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 five weeks into the NFL season (minus the Vikings-Bears game on Monday night), and our data set is starting to solidify. With that in mind, I’ve collected all the point spreads and game totals for Weeks 1-5 and put them next to the production data so we can see 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 23.4 points per game (PPG) in Weeks 1-5, but they scored only 16.2 PPG, resulting in a Vegas Plus/Minus of -7.20. Additionally, they failed to hit their Vegas-implied expectations each week, giving them five implied ‘losses’ on the year.
On the season, the NFL is 71-81 when it comes to hitting implied team totals. The only positive week of the season so far was Week 3. Otherwise, each week has been plagued by negative Vegas Plus/Minus values and non-winning implied records.
Two teams this year are yet to hit their implied total in any game.
- Arizona Cardinals: 0-5, -7.20
- Miami Dolphins: 0-4, -12.31
The market has been slow to price the Cardinals down, but it needs to happen. They’re lucky to have a 2-3 NFL record, as they’re yet to finish regulation leading a game. Despite having two overtime sessions through the first five games of the season, they’ve scored at least 20 points in only one contest. People think of the Cardinals as a high-scoring team — and they were second (30.6 PPG) and sixth (26.1 PPG) in 2015-16 — but without running back David Johnson they’re 29th (16.2 PPG) on the season. Carson Palmer has attempted an absurd 227 passes, but his aerial volume hasn’t translated into offensive production.
The Dolphins somehow have a 2-2 NFL record despite ranking last in the league with 10.25 PPG and their -12.31 Vegas Plus/Minus. They’re yet to score 20 points in a game. It’s possible that some of their early woes are due to their schedule — after a hurricane-forced Week 1 bye, they played Weeks 2-4 on the road — but this team looks bad. Jay Ajayi has been one of the most disappointing fantasy running backs of the season, and now wide receiver DeVante Parker has an injured ankle. Even if/when this team improves, it might be much better.
No team has hit its implied total in every game, although we have three teams that are 4-1.
- Kansas City Chiefs, 4-1, +8.65
- Philadelphia Eagles: 4-1, +2.25
- Detroit Lions: 4-1, +2.58
The Chiefs are running hot, and they just manhandled the Texans with a 42-34 victory on Sunday Night Football. At some point they’ll cool off — Alex Smith is still their quarterback, and it’s doubtful that Kareem Hunt is the greatest running back of all time — but their 9.0-win over/under from the preseason now looks ridiculous. With a 5-0 NFL record, the Chiefs are the league’s last undefeated team, and they lead the league with 32.8 PPG.
The Eagles lead the NFC East with a 4-1 record, and the continued development of second-year quarterback Carson Wentz is encouraging: 6.2 yards per attempt and a 2.64 percent touchdown rate last year; 7.7 and 5.65 percent this year. With Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 offensive line entering the season, the Eagles appear to have staying power.
The Lions have a 3-2 NFL record and in typical fashion are in the running for a wildcard spot. Even though people generally believe otherwise, Jim Caldwell is a competent coach. In his five years without Caldwell, Stafford averaged a 59.5 percent completion rate. In his three-plus years with him, a 64.3 percent. The high-scoring Lions have finished with fewer than 23 points just once this season.
Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus
This week I’m adding a new metric: Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus. When thinking about game script, spreads, and over/unders, we should take into account more than just a team’s offensive performance relative to its implied total: We should also think about its defensive performance. Example: The Cardinals were implied to allow 22.0 PPG in Weeks 1-5, but their opponents scored 25.0 PPG, giving them a Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus of -3.0. (A negative number means that a team allows more points than its average implied total; a positive number, fewer points.)
As noted previously, this year teams have tended to underperform their Vegas expectations. Phrased differently: They have been good at holding their opponents to subpar performances. The best team in this regard has been the Buffalo Bills: 5-0, +7.80. The Bills are yet to allow an opponent to hit its implied total. In fact, the Bills haven’t let an opponent score more than 17 points, and they lead the league with just 14.8 PPG allowed. While the Bills have struggled to score on a consistent basis, averaging just 17.8 PPG, their defense — led by new head coach Sean McDermott — has shown itself to be a tough unit. Through five weeks, the Bills have a league-best Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus.
No team has allowed opponents to hit their implied totals in every game, but there are two teams that are 1-4.
- Indianapolis Colts, 1-4, -8.25
- New York Giants, 1-4, -1.45
The Colts are defensively horrible. They just allowed the body of Brian Hoyer to throw for 353 yards and two touchdowns on their home field. They easily are last in the league with their 31.8 PPG allowed and Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus. The only opponent not to hit its implied total against them was the hapless Cardinals in Week 2.
