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Vegas Handicapping and Fantasy Football - Part 3
Fritz Schlottman


There are generally considered three schools of handicapping: fundamental, technical, and trend handicapping. The fundamental handicapper relies on his knowledge of the game to analyze how both teams match up in key areas of the game: offensive line vs. defensive line, secondary vs. receivers, team speed, and other factors directly related to the game. Most fantasy players do some fundamental handicapping, whether or not they are conscious of it, when selecting their line up. The famous “Who do I start?” question more often than not is answered by a process that closely resembles fundamental handicapping . Most often you look at how the player matches up against the opposition, that is the play of the game is more important than the statistics.

The problem with fundamental handicapping is that it doesn’t explain why bad teams beat good teams. If you just look at the fundamentals, the better team should win every game. Players that use fundamental handicapping have a hard time finding reasons to support the underdog, and as a result they will tend to play chalk (based on talent), which is a statistical loser in Vegas more often than not.

Technical handicapping was covered in Part II of this series. The Technician uses statistics (turnovers, yards per point, first downs, etc.) to drive an answer using a complex mathematical equation. How the game will be played isn’t a bit interesting to the pure statistician. Whatever happens on the field will more or less in the end fall within statistical norms and averages. The techy plugs the numbers into the equation and it tells the handicapper who should be favored and by how much.

The problem with technical handicapping is that it 1)ignores the talent on the field and 2) can’t explain why a team that’s hot (good statistics) comes out flat against a bad team (bad statistics) that’s playing over their heads and wins the game, and 3) statistics can be misleading. Injuries do matter. Having a rookie starting at quarterback does matter. Having the Packers play on the road, on the turf, at Detroit does matter. Running up the score on poor opponents doesn’t necessarily indicate how a team will play against the divisional leader.

Now some of us aren’t former NFL quarterbacks and coaches that can easily analyze the fundamentals of the game and some of us aren’t math geeks that can run the numbers and have confidence in the outcome. If you’re none of the above, don’t have the time or don’t have the patience to be a technical or fundamental handicapper, then you may be interested in Trend Handicapping.

Trend Handicapping attempts to answer one question: Who will cover the spread? The actual spread doesn’t matter a bit. Thinking about it, what really is the difference between a -4.5 and a -5.5 spread? Maybe a few percentage points. In fact, the spread matters in only 15-18% of the games in any case. In the other 82-85% of the games, the favorite wins and covers or the underdog wins the game outright. Trend Handicappers are far more interested in the situation both teams find themselves in than in their past numbers or the match-up on the field. In other words, winning football games isn’t just about talent, motivation has a lot to do with the outcome (especially in college football).

Trend Handicapping seeks to answer the question: does a team play better or worse than the lines maker estimates in a given situation? If history repeats itself (and in war, sports, the stock market, politics, etc. there’s ample evidence it does) than how a team has performed in the past in a given situation is telling. Teams have personalities: some are offensive, some are defensive, some are built to play on turf, and some are built to play on grass in bad weather. There’s also ample evidence that team personalities change slowly, that is they are more similar in their trends and statistics from year to year than they are different.

Ok, how similar? The rule of thumb is that a trend that occurs 60% of the time is significant. Under that number, and you’re really not talking about much more than a coin flip which isn’t a trend I want to wager on. The converse is also true. An event that occurs 40% or less times is statistically interesting as a bet against the team.

Now, just having a trend that occurs more than 59.9% of the time or less than 40.1% of the time is interesting, but that isn’t enough. The situation has to have ocurred often enough in the past that you have some statistical certainty it will occur again. If a team is 2-0 playing at home on a Monday Night, that’s a good trend, but it doesn’t happen enough to justify a bet. There’s statistics behind this that I won’t bore the reader with, but let’s just say that the more often an event occurs (and occurs consistantly) the more confidence you have in the outcome. The greater the strength of the trend, the more often it occurs, and the more consistantly is occurs the greater the number of points assigned to it.

So, what situations are interesting to the Trend Handicapper? Well, as long as we’re going through the definitions I may as well tell you which teams have favorable trends (60%+) in that situation and which teams have unfavorable trends (40%-). All long-term trends are from 1998-2003, mid-term trends are 2001-03 and short-term trends are from the 2003 season.

