Thursday, September 6, 2018

2018-19 NFL Week 1 Power Ratings

It's that time of the year again - the NFL is back!

With the 2018 regular season set to begin tonight, it's time to discuss Week 1 power ratings.

As a reminder, I do not put any weight into W/L records when constructing these ratings. Mainstream outlets like ESPN and Bleacher Report basically just rank every team in order according to win/loss record and are heavily influenced by what happened the previous week. I'm pretty sure my eleven-year-old cousin is capable of ranking teams in order (1-32) based on win percentage.

I prefer to take a big picture approach considering I understand you can't overreact to a single game of football - the ball isn't even round! I also realize every team plays a different strength of schedule, and thus raw W/L records don't really tell us much about how good a team is compared to another.

Numerical values are assigned to each team in order to get a better estimation of how much better one is than another. New England is the best team in the NFL according to my ratings, but how much better are they than teams like Pittsburgh, Dallas and Chicago? I look to answer those types of questions when constructing power ratings.


The primary components used to generate these numbers are:
  • Yards-per-play differential from the prior year
  • Season over/under win totals blended with strength of schedule projections
  • Week 1 market expectation

Power ratings are generally used to project the beginning stages of a point spread.

For example, if Minnesota played Carolina on a neutral field, my ratings suggest Minnesota would be about a 3.5-point favorite. Other elements such as location, perception, schedule spots, etc. are then factored into the number to create a more accurate point spread.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

2018-19 NFL Preview: Strength of Schedule Projections


In addition to NFL power ratings (which will be released prior to Week 1), I also create strength of schedule (SOS) power ratings during the offseason. The formula is fairly simple and solely based on season win total numbers.

I prefer to use season win totals from reputable sports books to forecast strength of schedule for the upcoming season. It doesn't make much sense to use win/loss records from the previous year. Not only do NFL teams naturally regress/progress from year to year, but transactions take place during the offseason that can either ameliorate or worsen a roster.

The season win totals posted on Bookmaker.eu have been used to construct SOS power ratings for each team.


The formula used to create an NFL schedule consists of six games between divisional opponents, eight games against two different divisions, and two games versus two different conference opponents based on division ranking from the previous year (sometimes referred to as "interconference games").

To use Arizona as an example, the Cardinals will play the AFC West and NFC North. They also have to face San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles two times each because they reside in the same division. Furthermore, Arizona plays Atlanta (3rd place in NFC South) and Washington (3rd place in NFC East) in their two interconference games because each team finished third in their respective divisions last year.

I simply added up the season win total expectations for all 16 of Arizona's opponents and arrived at a strength of schedule rating of 136.4, which projects the Cardinals to have the toughest schedule.

An underrated benefit of this activity is that it adds perspective to the season win numbers and helps identify teams getting respect from the market and oddsmakers alike. New Orleans and Green Bay have similar win totals, but the Saints play a tougher schedule by a fairly wide margin according to the SOS ratings. This suggests the market holds New Orleans in a higher regard than the Packers, but the same conclusion could not be drawn by simply considering raw season win numbers.



The NFC North projects to be the toughest division with the NFC South being a close second. Contrarily, the AFC East grades out as the weakest division by a relatively wide margin.

Although this may not be a flawless exercise, it provides a decent snapshot of the easiest/toughest schedules and certainly has more predictive value than previous season's win percentage.

Monday, August 6, 2018

2018-19 NFL MVP Odds - Evaluating Previous Winners and Identifying Dark Horse Candidates

Joe Sargent/Getty Images
With the commencement of training camp and preseason taking place last week, I wanted to get back in the saddle and talk some NFL. I thought it would be a fun exercise to analyze previous MVP award winners in an attempt to uncover some potential sleepers in 2018-19.

Before diving into this year's player pool, let's examine some past winners to identify common qualities and provide historical context.

Pro Football Reference

After evaluating the exhibit above, which includes MVP award winners over the past 30 years, the main takeaways are:
  • 24 / 32 were quarterbacks (75%)
  • 32 / 32 made the playoffs (100%)
  • 32 / 32 won nine or more games (100%)

With the exception of Adrian Peterson's monster 2,300-yard season in 2012, a non-quarterback has not won an MVP award since 2006. Whether it be the pass-heavy mindset or running back by committee approach that currently exists, the days of LaDanian Tomlinson scoring 30 touchdowns are in the rearview mirror.

Look no further than last year when Todd Gurley accumulated over 2,000 total yards and 19 touchdowns for an 11-5 Rams team, but only received eight (out of 50 total) MVP votes.

Additionally, there have been no wide receivers or tight ends to be crowned MVP by the Associated Press since the award originated in 1957.

Moral of the story: The 2018-19 NFL MVP award winner will play the quarterback position on a team that makes the playoffs and has a winning record.

Now that the parameters have been established, let's take a look at this year's candidates.

Source: Bookmaker.eu

All of the MVP candidates listed at Bookmaker.eu are included above for reference along with their corresponding odds. As an example, Tom Brady's MVP odds of "500" correspond to +500 or 5/1.

