Thursday Night Football Best Bets Strategies - Week 13
Presented with no (OK, very little) comment, here are your last four Thursday Night Football games before Thanksgiving: Buffalo/Miami, Indianapolis/Jacksonville, San Diego/Kansas City, Tampa Bay/Minnesota. By the end of Week 11's riveting 19-14 Buffalo victory, I thought I could hear the strong cocktail Mike Mayock was preparing in the background the entire fourth quarter.
But for once, the NFL Network crew finds themselves with an actually riveting game: the NFC South battle between the Falcons and Saints. Although neither team features our projected NFL MVP anymore (both Ryan and Brees took turns at the top of the charts this year), the offensive explosion set to happen in this game could provide the best Thursday night game we've seen in a long, long time.
But what does that mean for those trying to make a little extra money off the game? For our official predictions, you'll need to check out our numberFire premium selections. But for a sneak peek into our thought process and some key stats we're looking at for this game, read on.
Ole Route 56
Did you see me say offensive explosion up there? Well, do you know who else is expecting an offensive explosion? Everybody, including the Vegas odds makers. The current 56-point line is the single-highest totals line of the season thus far, just barely beating out the Raiders-Saints 55.5 totals line in Week 11.
For a lot of people, when they see a line that high, the initial reaction is to immediately go under. But so far this season, there have been five totals lines at 54 points or above, and consistently going the under wouldn't have been your best move.
As you can see, the over has won three of the five contests where the totals line sat at 54 points or above. But two of those lines were extremely close; the Week 4 Packers/Saints game only beat the line by a point, and the Week 11 Raiders/Saints game only went under the line by half a point. It it might help to notice, too, just how many times the Saints have made that list and what their results have been. Both times the high totals line went under, the Saints defense was involved. (But just as a note: this totals line is one of our most confident selections this week. You may want to check out the premium product, just to make sure.)
There is no "D" in New Orleans Saints
It makes sense that four of the six highest totals lines this seasons have involved the New Orleans Saints, because their defense has been bad. I mean "I ate some bad gumbo and now my intestines have turned into the gates of hell" bad. It's easy to say that they've given up a ton of yards or that they have given up at least 24 points in 83% of their games so far this season, but for how bad they've really been, we turn to our best friend: the Net Expected Points figure.
Net Expected Points (NEP) measures the projected output for a certain team on a drive compared to what the average team would do in each individual down situation. You add up the change in expected points values on each individual play on a certain drive, and bam, you get an NEP number. This not only works for offense, but it works for defense as well: how many less or greater expected points have you given up in comparison to the average NFL team given the same game situations?
And when you look at the Saints' defensive NEP numbers, they show just how inefficient the defense has been this season. So far this season, the Saints have given up 122.26 points greater than expectation, or a figure of over 10 points greater per game. And most of that poor defense has come by virtue of the secondary - they've given up a grand total of 119.49 NEP through the air this year. Think that's just because of a high number of pass attempts, though? Think again: their 0.28 NEP per pass given up is the second-highest average in the league, only behind Indianapolis's 0.29 mark.
Going against a top offense in Atlanta shouldn't help matters. Remember that in Week 10, Matt Ryan threw for 411 yards, three touchdowns, and gained the Falcons over 10 points higher than expectation against the Saints defense.
High Octane in the ATL
One of numberFire's favorite pastimes is comparing current NFL teams with their historical counterparts and seeing what we find with the data. We're a major hit at parties, let me tell you. And when we look at the Atlanta Falcon's preferred style of play and efficiency this year, we find that they compare very well to another high-octane offense but average defense: Peyton Manning's Colts. In fact, not one, but two different Colts teams are the Falcons' most comparable matches: the 2002 Colts squad at a 93.94% match and the 2010 Colts squad at a 93.82% match.
So how did those Colts teams fare against the league's strongest offenses? The 2002 squad only faced three of the league's ten most efficient offenses: the Eagles (No. 4), the Steelers (No. 6), and the Broncos (No. 8). But despite only finishing the season 10-6, they performed admirably in those three games, ending with a 2-1 record against the top offenses. Most notably, in the two victories against the Eagles and Broncos, they held both teams to 20 points or less, with the Eagles game finishing as a 35-13 Colts victory. They lost 28-10 to a Steelers squad that would end the year at 10-5-1, but Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox did not even hit 200 yards passing, running back Amos Zereoue only finished with 87 yards, and Manning's three interceptions doomed the Colts.
But the 2010 Colts tell a different story. In their five games against the top ten offensive teams, the Colts went 1-4, or four of their six losses on the season. The only victory was a 31-26 squeaker against the eventual 8-8 Oakland Raiders; every single other game, the Colts lost while giving up at least 26 points. With a small sample size, it's tough to gleam too much from these results. But from the numbers, it's fair to say that high octane offenses and middling defenses similar to the Falcons this season have the potential to outperform their counterparts, but it's not a sure lock.