Monday Night Football Betting Trends By Math Nerds (Week 4)
After a wild and wacky weekend of football (brought to you by The King of Miami Brian HartlineTM), it's time for Monday Night Football once again. If you're not taking a look at numberFire's Premium Page for all of our official projections and prognostications on the spread, totals line, moneyline, and more, check out some of the stats we're looking at for this game. The more knowledge the better, and we're the Internet's leader in numbers. (Not an official ruling, but hey, read on and argue otherwise.)
Thrown to the Dogs
Stand up for the little guy! Then bow to his mercy. As has been happening much of the season, the underdogs took the crown again in week 4. 'Dogs went 8-5 against the spread in week 4 so far, with the Eagles-Giants game a push. Most interesting to me, though, is the number of those underdogs who won straight up: Minnesota (+3.5), St. Louis (+2.5), Cincinnati (+1.5), and Washington (+2) each took the win this week. And out of those five games where the underdog merely covered or pushed but did not win straight up, three of those games (GB/NO, PHI/NYG, and ARI/MIA) were decided on a game-ending final kick. Especially in those games where the teams were close, the line ended up being thrown out the window; the game turned out to be more of a pick 'em. In close contests where the line was 3.5 points or lower this week, the underdog won straight up two-thirds of the time, with San Diego over Kansas City and Philadelphia over the Giants as the two outliers. Chicago comes into this game as a 3.5 point underdog, but if recent history is any indication, favoring one team over another does not matter much when the two teams are this close.
Just Plain Offensive
Everybody is heading into this game expecting offensive struggles; it wouldn't be a Cutler v. Romo duel without a few picks thrown in for good measure. The totals line for the Bears/Cowboys contest currently sits at 41.5 points, the fourth-lowest totals line of the weekend behind Seattle/St. Louis, Arizona/Miami, and San Francisco/New York. But while those three games did not reveal a definitive trend (the under won two of three times), none of those games featured what this one does: a battle between two of the top dozen defenses in numberFire's efficiency rankings entering week 4. Teams currently in numberFire's top dozen of the defensive rankings have faced off seven times this season, including four just last week. In those seven games, the under has won all seven times, a perfect 100% of the time between numberFire's top dozen defenses. Just for those who don't believe my list, the games were Seattle/Arizona (under 41) in week 1, Chicago/Green Bay (under 50.5) and Seattle/Dallas (under 42.5) in week 2, and Seattle/Green Bay (under 45.5), Arizona/Philadelphia (under 41), San Diego/Atlanta (under 47), and Tampa Bay/Dallas (under 45.5) in week 3. The point is, you can't guarantee a high score when not one, but both teams are capable of shutting down the opposing offense.
A Productive Witten: The Key to Losing?
Somebody has replaced Jason Witten with Jay Novacek. No, not the Novacek who was a six-time All-Pro in his seven seasons with the Cowboys in the early '90s. I mean the current Jay Novacek, the one who is 49 years old and retired. That's the only possible explanation for the season Jason Witten has been having, seeing as how his current eight catches for 76 yards gives him fewer receiving yards total through three games than he had in five single games last season. He's sure catching the ball like a 49 year-old man; his 42% catch rate is absolutely abysmal, especially for a tight end. His previous career-low catch rate was only 65% back in his sophomore 2005 season. He's making (extremely bad) personal history here.
But does his poor play dictate whether the Cowboys will win or lose? Recent history says not so much, especially since the Cowboys have done worse when he does do well. Since the start of the 2010 season, the Cowboys are an overall 16-19, good for a .457 winning percentage. Over that span, Jason Witten has caught at least five balls in 18 of those 35 games. His winning percentage on high-catch games was right in line with the rest of his team in 2011: the Cowboys went 4-4 in games with at least five Witten receptions and 4-4 in games when he didn't have five catches. That might not prove anything, just that the Cowboys were dead average last season. The stats get hairier for Witten, though, when you throw 2010 into the mix as well. In games when Witten caught at least five passes that year, the Cowboys went a staggering 3-7, as compared to 3-3 when he caught less than five. That gives the Cowboys a total .389 win percentage when Witten is heavily involved in the offense, which is significantly lower than their overall winning percentage over that same span. I'm not here to speculate why that is; I'll leave that to the Talking Heads. But when the Cowboys have been forced to rely on Witten, it hasn't been pretty.
The (Broken) Touchdown Machine
As I noted in my Sunday Start/Sit article for this week, Tony Romo hasn't exactly been lighting up the world with his QB play the past two weeks. He's only gained +0.90 NEP of value total for his team over the past two weeks, placing him in the bottom third of all starting NFL QBs for effectiveness. But as it stands, the Bovada sports book is still scared of his throwing prowess: taking the under 1.5 TD passes is +120 to win as of this writing. Should they be that scared, though? We already mentioned how the Chicago defense is one of the five toughest in the NFL - they have only allowed three passing touchdowns combined this season to Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, and Josh Freeman. But even without taking the defense into account, Romo is still not a sure bet to throw that many TDs. Three of his four touchdowns this season came against numberFire's #15 defense in the Giants; he threw for only one TD combined against the two top-ten defenses he faced. The odds are usually against a QB throwing for two TDs in a game anyway, but that especially rings true in a week where numberFire's projected 1.39 TDs for Romo entered the week as 17th best among NFL QBs.