Evaluating NFL Defense

It’s very clear that offseason rules changes have helped offenses become much more efficient and productive in the NFL. Scoring is up. Interestingly, points off defensive and special teams touchdowns are going down because there are fewer high impact interceptions, or sacks where the QB fumbles and the ball is run in for a score. Even with THAT, scoring is up.

You regulars know that I spend a lot of time emphasizing offensive PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS in my process. I’m not going to change. But, I do believe that what will separate you from the market the rest of the season will be a recognition of which teams play the best and worst DEFENSE.

In an era where most teams can drive the field for many TDs per game, there’s less meaningful difference between “good” and “great” on the offensive side of the ball. “Great” just scores those TDS faster on fewer plays. Imagine a game where one team drives the field on six yards per play, while the other does so on seven yards per play. It could be 35-35 in the fourth quarter because most drives are ending in touchdowns anyway. It doesn’t matter that one offense got there “faster.” Both are getting there.

Because the media is focused so much on quarterbacks and receivers, particularly those putting up big number for fantasy football, smart bettors will gain an edge by studying under-reported defense. Who can get stops? Who can turn possible opposing TD drives into field goal drives instead.  Who can still force a couple of turnovers per game in this environment? Who can put a roadblock in front of a star QB in the fourth quarter just in time to swing a pick-em game?

Answer those questions, and you’re going to make some money.

Here are the statistical categories I want you to focus on for the time being. Your homework for today’s class session is to get caught up in NFL performances in all of the following.

*Yards-per-Game Allowed

*Passing Yards-per-Game Allowed

*Touchdowns-per-Game Allowed

*TD/FG Ratio allowed

*Third Down Rates Allowed

*Sacks

*Takeaways

Using nfl.com or espn.com will get you those numbers fairly quickly. That may sound like a lot of categories. But, the “search” part of the effort is easy. You’ll have the numbers handy in less than an hour. Then, you can spend as much time as you have available studying for edges.

I think you’ll find that TD/FG ratio is going to prove fruitful. Any defense that can turn a possible seven into a three is picking up four free points in the big picture. It will strike you as counterintuitive at first. But, a defense allowing a lot of field goal attempts is playing GREAT. You want that if you bet on that defense. (Plus, once the weather starts to change later in the season, many of those field goal attempts will be missed).

You’ll notice I left yards-per-play off the list. Many in analytics have believed that was an be-all/end-all stat in recent seasons. Knowing those numbers did put you ahead of the market several years ago. Not true any more. And, as I’ve suggested above, they may give you a slightly false read on quality in an era where ending drives with TDs is the most important thing. (Atlanta won yards-per-play over Cincinnati last week 7.5 to 6.1, but lost the game 37-36.)

One hidden issue I want you to be aware of this week. Strength of schedule could be a polluting influence in these first month numbers. It’s possible for an “average” defense to grade out poorly through four games if it had to face explosive offenses every week. It’s possible for an “average” defense to look like a brick wall if it kept running into rookie or otherwise mediocre quarterbacks.

Once you have a sense based on your initial homework of who the “best” and “worst” defenses are, study the schedules of those teams to make sure they’re not being penalized or helped in this manner.

I’m not going to talk about specific teams in my coursework because I need to protect edges for my paying clients. But, if one or two defenses step forward soon in such a way that “the cat’s out of the bag” in terms of major media coverage…then we can go more in-depth on what’s working for those teams. I strongly believe there are a few “sleeper” defenses that are going to cash tickets for a few more weeks. Don’t want to wake any oddsmakers up.

If you’d like additional help finding the smartest bets on the football board…KELSO STURGEON’S top plays can always be purchased at this website by credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered in the office by calling office at 1-800-755-2255 during normal business hours. Please remember to check on combination packages that include the Major League Baseball playoffs, or the upcoming basketball seasons.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping greatly appreciates your enthusiastic attendance and hard work. I’m happy to pass along what I’ve learned over the years as a sports bettor. And, the continuing challenge of beating the market helps keep me young. All sports are evolving right now at much faster speeds than in the past. You really have to stay on your toes to win. Oddsmakers aren’t great dancers!

Best of luck to you this weekend. I’ll see you again Monday for our next class get-together.