Vegas Outliers provides a quick snapshot of year-to-date Vegas trends and their daily fantasy implications for the week’s slate of NFL games. For more of our weekly football content, visit our NFL homepage.
The Divisional Round is here, and we’re fresh off a Wild Card weekend on which all the underdogs covered: #TeamFadeThePublic is alive and well. To understand how the remaining postseason teams have performed vis-à-vis Vegas, I’ve collected the point spreads and game totals for Weeks 1-18 and put them next to the year-to-date production data.
I’ve created a Vegas Plus/Minus metric (similar to our proprietary daily fantasy Plus/Minus metric) that compares actual production in points per game (PPG) with the totals implied by the Vegas data. A positive number means that a team scores more points than its implied total; a negative number, fewer points. If a team hits its Vegas-implied expectations in a game, that counts as a win; if a team fails to hit expectations, that’s a loss.
The Eagles have the No. 1 seed in the NFC and have hit their implied totals in a league-high 12 games, but they are without starting quarterback Carson Wentz (knee, Injured Reserve), and in three games with backup Nick Foles as the starter they have a horrid -5.83 Vegas Plus/Minus. One of those games was in Week 17, so that number might be artificially low, but they’ve managed only 17.67 PPG with Foles. Against the Falcons, who just held the world-beating Rams to 13, the Eagles are implied for a low 19.5 points, and that might be too high.
Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus
When thinking about game script, spreads, and over/unders, we should take defensive performance into account, so I’ve created a Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus. A positive number means that a team allows fewer points than its opponent’s implied total; a negative number, more points. If a team holds an opponent below its implied total, that’s a win; if a team allows an opponent to hit expectations, that’s a loss.
For much of the season the Jaguars led the league in Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus, but at the top of the postseason cohort are the Vikings with a +3.94. The Jaguars defense is first in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) — and it just held the Bills to three points — but the Vikings defense is almost as good, finishing second in overall DVOA as the only unit with top-five marks against the pass and run. The Vikings have held opponents to a league-low 15.75 PPG, and after their Week 9 bye that number dropped to 14.63 as they finished the year on a 7-1 run. The Jags defense is great, but it’s possible the NFL’s best defense belongs to the Vikings, who are implied to hold the Saints to 20.75 points. When the Vikings hosted the Saints way back in Week 1, they limited New Orleans to just 19 points. No game should be given much weight, especially one so early in the season, but the Vikings have the defense to hang with any offense.
On the topic of defense, I should point out that the remaining playoffs teams are much stronger on defense than offense. Collectively they have a Vegas Plus/Minus of +0.60 and have hit their implied totals in 69 of 132 games. That’s fine, but it’s less impressive than their +1.87 Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus. They’ve limited opponents to just 18.78 PPG and held them below their Vegas expectations in 80 games. It’s that time of year: Defense wins championships.
Offensive production within an NFL contest is often correlated across teams. As a result, many sharp DFS players stack games (instead of just teams) in guaranteed prize pools. To highlight teams that tend to play in games that fall short of or surpass the Vegas total, I’ve created an Over/Under Differential metric. A positive number means that a team on average participates in games that hit the over; a negative number, the under.
The Falcons-Eagles game opened with an over/under of 43.5 points, and it has already dropped two points even though 53 percent of the early bets are on the over: Sharp money is expecting a relatively low-scoring game, which makes sense: The Falcons have a league-low -6.91 Over/Under Differential thanks to their underperforming offense (-3.68 Vegas Plus/Minus) and overperforming defense (+3.24 Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus), and with Foles as the starter the Eagles have an abominable -9.83. The Falcons and Eagles have many popular players — especially wide receiver Julio Jones, who just beasted with nine receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets — but going underweight on them in fantasy could be the smart contrarian strategy.
The point spread is the go-to number for Vegas and DFS, as it is predictive of game script and outcome. I’ve created a Spread Differential metric so we can see how teams have done on a PPG basis relative to the spread. A positive number means that a team on average overperforms the spread; a negative number, underperforms.
The Jags-Steelers game is intriguing. In Week 5 in Pittsburgh the Jags pounded the Steelers 30-9 even though ‘quarterback’ Blake Bortles had just 95 yards and an interception on 8-of-14 passing. The defense was in peak form as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions and running back Le’Veon Bell was held to 47 yards rushing. Wide receiver Antonio Brown (calf) is expected to return to action, but he’ll have a tough matchup against cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye and might not be at full strength. The Steelers are -8.5 home favorites and getting 75 percent of the early spread bets, but the Jags lead the remaining postseason teams with a +6.26 Spread Differential. I can only imagine which team Chad Millman will be betting on.
As for the Titans-Patriots game, it’s the squarest of square moves to back the -13.5 home favorites — the Pats have gotten 82 percent of the early spread bets — but no team has been better against the spread this year than the Pats at 11-5, and since their Week 7 game against the Falcons (of course!) the Pats are 9-1 ATS. The Pats are rested, and Angry Tom Brady will have extra motivation after the Seth Wickersham article. Of the remaining teams the Titans are last with a -2.38 Spread Differential and the only one with a negative point differential. Burn your money. With an implied total of 30.25 points, Brady and the Patriots will be popular daily fantasy options in guaranteed prize pools.
It’s rare for the team with the higher seeding not to be favored in the Divisional Round — the team is rested, at home, and usually better — but the Eagles are +2.5 underdogs to the Falcons. The line opened at -3.0 but has dropped even though 63 percent of the spread bets are on Atlanta: Sharp money is backing the Eagles — but it’s awfully hard to overlook Philly’s 0-3 ATS record this year with Foles as the starter.
Research the Divisional Round games with our Tools and Models.
Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.
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