Are there any surprises in NFL betting anymore? Of course there are. But we sure have gotten a lot better at this whole prediction thing. Thanks to the wide availability of advanced metrics and the rise of statistical analysis, anyone who was “with the program” last year could have anticipated much of what happened in 2013. The Denver Broncos won the AFC? Of course they did. The Houston Texans struggled? Of course they did. Regression told us they would.
Then again, regression also told us the Indianapolis Colts would fall back to Earth after their Chuckstrong-inspired performance in 2012. The Colts pulled out another 11-5 season (10-6 ATS) instead. So let’s not get too carried away with this whole Nostradamus thing. A simple regression analysis will help us carve out a small profit margin on the NFL futures market, but the football is still a prolate spheroid, and it still bounces funny.
For those of you new to betting on the NFL, a quick primer. You can bet on next year’s Super Bowl and conference champions right now. Football odds are available every single day of the year. Since we’re dealing with the AFC today, let’s go ahead and look at the top favorites to win the conference as we go to press:
Denver Broncos 11/4
New England Patriots 3/1
Indianapolis Colts 10/1
Cincinnati Bengals 10/1
Well well, it’s the four division winners taking up the top four spots, with the two teams from the AFC title game enjoying a massive advantage. Even with the salary cap and parity and such, this is what you can generally expect from the futures market every offseason.
So what’s this regression thing? As it turns out, past wins and losses are not the best predictor of future wins and losses. You need to take into account point differential and strength of schedule. If you had played the Jacksonville Jaguars 16 times last year and won each game by one point, does that mean we should expect you to go undefeated this year? Especially if you had to play the Broncos 16 times?
Fortunately, we don’t have to do the math on this. Football Outsiders crunches the numbers every year and comes up with both Pythagorean Wins and Estimated Wins for each of the 32 teams. These are better predictors of future success. And when you sort out the teams that had the biggest gap between Estimated Wins and Actual Wins, you get the teams who are most likely to “regress to the mean” and deviate from market expectation in 2014.
Without further ado, here are the four AFC teams that had the biggest gaps between Estimated Wins and Actual Wins in 2013:
Houston Texans (3.8 EW, 2 AW)
Denver Broncos (14.1 EW, 13 AW)
Oakland Raiders (2.1 EW, 4 AW)
Indianapolis Colts (9.5 EW, 11 AW)
Yes, believe it or not, the Broncos underperformed last year. The same thing happened in 2012, when Denver went 13-3 while playing well enough to post 14.7 Estimated Wins. This suggests that the Broncos are not a likely candidate to fall back to the pack this year. The Patriots, by the way, had 11.0 EW in 2013, so you might want to give Denver a spin on the AFC futures market instead of New England.
And the Colts? Again, they did much better than expected last year. Having a young and improving team helps them avoid the regression monsters. But how long can they keep this up? Especially with Khaled Holmes and Phil Costa competing for the starting center job? Chuckstrong can only keep Andrew Luck protected for so long.