This is a special London edition of the Vegas Report covering the Vegas trends of the NFL International Series and their daily fantasy implications. For more of our weekly football content, visit our NFL homepage.
We are nearing the midway point of the NFL season, which means that it’s time for the last London game of the year. Let’s look at the wonderful games the NFL has exported to England in 2017.
- Week 3: Jaguars 44, Ravens 7
- Week 4: Saints 20, Dolphins 0
- Week 7: Rams 33, Cardinals 0
And let’s not forget how the final game of last year’s London series ended: Bengals 27, Redskins 27. It’s almost as if the NFL is trying to be incompetent.
This week the Vikings-Browns game kicks off at 9:30 AM ET. As I write this sentence, the Vikings are -7.5 favorites and the over/under is a week-low 37.5 points. The Vikings opened at -8.5, but that line has moved down even though 59 percent of the spread bets are on them, which means that some presumably sharp money is on the 0-7 Browns. It’s the middle of the season, six teams are on bye, five teams are favored by at least 7.0 points, and the worst team in the league is playing a ‘home’ game at Twickenham Stadium against a team currently slated for a first-round bye. What could possibly go wrong with the NFL’s product this week?
By the way, Sports Action has an article that looks at more Vegas trends for the London game.
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. When a team hits or surpasses its implied total (i.e., has a Vegas Plus/Minus of at least 0.00) then it has an implied ‘win.’ If it falls short of the implied total, I count that as an implied ‘loss.’
The London favorites have historically crushed.
Over the 20 London games, the average implied total for the favorites has been a solid 24.6 points per game (PPG), which they’ve smoked with an actual score of 28.35, good for a +3.75 Vegas Plus/Minus on their way to a 15-5 implied record. Over the last half-decade (15 games) the outperformance by favorites has been even more extreme as they’ve scored 29.27 PPG for a +5.02 Vegas Plus/Minus and 11 implied wins — and that includes the Week 3 catastrophe for the Ravens.
In contrast to the favorites, who have massively overperformed, the underdogs have underperformed.
Since 2007 the dogs have been implied for 19.73 PPG, finishing with 18 PPG for a -1.73 Vegas Plus/Minus and 7-13 implied record; since 2012, the dogs have a -1.82 at 6-9. The trend of underdog incompetence is likely to continue this week as the Browns have a -4.14 Vegas Plus/Minus and 1-6 implied record.
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. The London games have provided some over/under value in recent years.
In total the London game is 11-9 on the over with a +2.03 Over/Under Differential, but since 2012 it’s 10-5 with a +3.2 on an average of 47.4 PPG scored. As you can see from the Vegas Plus/Minus data above, well over 100 percent of the London game’s excess production has come from the favorites.
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. Although there’s been a fantasy and over/under edge with the London game, there hasn’t been a strong edge in picking against the spread (ATS).
Since 2007, favorites are 12-8 ATS with a +5.48 Spread Differential; since 2012, 9-6 with a mark of +6.83. Although the ATS record isn’t particularly impressive, the Spread Differential is significant as there have been several London games in which the favorites have destroyed the underdogs by at least 20 points. When the favorites have covered, they’ve done so by an average of 15.92 PPG. Similarly, when the dogs have covered, they’ve had a +10.19 Spread Differential. One way or another, the London game often tends to be a one-sided affair.
A Working Theory on the London Performance of Favorites
Why do favorites tend to crush in London while underdogs underperform? I have a theory. The London game occurs under suboptimal circumstances: Teams travel 5-8 time zones east and have limited time to acclimate before playing a physical game that lasts for three hours. They also play in stadiums that aren’t well-equipped to handle football games: The grass surface is easily torn up, and the locker rooms are built to hold soccer teams, not NFL teams, which have more people and equipment.
My theory is that when two teams compete against each other in irregular and/or suboptimal circumstances, the one that suffers more because of situation is likely to be the one already disadvantaged on account of talent, coaching, etc. Of course, I could be wrong. We’re talking about a sample of only 20 games. What we see in the data could be nothing but noise. Nevertheless, I expect that the London unfamiliarity benefits the favorite more than the dog.
As mentioned earlier, the Browns are offensively horrible with their league-worst 14.71 PPG. Their three potential ‘quarterbacks of the future’ in DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan, and Cody Kessler all presently suck. Only once have they scored more than 18 points this year — and that was against the Colts, who have allowed a league-high 31.71 PPG. Basically, whenever the Browns haven’t been playing against the worst defensive unit in the league, they’ve scored 12.5 PPG. Meanwhile, the Vikings have held opponents to the league’s fifth-lowest marks with 17 PPG and a +4.18 Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus. In fact, the Vikings lead the league with their 6-1 opponent implied record: Only once this year has a team hit its Vegas expectations against them — the Steelers (Week 2), who barely hit their implied total with just 0.25 points to spare. The Browns offense looks like it’s in trouble — especially since long-time stud left tackle Joe Thomas (triceps) suffered a potentially season-ending injury last week.
As for the Vikings, in only one game with Case Keenum as the primary quarterback have they scored more than 24 points — and that was against the Buccaneers, who entered Week 7 ranked 31st against the pass in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). Against all teams whose names don’t rhyme with “Suckaneers,” the Vikings under Keenum have averaged 16.6 PPG. Amazingly, they could struggle against the Browns, who (with defensive end and No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett active) have held opponents to 20.67 PPG.
This game deserves to have the lowest over/under of the week.
Love you, London. See you next year.