It is worthy to note that Bookmaker is accepting $5,000 limits on their MVP offering, which resembles a fairly liquid market in the context of player props and suggests the European-based operator has confidence in their numbers.

Since not all of these names are valid candidates to take home the trophy, a more realistic representation is depicted below.

I used current season over/under win totals to estimate the number of wins for each team. Understanding that projections are not an exact science, the condensed player pool contains quarterbacks whose team is expected to win at least eight games in an attempt to account for margin of error.

Source: Bookermaker.eu

While there are plenty of notable names highlighted above, I've identified a handful of viable contenders that are being overlooked.

Ben Roethlisberger (25/1)

Big Ben stood out like a sore thumb after evaluating the condensed player pool of quarterbacks. As previously discussed, the key factors with MVP forecasting are playoff appearances and winning records. Pittsburgh is currently -270 to win the AFC North, which makes them the most likely team to win their division outside of New England.

Considering the state of affairs involving Le'Veon Bell, it's not hard to imagine Big Ben shouldering the offensive workload for Pittsburgh this season. Furthermore, Roethlisberger has more than enough brand equity to satisfy the name recognition/popularity element that inevitably factors into the equation.
Despite showing signs of decline last season along with some retirement rumblings, Roethlisberger appears to be re-energized and ready to roll in 2018. Keep those fingers crossed as a little bit of narrative never hurt anybody!

Although Roethlisberger was listed as high as 33/1 during the initial writing of this analysis, the current price still offers some justifiable upside.

Jim Mone/AP
Kirk Cousins (27/1)

Cousins may not be the most appealing name listed above, but the former Washington Redskins QB has demonstrated the ability to put up favorable numbers. Cousins finished among top-10 quarterbacks in total yards and yards per attempt in each of his three seasons as a full-time starter.

Furthermore, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are more talented than any wide receiver Cousins has played with thus far in his career. Throw in Kyle Rudolph, who ranked as Pro Football Focus' fifth best receiving tight end in 2017, and Cousins has various upper-echelon weapons to choose from.
The Vikings also have the luxury of playing nine games in a dome, which doesn't hurt in the stat padding department.
 
Although Minnesota resides in a rather competitive division, the Vikings are slight favorites to repeat as NFC North champs (+100 to win the division) and projected to win 10 games.

As evidenced above, the driving factor behind MVP candidacy is the ability to win games and make postseason appearances. Cousins fits the profile of previous award winners and presents long enough odds to make a potential investment worthwhile.

Ed Zurga/AP
Patrick Mahomes (66/1)

This one may seem silly on the surface considering Mahomes has only started one NFL game thus far in his young career, but hear me out.

After shipping Alex Smith out of town, Mahomes has been handed the car keys to a relatively high-powered offense. The framework is in place for Mahomes to put up gaudy numbers under the tutelage of Andy Reid (aka The Quarterback Whisperer). The former Texas Tech gunslinger has a myriad of dynamic weapons at his disposal in Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.

From a distant view, it seems like Kansas City is going to take a high variance approach this season. The defense was far from spectacular last year, surrendering 5.6 yards per play (T-27th), and Mahomes should find himself in plenty of shootouts.

Despite not being favored to win the AFC West, the division is still somewhat up for grabs. San Diego currently sits at +120 with Kansas City not too far behind at +229 as of this writing. It would not be inconceivable for Kansas City to climb out on top of the AFC West for the second year in a row, which would bode well for Mahomes' MVP prospects.

They call them long shots for a reason, but the situation in Kansas City presents Mahomes with the theoretical upside to jettison himself into the MVP conversation.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

2018 NBA Finals Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors


It's been a while since I've posted on here, but the recent Supreme Court ruling has definitely given me some newfound energy.

Despite being passionate about the oddsmaking profession and anticipating sporting event outcomes, there has always been a stigma associated with point spreads and the sports markets, but hopefully that will be coming to an end sooner than later.

Although there is not any legislature in place on the federal level allowing nationwide sports betting, the Supreme Court verdict dismantling PASPA was a gigantic step in the right direction towards national legalization, but I digress.

Without further ado, let's jump into the 2018 NBA finals showdown.

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors


Series Price: Golden State -1000 / Cleveland +650 (via Bookmaker)

The 2018 NBA Finals are slated to commence tonight and despite some curve balls mixed in throughout the regular season, the stage is set for the Finals matchup that was anticipated to begin the season

With that said, Vegas isn't giving Cleveland much of a chance, if any.

The moneyline price listed above suggests Golden State has more than a 90% chance to repeat based on the corresponding implied probabilities, which represents the largest discrepancy since 2000-2001.

In layman's terms, the sports market views this as the most lopsided NBA Finals matchup in 17 years.


Cleveland Cavaliers 
LeBron James will be making his 8th straight finals appearance, which is an unprecedented feat in the modern era. As unbelievably impressive as LeBron has been this season, it's difficult to imagine him slaying the beast of Golden State with his current cast of characters in Cleveland and the aforementioned odds fully reflect that notion.

To give some context, Jeff Green emerged as Cleveland's ancillary savior in Kevin Love's absence and delivered a much needed 19 points in Game 7. While that may have gotten the job done against a young Boston team, I doubt it will fly against the Warriors.

