In the first of a new series of articles, resident NFL expert Adam Chernoff provides bettors with a method of team by team research for use in the upcoming season.
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Over the past decade of betting and bookmaking NFL football, I have learned the hard way that traditional preseason schedule analysis is very work intensive and often highly inefficient.
Rather than attacking the league as a blank canvas and getting overloaded with granular information, I let a few broad comparison tables identify outliers and begin working my way throughout the league with the standouts
With the majority of the industry focused on only futures and win totals, it is very easy to become anchored to popular narratives.
During the regular season, analysis and narratives live and die in one-week cycles. In the preseason, narratives can linger for the better part of four months.
I have a few goals from the work I do in early in preseason.
- Refresh on which teams over/under performed in 2018
- Establish a benchmark for strength in 2019
- Project opponent strength in 2019 on both sides of the ball
In short, all I want to do at this time of the year is to get a feel back for how the market viewed these teams in 2018, get a rough estimate of team strength for the upcoming season, and identify if the schedule gets easier or more difficult.
This allows me to identify where I need to spend my time in July and August working.
Rather than attacking the league as a blank canvas and getting overloaded with granular information, I let a few broad comparison tables identify outliers and begin working my way throughout the league with the standouts.
My target is to have my first set of power rankings published by the end of the third week of preseason in late August.
Top and bottom five
Traditional schedule analysis will throw a blanket on the league, rank teams from 1-32 and focus on the easiest and most difficult schedules. Looking at just the schedule ranking can be problematic.
For example, based on success rate from last season, the following 10 teams have the five easiest and most difficult projected schedule of opposing defences in 2019. Their odds to win the Super Bowl can be found in brackets.
2019 Easiest projected defensive schedules:
2019 Most difficult projected defensive schedules:
As illustrated above, there is no direct correlation between an easier schedule of opposing defences and a better chance at winning the Super Bowl.
Last season saw similar results as four of the top five easiest projected schedules (Green Bay, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Cleveland) and four of the five most difficult projected schedules (Denver, Oakland, Cincinnati, Tennessee) did not make the playoffs.
Instead of rank, what I prefer to look at is differences between 2018 and 2019. Doing this requires three steps:
- What was the true offensive success rate of each team last season?
- What was the true defensive success rate of opponents last season?
- What is the projected defensive success rate of opponents this season?
Easier projected opponent defences:
Jacksonville (8th most difficult to 9th easiest)
Buffalo (7th most difficult to 13th easiest)
Philadelphia (10th most difficult to 10th easiest)
More difficult projected opposing defences:
Denver (8th easiest to 8th most difficult)
Atlanta (4th easiest to below average/17th)
Pittsburgh (average/16th to 5th most difficult)
Knowing the difference for each team allows me to highlight an advantage a team may have or a challenge the team may face. It also is a great way to predict potential over/under performance.
Rather than crafting my own narrative for each and doing the research after, I let the differences create an angle, and then I work to validate.
Here are some examples of mini narratives I developed from the differences and will expand on in the weeks to come.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished at the bottom of the NFC South with a 5-11 record in 2018, but their numbers suggest reason for optimism
The biggest outlier in success rate offence vs projected defensive schedule is Denver. In 2018, the Broncos were a below average offensive team. Their success rate of 46% ranked 18th in the NFL as did their 5.5 yards per play. Those two numbers came against the 8th easiest schedule of opposing defences.
This season as mentioned above they face the biggest change in difficulty with the 8th most difficult projected schedule of opposing defences.
Offseason turnover sees a new head coach, offensive coordinator, starting QB, starting center and starting lineman enter the picture. It is not a shock to see the Broncos price drift from 88 to 97.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished at the bottom of the NFC South with a 5-11 record in 2018, but their numbers suggest reason for optimism. Tampa Bay had a 48% offensive success rate, equal to Chicago and Baltimore (both playoff teams) and did so against a slightly above average schedule of opposing defences (13th).
In 2019 the Bucs get a boost as they are projected to face the 5th easiest schedule of opposing defences. The introduction of Bruce Arians means Tampa Bay is likely to be one of the most aggressive offences in the NFL.
His willingness to push the ball downfield may click well with one of the league’s best receiver/tight end duos in Evans and Howard. Tampa Bay have shortened from odds of 101* to 81*, and against an easier schedule could easily be a 50%+ success rate team.
The Chiefs were the story of 2018, but the numbers suggest some offensive regression may be ahead. Kansas City had a league high success rate of 54% last season against the 3rd most difficult schedule of opposing defences.
To put that number in perspective, New Orleans finished with an equal offensive success rate of 54% – against the 2nd easiest – schedule of opposing defences. In 2019, Kansas City is set to face the most difficult schedule of opposing defences.
With key centre Mitch Morse dealt to Buffalo and Tyreek Hill’s suspension looming, coming close to replicating such offensive success may be a tall task for the Chiefs.
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