Actual W-L-T -- is the actual record is the number of wins, losses, and ties for the period. As we saw in Part I teams that win games cover the spread. Conversely, teams that lose games don’t often cover the spread. Bet with franchises that win 60% or more of their games and bet against teams that lose 60% or more of their games. All teams are in order of strength or weakness.

Long-term Best: TEN, GB, STL, MIA, DEN
Mid-term Best: PHI, GB, NE, STL, TEN, MIA, PIT, SF
Short-term Best: NE, KC, TEN, STL, IND, PHI, CAR, BAL, DAL, DEN, SEA, GB, MIA
Long-term Worst: CIN, HOU, SD, CLE, DET, ARI, CAR
Mid-term Worst: DET, HOU, ARI, CIN, SD, BUF, JAX, CAR
Short-term Worst: SD, ARI, OAK, NYG, JAX, HOU, WAS, ATL, CLE, DET, PIT, NYJ, BUF

vs. The Spread -- The title pretty much tells you all you need to know. Teams that are the best against the spread tend to be undervalued by the public while teams that are poor against the spread are “public” teams in Vegas speak or teams that just plain stink year after year.

Long-term Best: PHI
Mid-term Best: PHI, NE
Short-term Best: NE, PHI, GB, KC, BAL, IND, CIN, DAL, STL
Long-term Worst: ARI, CIN
Mid-term Worst: NYG
Short-term Worst: OAK, NYG, CLE, SD, CAR, ARI, NYJ, TB, ATL

Home -- The best are teams that really get up to play home games. The worst are those teams that, for whatever reason, just can’t seem to get motivated in front of the home crowd. Perhaps the general public and the linemaker gives them too much credit for being at home.

Long-term Best: BAL, DAL, NE
Mid-term Best: NE, DET, GB, MIA, BAL, STL, HOU
Short-term Best: NE, STL, ARI, CHI, KC, HOU, BAL, DAL
Long-term Worst: NYG
Mid-term Worst: NYG, WAS, ATL, IND, NO, BUF
Short-term Worst: NYG, MIA, WAS, CAR, CLE, ATL, OAK, TB

Away -- Again, fairly obvious. Some teams are road warriors and some teams just don’t like travel.

Long-term Best: PHI, NYJ
Mid-term Best: PHI, WAS, ATL
Short-term Best: PHI, WAS, MIA, IND, NE
Long-term Worst: ARI, SF, MIN, DET, CIN, STL, DAL
Mid-term Worst: STL, MIN, SF, DEN, DET
Short-term Worst: ARI, OAK, CHI

Favorite -- Some teams thrive on being the favorite and run up the score and some teams make that awful choking sound.

Long-term Best: PHI, BAL
Mid-term Best: PHI
Short-term Best: NE, DAL, BAL, KC, GB
Long-term Worst: DET, ARI, WAS
Mid-term Worst: WAS, CAR, MIN, NYG, CIN, SD, JAX
Short-term Worst: NYG, OAK, CAR, TB, MIN, MIA

Dog -- Some teams get motivated when everyone expects them to lose the game, and other teams get down on themselves.

Long-term Best: DEN, NE, TB, NYJ, PHI, TEN, BAL
Mid-term Best: PHI, NE, TB, PIT, CAR, TEN
Short-term Best: IND, PHI, NE, CAR, CIN
Long-term Worst: SF, ARI, CIN
Mid-term Worst: OAK, DEN
Short-term Worst: OAK, NYG, NYJ, SD, CLE, ARI, ATL

Natural Grass -- Some teams are built to play on the real stuff and some teams aren’t. Some surprises here.

Long-term Best: PHI
Mid-term Best: ATL, PHI, GB, NE, KC
Short-term Best: NE, GB, KC, PHI, BAL, CIN, TEN
Long-term Worst: MIN, STL, DET, SEA, SD
Mid-term Worst: STL, DET, MIN, NYG, SD
Short-term Worst: MIN, OAK, MIA, CAR, TB, SD, CLE

Turf -- The other kind of grass.

Long-term Best: PHI
Mid-term Best: MIA, PHI, NE, CAR, DET
Short-term Best: MIA, DAL, STL, MIN
Long-term Worst: KC, GB, ARI, TEN, CIN, PIT
Mid-term Worst: TEN, GB, ARI, NYG
Short-term Worst: ARI, NYG, NYJ

Home Favorite -- Will the home crowd come away happy or will they key the coach’s car?

