Podcast: Matthew Holt on how sportsbooks use football analytics

On this episode of The Football Analytics Show, I talk with Matthew Holt, the Chief Operating Officer at CG Technologies and the guy who sets the opening lines in Nevada. Among other topics, we discuss:

  • How sportsbooks use analytics to set market values
  • How much gathering injury data has changed the past 12 years
  • The markets that Matthew suggests for finding value
  • The subjective adjustments that sportsbooks and bettors must make to the numbers
  • The crazy odds for the New York Jets under 4.5 wins this NFL preseason

Matthew was a joy to talk with and even offered his help to anyone interested in getting into the sports world.

After the interview, I discuss my predicted total in Texas Tech at West Virginia and the pass defense of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Listen at 36:02.

To listen on iTunes, click here.

To listen on the site, click on the right pointing triangle.

Podcast: Joe Fortenbaugh on The Sharp 600, NFL in 2017

On this episode of The Football Analytics Show, I talk with Joe Fortenbaugh, host of The Sharp 600 podcast and football betting expert. Among other topics, we discuss:

  • The amazing way in which Joe broke into the sports world. A must listen whether you want to follow in his footsteps or land a date after getting a number. Listen at 2:20.
  • How the new podcast The Sharp 600 came about. 600 refers to the number of second of each show.
  • Joe’s take on how analytics has become a part of sports media and betting.
  • The NFL team that has most surprised Joe early this season

Joe also had an awesome book recommendation that reminds us to keep things in perspective.

After the interview, I do my own segment on NFL pass rankings by adjusted yards per play. This includes a discussion of how I develop a total points prediction for Jacksonville at Pittsburgh this weekend.

You can read about my NFL pass rankings here, or listen at 28:51.

To listen on iTunes, click here.

To listen here, click on the right pointing triangle.

NFL pass rankings by adjusted yards per attempt, 2017

Which teams have surprised early this NFL season? What can we say after 4 weeks of data?

The Power Rank looks at NFL offense and defense through their pass statistics. My research has found that passing rules the NFL while rushing hardly matters.

Here, I give the NFL rankings for pass offense and defense by yards per attempt adjusted for strength of schedule. Beware the small sample size of only 4 games, but these results do give us an early peak into the 2017 NFL season.

First, let’s look at pass offense.

NFL Pass Offense Rankings

The number gives an expected yards gained per pass attempt against an average NFL defense.

1. Los Angeles Rams, 8.82
2. Atlanta, 7.77
3. New England, 7.68
4. Washington, 7.23
5. Tampa Bay, 7.22
6. Minnesota, 7.04
7. Philadelphia, 6.95
8. Los Angeles Chargers, 6.87
9. Tennessee, 6.76
10. New Orleans, 6.69
11. Buffalo, 6.60
12. Kansas City, 6.52
13. Denver, 6.49
14. New York Giants, 6.45
15. New York Jets, 6.43
16. Dallas, 6.19
17. Green Bay, 6.14
18. Oakland, 6.08
19. Arizona, 5.94
20. Pittsburgh, 5.60
21. Carolina, 5.47
22. Detroit, 5.35
23. Indianapolis, 5.29
24. Seattle, 5.18
25. San Francisco, 5.14
26. Cincinnati, 5.14
27. Cleveland, 5.04
28. Chicago, 5.04
29. Jacksonville, 4.88
30. Baltimore, 4.77
31. Miami, 4.67
32. Houston, 4.39

The Rams as the top team immediately jumps out.

Last season, the Rams trotted out Jared Goff, the first pick in the 2016 NFL draft, at quarterback and watched him embarrass himself and the franchise. The Rams finished dead last in these pass offense rankings.

In the off season, the Rams got help for Goff. They traded for explosive receiver Sammy Waktins from Buffalo and signed tackle Andrew Whitworth from Cincinnati for enhanced protection.

In addition, you might have expected Goff to improve. On The Football Analytics Show, Kevin Cole explained how draft position is the primary variable for explaining NFL QB success. The Rams and other teams liked Goff for a reason before the draft.

But a move from last to first in pass offense is startling. Let’s see if the Rams can keep it up.

Now let’s check out the NFL pass defense rankings.

NFL Pass Defense Rankings

The number gives an expected yards allowed per attempt against an average NFL offense.

