The Vegas Report provides a quick snapshot of the 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.
We’re three weeks into the NFL season (minus the Cowboys-Cardinals game on Monday night). We’re at the point where the noise has partially separated itself from the signal. With any given trend it’s hard to know if what we see is representative, but it’s worth diving into the data and analyzing what we find. With that in mind, I’ve collected all the point spreads and game totals for Weeks 1-3 and put them next to the actual production data so we can see precisely how teams have done vis-à-vis Vegas to this point in the season.
I’ve created a Vegas Plus/Minus metric — similar to our proprietary daily fantasy Plus/Minus metric — that compares actual production with expected (or implied) production. For instance, the Cardinals (based on the over/unders and point spreads) were implied for an average of 25.5 points per game (PPG) in Weeks 1-2, but they scored only 19.5 PPG, resulting in a Vegas Plus/Minus of -6.0. Additionally, they failed to hit their Vegas-implied expectations in both weeks, giving them two implied ‘losses’ on the year.
While this data looked bad last week, this week it looks decent: 20 teams in Week 3 exceeded their implied totals. Still, we have five teams this year yet to hit their implied total in any game:
- Carolina Panthers: 0-3, -10.25
- Green Bay Packers: 0-3, -3.83
- Miami Dolphins: 0-2, -10.38
- Dallas Cowboys: 0-2, -6.75
- Arizona Cardinals: 0-2, -6.00
The Panthers superficially look OK with their 2-1 NFL record, but they have three implied losses and have underperformed their Vegas team totals with a bottom-three Vegas Plus/Minus. Cam Newton has been one of the most disappointing fantasy quarterbacks of the season. The Packers haven’t been awful — they’re tied for first in the NFC North at 2-1 — but in regulation of each game they’ve scored just 17-24 points. Aaron Rodgers is playing well, averaging 322.3 yards and two touchdowns passing per game — but Ty Montgomery has struggled as a lead runner with 3.0 yards per carry and 13.7 carries per game. The Dolphins have played only two games so far because of the Week 1 hurricane-caused bye — but they looked bad in Week 3, losing to the Jets in epic fashion. So far Jay Cutler has averaged 5.8 yards per attempt on 77 attempts. Especially for a team that wants to run the ball, that’s too much volume and not enough efficiency. The Cowboys and Cardinals play each other tonight. Given that the over/under has moved from 47.5 points to 46.5 even though more (57 percent) of the bets are on the over, there’s some sharp money on the under. The Cowboys and Cardinals might be thought of as high-scoring teams, but they haven’t been this year.
Only one team has hit its implied total in every game: The Detroit Lions (3-0, +6.17). Despite losing in Week 3 on a play that initially looked like a game-winning touchdown, the Lions have acquitted themselves well. Recently signed to a multi-year extension, Jim Caldwell is a better coach than most people realize. The lions might not be exciting — and in Week 3 a lot of their production came from the kicking game and defense — but the Lions could be a reliable source of fantasy goodness throughout the season.
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 hit or surpass the Vegas total, I’ve created an Over/Under Differential metric: The actual total of games minus their over/unders. As an example: The Cardinals had an average Vegas total of 46.25 PPG in Weeks 1-2, but their games actually totaled only 43.5 PPG. Thus, they have an Over/Under Differential of -2.75.
Three teams are yet to participate in a game that hit the over.
- Chicago Bears: 0-3, -6.50
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 0-3, -6.50
- Miami Dolphins: 0-2, -13.75
We’ve already touched on the Dolphins, who have a bottom-two Over/Under Differential. Coincidentally, the Bears and Steelers played in Week 3, finishing with a combined 40 points — the second-lowest total on the week. While the Bears are the typical ‘under’ team — they have a poor quarterback whose job is to 1) hand the ball off, 2) throw short passes, and 3) hope the defense keeps the score close — the Steelers are not supposed to be a team that regularly plays in games that hit the under. Expected to be a high-scoring team with the return of Martavis Bryant, the Steelers have been mediocre on offense and fortunate on defense to face units quarterbacked by DeShone Kizer, Case Keenum, and Mike Glennon. As the Steelers offense rounds into form and the defense faces better quarterbacks, Pittsburgh should participate in more games that hit the over. Of course, that might not happen in Weeks 4-5 (at Baltimore, vs. Jacksonville).