This Cavs team is somewhat reminiscent of the 2007 team that knocked off Detroit in unexpected fashion.


While the 2007 Pistons were a much more formidable bunch than the injury-riddled Celtics, the premise involves LeBron carrying an uninspiring bunch through the Eastern Conference, only to face a vastly superior opponent in the Finals. 

Ultimately that team got swept by San Antonio and its safe to say dethroning the defending champs would be the most impressive accomplishment of LeBron's career.

 
Golden State Warriors
Golden State was able to take care of business against the Rockets despite facing their toughest test since Durant migrated to the Bay Area and will be making their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance.

As a reference, the Warriors closed as -185 favorites against Houston, which represented a much more modest 65% win expectation for the Warriors. It's fair to say Golden State-Houston was the NBA Finals masquerading as the Western Conference Finals.

The Rockets had Golden State on the ropes early in Game 7 and it's fair to speculate whether the outcome would have been different if Chris Paul suited up.

While common wisdom suggests counting out LeBron this early is a fool's errand, the talent disparity between the two teams is difficult to overlook and I respect the market too much to think otherwise.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

NFL Week 15 - Jeff Fisher Gets the Boot


Mediocre quarterback play, juicy sound bites and our first head coach firing of the season highlighted Week 14. Just eight days after it was reported Jeff Fisher had a contract extension in place to remain with Los Angeles, the oft-criticized head coach was kicked to the curb by the Rams. While the decision to move on from Fisher was long overdue, the timing is a bit puzzling considering the aforementioned news that broke last week. With that said, the tension within the Rams organization is well-documented and a head coaching change was pretty much inevitable.

With three weeks of regular season games remaining, the playoff race is shaping up to be very entertaining. Despite a shaky start and decline in ratings, the rumblings regarding the NFL's demise appear to be greatly exaggerated. It's safe to say that people simply enjoy gambling on football, whether that be in the form of office pools, fantasy football or picking games, which is primarily why the NFL reigns supreme in comparison to the other major American sports leagues. Additionally, when the most popular teams, such as Dallas and Pittsburgh, are relevant, the macro sentiment surrounding the league won't have as much of an impact, but I digress.

Without further ado, let's jump into Week 15.

Los Angeles @ Seattle (-16) O/U 38.5

Fun Fact: Before leaving the office on Friday, I told my co-worker I wouldn’t be surprised if Atlanta came out flat against St. Louis (in Week 14), considering they had to travel across the country to LA and play outside the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome. That’s a true story.

Fast-forward to Sunday and the Falcons were up 42-0 before the third quarter ended.
This organization is a complete dumpster fire.

Pittsburgh (-3) @ Cincinnati  O/U 44

Lev Bell put up an NCAA-esque stat line in snowy Buffalo last week, carrying the rock 38 times for over 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Currently riding a four-game winning streak, Pittsburgh has the inside track to win the AFC North after Baltimore's loss to New England on Monday night. Despite their Jekyll and Hyde tendencies, the Steelers are a dangerous team that can contend with any of the AFC heavyweights come playoff time.



Last year's bizarre Wild Card matchup between these two teams was unfortunately littered with injuries and cheap shots. Vontaze Burfict was an absolute menace on the field that night (as shown above) and ultimately cost his team the game while receiving a three-game suspension in the process. I hate to say it, but considering Cincinnati is out of the playoff hunt with nothing meaningful to play for, this game could get ugly, especially since Burfict will be on the field after missing their first meeting due to said suspension.

It's safe to say Pacman Jones doesn't have much respect for Terelle Pryor. 

Detroit @ New York Giants (-4) O/U 41

While both of these teams possess a 9-4 record, the jury is still out on whether or not either squad is actually good. Eight of Detroit's nine wins have been decided by seven points or less, which is absolutely absurd. Ironically, the Giants have also won an unsustainable eight games decided by one possession. Historically, these types of games are often decided by a coin-flip and thus the numbers tend to revert back toward the mean from year-to-year.
After beginning the season running an offense revolved around a hurry-up style, Detroit has done their best Dallas Cowboys impression, adopting a ball control style in an attempt to mask their defensive deficiencies. As Evan Silva points out, Detroit is playing keep away with their opponents, which enables their defense to stay off the field, or at the very least, fresh and well-rested.
On another note, Eli Manning was my dark horse MVP candidate coming into the season and I drafted him in all three of my fantasy leagues.


via GIPHY

New England (-3) @ Denver O/U 43.5

Continuing our trend of fantastic postgame interview clips, below is Aqib Talib's reaction after Harry Douglas landed an egregious cheap shot on fellow Broncos teammate Chris Harris Jr.



If I were to construct a set of power ratings ranking the NFL players you would least likely want to beef with, Aqib Talib would be up near the top of that list (along with our boy Pacman). Not only does Talib have legitimate street credibility, but he also has the pedigree of an enforcer considering his Grandma is an East Cleveland legend. Come to think about it, maybe I'll follow through with this and create some rankings in an offseason post.

P.S. What a time to be alive