The Giants aren’t as bad as they look. Their 24.4 PPG allowed is high, but with their -1.45 Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus they could easily have an opponent implied record of 2-3 or maybe even 3-2 instead of 1-4. Of course, given that they’re one of three winless teams with an NFL record of 0-5, it’s not a surprise that the Giants are on the wrong side of variance.
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. Example: The Cardinals had an average Vegas total of 45.4 PPG in Weeks 1-5, but their games actually totaled only 41.2 PPG. Thus, they have an Over/Under Differential of -4.2.
Here’s an intriguing item: Although teams are collectively underperforming their Vegas expectations, through five weeks the league is 76-76 on the over/under. Not surprisingly, Vegas is sharp in the aggregate.
Two teams are yet to participate in a game that hit the over.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 0-5, -5.7
- Miami Dolphins: 0-4, -18.63
Although the Steelers have a 3-2 NFL record, their offense has been mediocre, ranking 20th with 19.8 PPG. Their defense, however, has been good, holding opposing teams to the league’s sixth-lowest total at 17.8 PPG. With an underperforming offense and staunch defense, the Steelers seem unlikely to participate in many high-scoring games. And what is there to say about the Dolphins? It’s hard for a team to hit the over when it’s last in the league with 10.25 PPG. It’s defense, which has held opponents to the fourth-lowest total at 16.75 PPG, also isn’t helping the Dolphins hit any overs.
No team has hit the over in every game. Five teams have hit the over in four games:
- Los Angeles Rams: 4-1, +9.6
- Indianapolis Colts, 4-1, +8.7
- Kansas City Chiefs, 4-1, +8.2
- New England Patriots: 4-1, +8.1
- Green Bay Packers: 4-1, +0.3
The remade Rams are second in the league with 30.4 PPG and fourth with a +7.25 Vegas Plus/Minus. Their Wade Phillips-led 3-4 defense is taking time to round into form, averaging bottom-10 marks with a 24.2 PPG allowed and -2.35 Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus. With a hot offense and leaky defense, the Rams seem likely to be involved in many shootouts.
The Colts and Chiefs are polar opposites. The Colts have the worst scoring defense in the league, and the Chiefs have the best scoring offense. As long as those units continue to perform on the far ends of the spectrum — and it’s not certain they will — the overs for their games will be enticing.
The Patriots are third in the league with 29.6 PPG and tied for second to last with 28.4 PPG allowed. People have a strong sense of what the Patriots offense can do (as evidenced by a fairly accurate +0.70 Vegas Plus/Minus), but New England’s defense (with its -7.40 Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus) is still confounding the market. Although New England’s Week 5 game failed to hit the over, Patriots games will always be in consideration until the defense improves or the market significantly adjusts.
Green Bay’s +0.3 Over/Under Differential is more representative of a team whose games would be 3-2 or maybe even 2-3 than 4-1. In general, the market has a strong idea of who the Packers are with fairly accurate +1.65 Vegas Plus/Minus and +1.35 Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus values. There might be some value to betting the over on Packers games, especially when there are other positive factors, but the edge is likely to be slight.
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 1-5 were -1.4 favorites on average, but this season their opponents have outscored them by 8.8 PPG. As a result, they have a woeful -10.2 Spread Differential.
As you might expect, the undefeated Chiefs are also undefeated against the spread (ATS): 5-0, +9.1. They’re highly unlikely to go 16-0 ATS this year — especially in such an event-driven sport — but through five weeks they’ve been the most consistently dominant team in the league.
It’s worth noting that the Jaguars lead the league with a +13.8 Spread Differential and an +11.2 actual differential. Those numbers are partially due to blowout victories against the Texans (29-7, Week 1), Ravens (44-7, Week 3), and Steelers (30-9, Week 5). Three-touchdown wins will almost certainly be less frequent moving forward, but the Jaguars have a tough defense — they’re fourth with a +4.45 Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus, and they literally just picked off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times — and they also have a run-focused ball-control offense that minimizes the negative play of ‘franchise’ quarterback Blake Bortles. They’re the type of team capable of hanging around in and stealing games.
The Cardinals are the only team that is 0-5 ATS. They’re also the only team with a double-digit negative Spread Differential. They’re not the worst team in the league — but if they were valued that way Vegas would probably be more accurate.
For fantasy insight on the weekly market, read Ben Gretch’s Deconstructing the Vegas Betting Lines (out on Saturday).