needed a break. And what if Chubb went down with an injury in those first 8 weeks?
So it’s important to dissect a position group.
Fast-forward to 2020, where the team signed right tackle Jack Conklin. They drafted a left tackle in Jedrick Wills, one of the highest-rated tackles in the class. They can still sign or draft a guard to start on the right side. The line as a unit improved.
This means Mayfield won’t be throwing the ball away or forcing it into coverage as often. It’ll give him time to go through his progressions.
They signed Pro Bowl tight-end Austin Hooper, who will take over for Njoku, who figures to be a backup.
Hunt will be available all year.
Chubb was the runner-up in 2019 for the rushing title, and that was with a bad offensive line.
If the Bengals pass the top 3 tests, then you dissect not just the Browns’ offense but each position group where the team improved. The story may be a little different, but from a production standpoint, the Browns’ offense might spell trouble for your targeted Bengals’ defense.
It looks like a lot. But for serious gamblers whose goal is to profit, this is just a day’s work. To truly earn money on betting sports, you need to do more than just look at who a team signed and drafted, figuring, “They’ve improved.”
Not a good move. Look at the strength of schedule. Look at the strength of each of the 3 divisions your targeted teams are playing and definitely look at the opposing units and position groups.
Never skip these steps and doing so might cause unforeseen results you otherwise would’ve caught by doing some homework.
Do you agree with suggestions? Are there any strategies I might have left out? Let me know in the comments.