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 through six weeks of the NFL season (minus the Colts-Titans game on Monday night), and our data set is solidifying. With that in mind, I’ve collected all the point spreads and game totals for Weeks 1-6 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 Arizona Cardinals (based on the over/unders and point spreads) were implied for an average of 23.17 points per game (PPG) in Weeks 1-6, but they scored only 19.83 PPG, resulting in a Vegas Plus/Minus of -3.33. Additionally, they failed to hit their Vegas-implied expectations in five of six games, giving them an ‘implied’ record of 1-5 on the year.
On the season, the NFL is 86-94 when it comes to hitting implied team totals. Only two of the six weeks have resulted in league-wide positive Vegas Plus/Minus values.
Three teams this year have hit their implied total in only one game.
- Arizona Cardinals: 1-5, -3.33
- Cleveland Browns: 1-5, -3.25
- Miami Dolphins: 1-4, -9.05
By implied record, the Cardinals and Browns are the worst teams. By Vegas Plus/Minus, the worst team is clearly the Dolphins. The Cardinals and Dolphins were both winless (by implied totals) entering Week 6, and they managed to leave the week with big implied and actual victories as underdogs thanks to dominant rushing performances by Adrian Peterson and Jay Ajayi. The Browns, with an 0-6 NFL record in the second year of head coach Hue Jackson’s rebuilding effort, look like a team that needs to keep on rebuilding.
No team has hit its implied total in every game, although we have two teams that are 5-1.
- Detroit Lions: 5-1, +5.00
- Philadelphia Eagles: 5-1, +4.21
The Lions have a 3-3 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. Although Detroit’s Vegas Plus/Minus is a little inflated thanks to a Week 6 game at the Coors Field of fantasy football, the high-scoring Lions have finished with fewer than 23 points just once this season.
The Eagles lead the NFC with a 5-1 record, and the continued development of second-year quarterback Carson Wentz is encouraging: 5.7 adjusted yards per attempts (AY/A) last year; 8.3 AY/A this year. With Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 offensive line entering the season, the Eagles appear to have staying power.
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. This is where Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus adds value. Example: The Cardinals were implied to allow 22.42 PPG in Weeks 1-6, but their opponents scored 26.33 PPG, giving them a Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus of -3.92. (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. On bye in Week 6, 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 six 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 the Indianapolis Colts have allowed opponents to hit expectation in each game but one: 1-4, -8.25. Playing on Monday Night Football in Week 6, the Colts defense is 30th in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average. In Week 5 they 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. Intriguingly, the team the Colts play on MNF is the Titans, who have the league’s second-worst marks with 28.4 PPG allowed and a -7.4 Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus. With an over/under of 48.0 points, the Colts-Titans game could turn into a shootout thanks to shoddy defensive play. Both teams also happen to be at the bottom of the league in Spread Differential (more on this metric later). Basically, if it were possible for both of these teams to lose against the spread (ATS) in the same contest, it would happen.
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 45.58 PPG in Weeks 1-6, but their games actually totaled 46.17 PPG. Thus, they have an Over/Under Differential of +0.58.
Here’s an intriguing item: Although teams are collectively underperforming their Vegas expectations, through six weeks the league is 90-90 on the over/under. Not surprisingly, Vegas is sharp in the aggregate.
Two teams are yet to hit the over.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 0-6, -7.17
- Miami Dolphins: 0-5, -16.17
Although the Steelers have a 4-2 NFL record, their offense has been mediocre, ranking 21st with 19.67 PPG. Their defense, however, has been excellent, holding opposing teams to the league’s fourth-lowest total at 17.0 PPG. With an underperforming offense and staunch defense, the Steelers seem unlikely to participate in many high-scoring games. As for the Dolphins: It’s hard for a team to hit the over when it’s last in the league with 12.2 PPG. Its defense, which has held opponents to the third-lowest total at 16.8 PPG and just held the Falcons in Week 6 to 17 points, also isn’t helping the Dolphins hit any overs.
No team has hit the over in every game, but the Los Angeles Rams have done it in every game but one: 5-1, +8.33. The remade Rams are first in the league with 29.83 PPG and second with a +7.13 Vegas Plus/Minus. Their Wade Phillips-led 3-4 defense is taking time to round into form, averaging 23.0 PPG allowed and a -1.21 Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus. With a hot offense and leaky defense, the Rams seem likely to be involved in many shootouts.
The point 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. Example: The Cardinals in Weeks 1-6 were -0.75 favorites on average, but this season their opponents have outscored them by 6.5 PPG. As a result, they have a subpar -7.25 Spread Differential.
As you might expect, the 5-1 Chiefs have the league’s best ATS record: 5-1, +6.00. Even with their Week 6 loss, they’ve been the season’s most consistently dominant team in the league. Their actual differential is a league-best +7.83.
At the top of the league in Spread Differential are two teams from the AFC South:
- Jacksonville Jaguars: 3-3, +9.67
- Houston Texans: 4-2, +6.75
It’s worth noting that the Jaguars lead the league in Spread Differential partially because of 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 seventh with 18.33 PPG allowed and a +2.63 Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus — 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 Texans are running hot. In Week 1 rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson took over at halftime, and then in Week 2 he made his first NFL start on the road on a short week against a tough Bengals defense. Weeks 1-2 don’t seem representative — but since Week 3 the Texans have scored at least 30 points in each game with Watson playing like perhaps the greatest first-month NFL rookie in the history of the universe. The Texans have league-high marks with a +9.21 Vegas Plus/Minus and +11.67 Over/Under Differential. Even with a defense missing J.J. Watt (knee) and Whitney Mercilus (pectoral) for the rest of the season, the Texans seem likely to do well as long as Watson continues to develop. They’re 4-1 ATS in his five starts. Watson’s one ATS loss was against the Chiefs.
Three teams this year have only one ATS win:
- Arizona Cardinals: 1-5, -7.25
- Cleveland Browns: 1-5, -5.42
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1-4, -2.30
The Cardinals have been consistent underperformers, but perhaps the addition of Peterson and the recent return from injury of left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) will boost the team. The Browns look hopeless. At this point they’re competing with the 49ers for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft — and yet Jackson probably needs to win some games if he wants to keep his job. Just like his quarterbacks, Jackson is unlikely to thread the needle. The Bucs are on a four-game ATS losing streak, and quarterback Jameis Winston had to exit his Week 6 game against the Cardinals with a shoulder injury, but they have near-neutral marks with a -0.45 Vegas Plus/Minus, -1.85 Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus, and -0.6 actual differential. They’re likely better than their 1-4 ATS record suggests.
For fantasy insight on the weekly market, read Ben Gretch’s Deconstructing the Vegas Betting Lines (out on Saturday).