2017's biggest NFL gambling hits and misses

Revisiting Some Team Predictions for 2017:


Dallas Cowboys


The disastrous Dallas Cowboys season was in line with my expectations.  Dak Prescott certainly came back to Earth, and the explosive personalities of Dez and Zeke seemed to derail the momentum that was built up in 2016.  Here were some of my preseason thoughts on the Cowboys and specifically Prescott:


Dak Prescott was phenomenal last year, there's no disputing that (103.00 Passer Rating).  He ranked third overall behind Brady and Ryan.  But what's dangerous about him is that he's a somewhat mobile QB entering his 2nd season following a stellar rookie campaign. Look at what happened to some of the other QB's in a similar situation following an impressive rookie (first real playing time) season:


Prescott really struggled all year, while the defense got exposed.  It showed how reliant on the run they were in 2016.  Prescott performed much worse in virtually every category when comparing 2017 and 2016.


Detroit Lions


We really misread the Lions defense.  They certainly played with more heart and grit than we originally gave them credit for.  They were coming off a season in which they had one of the most anemic pass defenses of the last decade.  They really turned things around defensively as evidenced by the chart below:

We suggested that their poor defense would put them in a bad position to cover the spread in most games.  Because they vastly improved on that side of the ball while maintaining their explosiveness on offense, they were effective against-the-spread in 2017.



Cincinnati Bengals


The Bengals, while a mess at times, were one of the more productive teams ATS in 2017 at (56.20 percent).  They got some advantageous lines that made them a solid underdog play for much of the season at 6-3 ATS.  Andy Dalton's miraculous win in Baltimore was the most Bengal-esque scenario that you could dream of.  With nothing on the line, Dalton ruined Baltimore's season on the final drive.  Although, they underachieved in the actual win column (as they usually do under Marvin Lewis!), their overall numbers were effective.  Here’s what we said before the season:


The Defense:  When this team was 14-3 ATS in 2015, they were a dominant unit.  Their rankings were 2nd in Points allowed and 4th in Passer Rating Defense.  The data tells me that this defense was still a top 10 unit at the very least.  They ranked 6th in Passer rating defense and seventh in points allowed.  The drop off was not significant enough to justify a drop from 14-3 ATS to 7-9 ATS in my opinion.  Many of the same talented names and faces in the secondary and defensive line remain intact.  Although coaching and discipline are always a concern with the Bengals, we think the defense will retain its position within the top 10 units of the NFL.


The Bengals were essentially the "Anti-Lions" in 2016 as they had six losses in games decided by eight points or less.  It is highly unlikely that they will continue to lose this many close games.  We think if AJ Green and Tyler Eifert stay relatively healthy, and the offensive line isn’t a complete disaster this team should finish closer to 60 percent ATS in 2017.  The Bengals finished with a Passer Rating Differential of 8.76 in 2016 which ranked them ahead of Packers, Dolphins, Raiders, and Steelers who were all Playoff Teams.

Performance of the Shorenstein Spread Projecting Formula:


Before the season started, we wrote an article that outlined how my formula works and in what scenarios you should use it.  The "Money Zone" lived up to its name and provided its most successful season yet at 65-48 (or 57.52 percent).  Here's what we suggested before the season started:


"The Money Zone" (the difference between my calculated spread and Vegas is between 2-6).  This tier is the wheel house for the majority of my "Shorestein Says" Picks of the Week.  Historically, games that fall within this tier, have hit above 55 percent.  We consider games in this tier to have a statistical advantage in the long run.  Since we’ve been running the formula, about half of all games fall within this tier. 


Weeks 12-17 had the hottest streak since the formula was created, going a scorching 27-12 (69.23 percent) ATS during that period.  The million-dollar winner in the Westgate Super Contest was 58-22 (72.50 percent) to give that success rate some perspective.  The sample was only about half the size as the Super Contest, but it should give you an idea of how hot it was for that six-week period.  However, it wasn't surprising to see this hot streak come at the end of the year when the statistics that are used by the formula hold more weight.  Below is a chart of the overall performance of the formula since inception:


The "Opposite Tier" theory didn't live up to the lofty expectations it set in the previous two years.  While hitting close to 70 percent of games in 2015 and 2016, this strategy dipped slightly below 50 percent.  This tier does not have much data to back the assertions, but nonetheless has delivered some compelling results.  Below is an excerpt of my strategy coming into the season.


"The Outliers" (the difference between my spread and Vegas is 6 points or higher).  This tier is the complicated one.  In theory, since the variance is so high, it would imply that these games would have the most statistical value.... However, it is actually the complete opposite. I have learned that no statistic is perfect.  If Vegas' spread is completely different, there is often a convincing reason or mitigating factor as to why it varies so greatly. 


So rather than being stubborn with calculations, we have accepted defeat to the powers in Vegas on games within the "Outlier Tier".  The phrase "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." applies perfectly here.  The records in this tier if you play the OPPOSITE of the projected winner of my calculations were:


2015:  23-12 (65.71 percent)

2016:  28-12 (70.00 percent)

2017: 28-34 (45.16 percent)


We will keep a close eye on this “tier” in 2018, and reevaluate my strategy if necessary.  For now, it's worth avoiding games in this tier, and concentrating on the “Money Zone.”