1. Pittsburgh, 4.25
2. Buffalo, 4.61
3. Dallas, 4.69
4. Carolina, 4.71
5. Jacksonville, 5.13
6. Kansas City, 5.20
7. Washington, 5.30
8. Denver, 5.31
9. Detroit, 5.49
10. Cincinnati, 5.53
11. Seattle, 5.60
12. New York Giants, 5.70
13. Oakland, 5.85
14. Atlanta, 5.88
15. Philadelphia, 5.88
16. Chicago, 5.92
17. Los Angeles Chargers, 6.08
18. Houston, 6.15
19. San Francisco, 6.23
20. Los Angeles Rams, 6.24
21. Arizona, 6.29
22. New York Jets, 6.29
23. Green Bay, 6.30
24. Minnesota, 6.40
25. Miami, 6.93
26. Baltimore, 7.04
27. New Orleans, 7.17
28. Tampa Bay, 7.44
29. Indianapolis, 7.55
30. Tennessee, 7.95
31. Cleveland, 8.13
32. New England, 8.63

Pittsburgh leads the NFL in pass defense, a surprise for a unit that has ranked 13th by these same numbers the past two seasons.

The Steelers picked up cornerback Joe Haden for 3 years, $27 million, a hefty contract for a player that had just been released by Cleveland. At the other corner, they’re starting Artie Burns, a rookie from Miami. So far, so good.

These pass offense and defense numbers drive my NFL predictions for totals. The Steelers look like an under team with this defense and an offense that was supposed to be elite but checks in at 20th in my pass offense rankings.

My numbers predict 38.3 points for their game with Jacksonville this weekend. This is probably low, since the Steelers defense most likely regresses to the mean while the offense improves during the remainder of the season.

However, there might be some value in the under.

Finally, in the biggest surprise early this NFL season, New England is dead last in pass defense. This unit figured to be a strength this preseason, as they signed Stephon Gilmore to a 4 year, $65 million contract to play cornerback opposite Malcolm Butler.

However, Gilmore has been awful and started the second half of the Carolina game on the bench. The Patriots have started 2-2 largely because of this pass defense.

Members of The Power Rank get access to these pass defense rankings each week as well as predictions for spreads and totals for all college and pro football games. To learn more, click here.

Podcast: Rufus Peabody on College Football, NFL predictions

On this episode of The Football Analytics Show, Rufus Peabody, professional sports bettor and creator of Massey-Peabody football analytics, joins me. Rufus is one of the sharpest young minds working in sports analytics, and we discuss the following:

  • The technique Massey-Peabody uses to balance preseason expectations with incoming data for the current season.
  • The reason Rufus is down on Oklahoma State’s offense
  • How his game grades see USC this season
  • How bad Alabama beat up Vanderbilt, and the odds the Crimson Tide win the national title
  • The number of points the Los Angeles Rams have moved up in Massey-Peabody

After the interview, I do my own segment on the college football totals predictions available for members of The Power Rank. Listen at 33:00.

To listen on iTunes, click here.

To listen here, click on the right pointing triangle.

The problem with using only one model in football predictions

You might wonder why UCF is first in my public college football rankings after four weeks of the 2017 season. That makes no sense whatsoever.

Let’s break it down. First, UCF has played only two games this season due to the hurricanes in Florida. They stomped Florida International 61-17, and then they beat Maryland on the road 38-10, a game in which they were a 4 point underdog.

My team ranking algorithm takes margin of victory and adjusts for strength of schedule. UCF not only has a huge margin of victory, but they have a key win over Maryland.

Maryland makes UCF look good because they beat Texas 51-41 in their opener. The team rankings don’t know that Maryland QB Tyrell Pigrome got hurt in the Texas game and won’t play the remainder of the season.

Texas went to USC and almost pulled off the upset in week 3. This boosts the stature of Texas, which gives Maryland a bump and pushes UCF up higher in my team rankings.

USC destroyed a good Stanford team, which pushes USC up in my rankings, etc. This propagates all the way to UCF.

Using only games this year, UCF is rated 56.8 points better than FBS average, an unsustainable level of play even for Alabama.

Now, these team calculations get blended with other points based numbers from previous years to give you the public rankings on this site. A regression model determines the parameters.

Usually, the parameters work pretty well. Most of the remaining teams make sense. However, it completely fails for UCF. They benefit from playing only two games, and they get a big strength of schedule boost from the Maryland win.

Here’s the take home message: it’s not good enough to use just points based metrics to make football predictions.

Members of The Power Rank have access to ensemble predictions that combine these points based numbers with other calculations based on yards per play and closing market spreads. UCF has a much more reasonable rank of 47th in these numbers. The resulting prediction against Memphis also makes sense.

In addition, members have access to totals predictions for both college football and the NFL for this weekend, the first of the season.

To become a member of The Power Rank, click here.