Long-term Best: BAL, KC
Mid-term Best: NE, BAL, KC, GB, MIA
Short-term Best: NE, STL, BAL, KC, DAL
Long-term Worst: NYG
Mid-term Worst: NYG, WAS, CIN, SD, CAR, NYJ, NO, MIN, IND
Short-term Worst: NYG, MIA, CAR, TB

Home Dog -- The kings of the ambush, chalk better not be looking past this game. Then again, some dogs just play dead.

Long-term Best: NE, DET, DAL, CHI
Mid-term Best: SF, NE, MIN, DET, DAL, CAR, CHI, HOU
Short-term Best: ARI, HOU
Long-term Worst: ATL
Mid-term Worst: ATL, BUF
Short-term Worst: CLE, ATL

Road Favorite -- Kings of the Road. Sleeping in your own bed (presumably) doesn’t seem to matter that much to some teams.

Long-term Best: PHI
Mid-term Best: PHI, NYJ, NO
Short-term Best: DEN, MIA
Long-term Worst: NE, MIN
Mid-term Worst: JAX, CAR, SEA, MIN, SF, TB, STL
Short-term Worst: STL

Road Dog -- They bite when you don’t expect them to.

Long-term Best: NYJ, BAL, WAS, PHI
Mid-term Best: WAS, PHI, BAL, KC, PIT, ATL, SEA, NE
Short-term Best: IND, PHI, NE, WAS
Long-term Worst: SF, ARI, CIN
Mid-term Worst: DEN, OAK, CHI, SD
Short-term Worst: ARI, OAK, NYJ, CHI

vs. Division -- These are teams that design themselves to beat their most bitter opponents and or really get up for games against these hated foes.

Long-term Best: DAL, NYJ, PHI, ATL
Mid-term Best: NE, PHI, DET, DEN
Short-term Best: DEN, NE, DAL
Long-term Worst: CIN, ARI, SF, BUF, WAS,IND
Mid-term Worst: BUF, CHI, CIN, NYG, WAS, SD, IND, TB
Short-term Worst: OAK, NYG

vs. Conference -- Well, if they can’t beat their division, at least the can beat the rest of the NFC or AFC, right?

Long-term Best: MIA, PHI, BAL
Mid-term Best: BAL, PHI, MIA, BUF, KC, WAS, CIN, TB
Short-term Best: NE, CIN, KC
Long-term Worst: DEN, JAX, STL
Mid-term Worst: DEN, STL, SF, MIN, SD, HOU, OAK, JAX
Short-term Worst: SD, CAR, OAK

vs. Interconference -- How well do AFC teams do against NFC teams.

Long-term Best: CHI, DEN, OAK, STL
Mid-term Best: GB, NE, STL, CHI
Short-term Best: STL, TEN, NE
Long-term Worst: DET, ARI, ATL, DAL, NO
Mid-term Worst: NYG, ARI, DET, ATL
Short-term Worst: DEN, NYG

2nd Games -- you play each divisional opponent twice per year. These are the teams that make the best/worst improvement between games.

Long-term Best: NYJ, BAL, DAL, CAR, NE, PHI, SEA
Mid-term Best: PHI, NE, DET, DEA, DEN, CAR, CLE
Short-term Best: DET, ATL, SEA, PHI, JAX, NE, DEN
Long-term Worst: MIA, WAS, SF, MIN, CIN, NO
Mid-term Worst: WAS, NO, MIN, IND, MIA, KC, TEN, CIN
Short-term Worst: TEN, NYG, NO, MIN, STL, KC

vs. Playoff teams -- They get up to play the best.

Long-term Best: CAR, PHI, NYJ, TB
Mid-term Best: PHI, NE, KC, CLE, DET, JAX, CAR, MIA, NO
Short-term Best: NE, IND, KC, PHI
Long-term Worst: ARI, OAK, NYG
Mid-term Worst: ATL, BUF, OAK, DEN
Short-term Worst: NYG, OAK, TB

vs. Teams over .500 -- They may not be the best, but they’re winners.