Four teams are yet to be in a game that hit the under:
- Los Angeles Rams: 3-0, +18.17
- New England Patriots: 3-0, +15.67
- Denver Broncos: 3-0, +6.83
- New Orleans Saints: 3-0, +0.67
In Week 3 the Rams played the game of the year on Thursday Night Football, combining with the 49ers to rack up 80 points. They’re 2-1 and atop the NFC West. Led by new coach Sean McVay, the Rams offense has transformed into a promising unit. Aided by a Wade Phillips-coordinated defense that is both opportunistic and perhaps vulnerable to big plays as it transitions from a 4-3 to 3-4, the offense could be good enough to juice many of their games to the over. The Patriots and Saints have routinely been two of the highest-scoring teams of the last decade, and both this season have experienced some defensive difficulties (which were not unexpected; see the Patriots preview and Saints preview for more). Both of those teams could be in for a season of shootouts. The Broncos offense has impressed with the development of Trevor Siemian, and perhaps some of Denver’s game totals have been overly depressed because of the reputation of the Broncos defense. If the betting market in fact undervalues the offense and overvalues the defense, then the Broncos could compete in many games that hit the over.
The spread is the go-to number for Vegas and DFS, as it is predictive of game script and outcome. As a result I’ve created a Spread Differential metric so we can see how teams have done on a PPG basis relative to the spread. The Cardinals in Weeks 1-2 were -4.75 favorites on average, but this season their opponents have outscored them by 4.5 PPG. As a result, they have a woeful -9.25 Spread Differential.
Three teams are winless against the spread (ATS):
- Seattle Seahawks: 0-3, -6.67
- Los Angeles Chargers: 0-2-1, -5.5
- Arizona Cardinals: 0-2, -9.25
The Seahawks always seem to start slow so their 1-2 NFL record isn’t the be-all and end-all, but they have significantly underperformed market expectations. Given that their offensive line was Pro Football Focus’ worst unit entering the season, their problems might not be readily fixable. As for the Chargers, they’re in a new town, they have no home-field advantage, their head coach is a rookie, their quarterback leads the league with 56 interceptions since 2014, and their running back struggles to get above 4.0 yards per carry. With two made field goals they could be 2-1 and competing in the AFC West — but the Chargers are skilled at turning wins into close losses.
Two teams are undefeated ATS:
- Kansas City Chiefs: 3-0, +12.33
- Buffalo Bills: 3-0, +5.33
The Chiefs are running hot. At some point they’ll cool off — they’re still quarterbacked by Alex Smith and it’s not likely that Kareem Hunt is the greatest running back of all time — but their 9.0-win over/under from the preseason now looks ridiculous. As I mentioned in last week’s piece, the Bills are intriguing. They’re playing to win. In Week 1 they covered at home as 7.0-point favorites over the Jets, who are bad, but it’s doubtful the Bills should be laying a touchdown to any NFL team. And then in Week 2 they covered as 6.5-point road underdogs against a tough Panthers team even though the Bills scored only three points and managed just 176 yards of offense. In Week 3, the Bills took it to the mighty Broncos 26-16 for the victory. The Bills have shown themselves to be a hard-nosed team with the capacity to stay competitive deep into games. Even if the Bills turn out not to be a good team as the season progresses, they could be a source of backdoor covers and unexpected (and low-owned) fantasy production: Since 2015, Tyrod Taylor has been the cheap Konami Code quarterback for people looking to pay down at the position in cash games.
For fantasy insight on the weekly market, read Ben Gretch’s Deconstructing the Vegas Betting Lines (out on Fri./Sat.).