Thursday Night Football: The Quants’ View (Week 7)
Seattle Seahawks (+8) at San Francisco 49ers
Playing while an underdog is no big thing to the Seahawks. They've been doing this all season. And the Bill Simmons-patented "Nobody Believes in Us!" theory must be working well for Pete Carroll, because the Seahawks are absolutely dominant when trying to overcome the odds.
The Seahawks have been underdogs in four of their six games this season, most recently against the Patriots last week. In those games, Seattle has gone 4-0. Yes, that's against the spread... and straight up. Wins against the favored Cowboys, Packers, Panthers, and Patriots have turned this team into the David that no Goliath wants to even get near. Strangely enough, in Seattle's two losses to Arizona and St. Louis, they were favored each time. Perhaps David only fights hard against Goliath and not against his fellow shepherds.
But were those teams the Seahawks beat truly Goliath? The Seahawks were underdogs in each of those games, and yet, they were never underdogs by more than four points in any single game. Vegas expected the Birds to keep it close. That's not the case tonight, where the 49ers are favored by over a touchdown, easily the largest spread the Seahawks have had to face in any single game this season. Now Pete Carroll has a true reason to use the "Nobody Believes in Us!" theory, but the trend will be harder to maintain against a tougher opponent.
The Seahawks and the Saints
When analyzing a game, it's always helpful to look at similar teams and how they performed in similar situations. And no team from the past dozen NFL seasons is more similar to Seattle than the 2000 New Orleans Saints squad, which numberFire has paired with the Seahawks with a 95.04% match. That team also had an effective starting QB that nobody actually believed in (Aaron Brooks), a running back with all the ability in the world but less common sense than a Vancouver riot (Ricky Williams), and a stifiling defense that did not allow 20 points a single time between weeks 3 and 11. That team ended up going 10-6 and winning the NFC West (back when winning the division meant beating four other teams instead of three).
And like this year's Seahawks team, the Saints performed well against the tough competition. The 2000 Saints were underdogs of four points or higher in four of their games that season, against the Chargers, Seahawks, Bears, and Rams. New Orleans won straight up in three of those games, with a 10-point loss (to a spread of six) to Seattle representing their only defeat. The only spread as large as tonight's eight-point spread was a Saints-Rams game in Week 13. That game, the Greatest Show on Turf was favored by 13. The Saints won by seven. The precedent with similar teams is there as well.
Enough beating around the bush! Who wins? Click here to find out.
Totals Line: 37.5 Points
In some recent weeks, we've told you about the trend where opposing top-ten opponent-adjusted defenses tend to have some lower-scoring games. Well, Philip Rivers' absolute meltdown on Monday night somewhat busted that trend. Taking the under when two of numberFire's top ten opponent-adjusted defenses face off has now netted a 5-2 record on the season (with the Browns dropping out of the top ten defenses).
More interesting for me, however, is just how low Vegas has put the Totals hurdle with one of numberFire's top ten opponent-adjusted offenses taking the field. The San Francisco 49ers currently sit as the sixth-most efficient offense in the NFL this season while the Seahawks are a respected 22nd. The problem is, no top-ten offense has faced a line this low all season. In fact, none of numberFire's top ten offenses has even faced a Totals line below 40. Of the teams that have faced a line below 40, only the Buffalo Bills (#16) rank in the top half of the league. And no team with an offense above Seattle's #22 ranking has gone into a game with a Totals line below 40 since Week 2.
Want to know our pick for the line? Click here to find out.
Total Passing Yards for Alex Smith: 220.5 (Over -125)
Nobody likes to shove the run down your throat quite like Jim Harbaugh. (And don't give him the chance, either, because he typically looks angry enough to actually try and shove one of his running backs down your throat if you challenge him.) The 49ers are first in the NFL in rushing offense while only rankings 26th in passing offense. Alex Smith has only had over 220 yards passing in two of his six games this season, and one of those was a 226-yarder against the Lions on Week 2.
numberFire, however, knows that Smith has actually been moderately efficient this season in a way his passing stats don't project. He's put up an "Ehh, average" 0.11 Net Expected Points (NEP) per pass so far this season, giving the 49ers 20.81 NEP of total value in six games so far this year. While that's nothing to write Steve Young about, that figure places him 18th among starting NFL QBs, directly ahead of Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, and Andrew Luck. His yardage numbers have typically gone so low because of his number of attempts - his 27.8 attempts per game puts him 27th in the league. But that could easily change against a Seattle team that has forced opponents to throw. No single opposing team has had less than 29 pass attempts against Seattle yet this season.
numberFire took all of the above statistics into account, and we projected Smith with a line-shattering 246.43 passing yards this week.
In case you couldn't tell, we're pretty confident that we know what we're talking about. History doesn't lie - if you were a subscriber to our Premium package, you would have known to take both the Tennessee Titans to beat the Steelers outright and the Giants to beat the 49ers outright as well. In fact, we're returning a ridiculous +18.2% ROI on picks just like that all season - so sign up today and pad that wallet!