Every NFL betting season is like a new relationship. There are some familiar names and faces around, but it’s a fresh start. We all know this, especially if you’re a veteran to gambling on this sport. If you’re blowing through your wallet in the first handful of weeks of the season, you’re doing it wrong.
What you should be doing is assessing what the league actually looks like. And that means being open minded to changing your perspective. The league evolves and grows with its talent and rule changes. You have to as well.
That’s never been more apparent than in the slippery slope we’re seeing out of rushing offences in the NFL. It’s ugly…and sadly it’s getting worse. Want proof, just look at the list of characters who led the league in rushing during Week 1.
- DeAngelo Williams (Pittsburgh) – 143 Yards, 2 TD
- Lamar Miller (Houston) – 106 Yards
- Matt Forte (NYJ) – 96 Yards
- CJ Anderson (Denver) – 92 Yards, 2 TD
- David Johnson (Arizona) – 89 Yards, 1 TD
The rest of the names at the top of this list are pretty suspect too. Danny Woodhead is the spell back in San Diego and Carlos Hyde who vanished in 2015, and Jalen Richard who’s only there because he had a long score. Ryan Matthews and Rashad Jenning round out the list. Yes, they’re still alive and well. That’s your top ten.
That isn’t a group of players that we expected to see leading the league in anything. Kansas City’s Spencer Ware had arguably the best day of anyone with 199 total yards and a touchdown and he’s a backup. Featured studs like Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray and Eddie Lacy were often mitigated on Sundays.
So what does this mean for you, the gambling man? It’s means that you can’t think about teams that emphasize the run game like you used to. Times have definitely changed in this specific part of the arena. Teams are getting worse at consistently running the football.
ARE QUARTERBACKS TO BLAME?
The running game has been changing for years in ways that we couldn’t really have imagined. Quarterbacks have been eroding at such a fast rate that Jarrod Goff, the first overall pick this year for Los Angeles, isn’t even remotely close to starting. If you read any of my articles from last year, you know how much I lament the degradation of quarterback play in the NFL.
A lot of people – and you know who they are – will often believe haphazardly that a “good passing game opens up running lanes”. I don’t know how true this is. The crazy part about Week 1 is that only two quarterbacks who finished in the top-10 for passing had running-backs that did the same. And one of those is Derek Carr coupled with his third option in the backfield. The other is Ben Roethlisberger and DeAngelo Williams, who were just as effective this time last season.
So you can’t definitively say one way or another that a good passing game leads to a good running game. In fact, out of all the top passing teams last year, only one had a team that ranked in the top-10 in both stat categories. And the best rushing team last year was Buffalo, who ranked 1st in rushing, 26th in passing and 13th overall.
Here’s what that looked like in 2015:
|TEAM||PASSING RANK||RUSHING RANK|
|New York Giants||7||19|
To be fair, end of season numbers reflect that teams that couldn’t run the ball had to simply throw more often, which was the case for squads like San Diego, New England and New Orleans. But those two parts of the offence didn’t compliment each other unless you’re Bruce Arians in Arizona.
The old adage that “good passing games equate to good running games” is officially antiquated. It doesn’t work that way, and that’s mostly because the game is different…on both sides of the ball.
DEFENCES ARE JUST TOO FREAKING GOOD THESE DAYS
This part seems obvious but I believe it’s being understated in general. Defences in this league are being flushed with tremendous athletes across the grid, especially at linebacker. You can argue that the players starting in the second level of defences are as naturally gifted as most of the feature backs.
Navarro Bowman and Todd Gurley butting heads this past Monday Night is a prime example. Gurley simply couldn’t get anything going against a superior defensive line and linebacking corp. And his offensive line couldn’t really do much to open up lanes.
Sure, it’s easy to look at the Rams and just say that they’re horrible, but what about the undisputed champions of the offensive line in Dallas? Ezekiel Elliot managed just 2.6 yards per carry against a Giants front-seven which isn’t that highly regarded.
A lot of pundits and handicappers will spew out unintelligent information like “Adrian Peterson’s going to hammer through defences at will” but that is just talking head jargin. Comments like that ignore what’s actually happening and have no business influencing how you wager.
More often than not, running backs were topping out at about 15 yards for their longest carry and averaging somewhere around 4.25 yards per carry. All that means is that they’re getting caught more often than breaking loose.
I’m not overreacting to Week 1 either. The entire 2015 season saw stats for running backs and run games plummet. And the numbers do not make a lot of sense either. When you know that Buffalo ranked first in rushing last year, you have to remember that LeSean McCoy accounted for just 895 of those 2,432 yards (32%).
The “big play” guy in the backfield might actually be a dying breed. And that’s not entirely the fault of the athletes filling those positions. A lot of it has to do with the opposing defences just being too damn good.
The efficacy of a run game is also impacted by the natural, creative limit of rushing attacks in the NFL. I mean, what can an offensive coordinator possible come up with that we haven’t seen? “Exotic smash mouth” in Tennessee can’t devoured by Minnesota. There’s just nothing new under the sun when it comes to handing off a football and blocking up front.
Defences know this, account for it, insulate against it and bottled it up. There’s now too many good athletes ravaging the open field on defence to count on even Le’Veon Bell slicing through opponents. That’s why you saw just one or two guys in Week 1 breaking off big runs. It’s just less of a thing now, and if you’re banking on it when you go to the sportsbook to bet on these games then you’re doing things wrong.
THINK OF THE RUNNING GAME DIFFERENTLY WHEN BETTING
It’s still too early to really have a hardline opinion of how to bet the 2016 NFL season. Even I’m smart enough to recognize that. One thing about the Week 1 spreads that’s also important to realize is that only two of them were valued at more than a touchdown. And both of those were failed covers by New England against Arizona and Seattle against Miami.
So we don’t need to be too hasty about anything. But the point of this whole thing is to illustrate that relying on running games is less of a tangible part of betting than it used to be. The teams that ran for 30 or more attempts in Week 1 finished 4-6 ATS this past week. That metric has way more to do with the size of the betting lines than anything else but it’s still telling to the bigger picture.
Why is this important?
Look at the Week 2 Lines. Seven of the games have lines of 6 points or greater. The odds makers are going to start testing how you think about games, how you play your money and the vast majority of gamblers will bet with really basic mindsets. You used to be able to bank on Jamaal Charles or Peterson having a big game.
Those days are over. Winning money on football games is as much about staying ahead of the curve as it is about understanding when certain trends are dying slow deaths. I have a growing feeling that running games will be used simply to control the clock or punch in short-yardage scores rather than really boosting an offence past its ceiling.
Offences aren’t getting better overall. Remember that. Engrain it in to your soul. Quarterbacks aren’t reaching mercurial heights and running backs are being shut down almost across the board. Highlights and fantasy “gurus” might say otherwise, but it’s the truth.
For the first time in what feels like a long time, the key to winning NFL betting might actually come down to analyzing the most difficult element there is – team defences. It’s the only answer if offensive stats and metrics aren’t giving us any glimpse in to how to spend our hard earned cash.
During Week 2, just rely on the basics and play tight to the chest. If you feel like you’re investing more on one team than another simply because of a “better run game”, then that’s probably a game worth ignoring.
Don’t worry too much either. We’re in this together and I’ll be back next week to pick apart the action until we get to the real meat of the season.