Long-term Best: NYJ, NE, TEN, PHI, OAK, MIN, CHI, TB, GB
Mid-term Best: NE, TEN, NYJ, HOU, MIN, STL, CIN, GB
Short-term Best: NE, HOU, CHI
Long-term Worst: DAL, JAX, SF, NYG, NO
Mid-term Worst: DAL, IND, CAR, SD, NYG, CLE
Short-term Worst: MIA, NYG, CLE

Monday Night Football

Best: BAL, PHI, GB
Worst: NYG, OAK

1st 4 Games -- These are the fast starters and those that snooze out of the gates.

Long-term Best: MIA, KC
Mid-term Best: MIA, KC, DEN, SD, CLE
Short-term Best: MIN, KC, IND
Long-term Worst: WAS, CIN, TEN, ARI
Mid-term Worst: NYJ, CHI, CIN, TEN
Short-term Worst: OAK, NYJ

2nd 4 Games

Long-term Best: MIA, PIT, PHI
Mid-term Best: PHI, NE, GB, STL, NO, KC
Short-term Best: NE
Long-term Worst: JAX, SD, SEA, ARI
Mid-term Worst: OAK, JAX, SD, IND, SEA, ARI, BUF, NYG, DEN
Short-term Worst: ATL, OAK

3rd 4 Games

Long-term Best: BAL, PHI, JAX
Mid-term Best: PHI, HOU, ATL, BAL, WAS, NE, JAX, DAL, OAK
Short-term Best: JAX, PHI, CIN
Long-term Worst: NYG, SF, KC, SEA, PIT, CIN, ARI
Mid-term Worst: NYG, STL, SF, ARI, DEN, TB, CAR
Short-term Worst: MIN, NYG, TB

4th 4 Games -- Strong/weak finishers.

Long-term Best: NE, TB, SEA, PHI, CAR, NYJ, TEN
Mid-term Best: ARI, NE, SEA, PIT, PHI, GB
Short-term Best: GB, NE
Long-term Worst: MIA, SD, DET, NO
Mid-term Worst: SD, WAS, NO, DAL, SIN, MIA
Short-term Worst: NYG, CIN

Streaky -- Teams that either have a win and follow with another win ATS or conversly win a game and then lose the next ATS (the public and the linesmaker jump on the team)

Long-term Best: none
Mid-term Best: NE
Short-term Best: PHI, OAK, JAX, MIN, NE, KC
Long-term Worst: DAL, BAL, CAR, NYJ, HOU
Mid-term Worst: BAL, DEN, DAL, SEA, BUF, WAS, TB, NYJ, HOU
Short-term Worst: PIT, BAL, WAS, TB, NYJ, SF, CAR, DAL, SD, NO, GB, DEN, STL, ARI, CLE

Blow-out -- Some teams follow success with another success. Some teams take a week off after scoring more than 30 points on offense.

Long-term Best: TB, IND, KC, MIN
Mid-term Best: KC
Short-term Best: NE
Long-term Worst: None
Mid-term Worst: WAS, PIT, DEN, SEA, TEN, ATL, NO
Short-term Worst: DEN

Blown-out -- Some teams bounce back after having 30 or more points scored on their defense, and then again some teams fold up the tent and go home.

Long-term Best: PHI, KC, BAL, SEA
Mid-term Best: PHI, BAL, MIA, DEN, KC, BUF, SEA, DET
Short-term Best: BAL, KC
Long-term Worst: SD, CIN, ATL, ARI
Mid-term Worst: GB, CIN, OAK, WAS, ATL, NO, IND
Short-term Worst: OAK, ATL

Bad Offensive Game -- How does a team react after scoring less than 10 points in their previous game?

Long-term Best: TB, CHI
Mid-term Best: PIT, TB, MIN, CHI, SEA
Short-term Best: None
Long-term Worst: None
Mid-term Worst: NYG, MIA, BUF, ARI
Short-term Worst: NYG, MIA, DET, CLE

Great Defensive Game -- How does the team react after allowing less than 10 points in the previous game?

Long-term Best: PIT
Mid-term Best: CAR, PIT
Short-term Best: None
Long-term Worst: None
Mid-term Worst: DEN, SEA, CLE
Short-term Worst: CLE

There are many more situations that come up during the season that I haven’t covered: sandwich games, reverse sandwich games, games before divisional games, games after divisional games, holiday games, games before and after Monday Night Football, etc that I will bring up time-to-time in my weekly articles. Rather than overloading your brain or boring you to death, I’ll cover those circumstances as they arise.

Part 4 of this series will cover Totals. I hope you’ve found this information useful.

PART 4 >