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Football Totals and Coaching Philosophies
by Jim Feist - 11/10/2009
There are many factors to examine when making football predictions when studying totals. Defensive and offensive statistics need to be examined, of course. Some of the questions a good handicapper asks: Is there speed in the defensive secondary? Does a club have a one-dimensional offense? Do they prefer a powerful running game or wide-open passing attacks? What kind of weather conditions will there be?
Another area that is correlated to totals is coaching philosophy. Coaches build their teams around a combination of the style they want to play, plus the personnel on the field. The Ravens, for example, have had an abundance of defensive talent the last few years with limited offense talent. That imbalance isn't necessarily a bad thing, as they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy nine years ago, with a conservative, run-oriented offense and a sensational defense. The last two seasons they have changed that philosophy on offense since OC Cam Cameron came aboard. In fact, they started this season 4-2 over the total.
During their Super Bowl season, Baltimore was 13-7 "under" the total. Two years ago the Patriots had the top offense in the league starting 10-2 over the total. They had an aggressive, attacking offense. However, QB Tom Brady was out last season and they scaled back that offensive approach for inexperienced QB Matt Cassell. It was no surprise New England started 6-3 under the total.
This season the Saints are the unstoppable offensive force, looking for the end zone on almost every play, it seems, behind QB Drew Brees. The Saints went over the total in five of their first seven games, scoring over 40 points four times.
Former coaches such as Jimmy Johnson, Dick Vermeil and Bill Walsh had offensive philosophies that liked to spread the field. They were more like gunslingers in the old west, with wide-open attacks that were ready to score on every play. The Chiefs under Vermeil went 10-6 "over" the total in both 2003 and 2004.
Conversely, some coaches prefer a conservative, ball control game plan, such as the 49ers, Dolphins, Chiefs, Raiders and Rams. The Rams have a new coach in Steve Spagnuola, who admits he wants an offense like the one he left while an assistant with the Giants – run the football to take the heat off the QB. It's also boring, starting 3-1 under the total. The 49ers have a new offensive coordinator in Jimmy Raye, who admitted back in preseason he wanted to run the football 60% of the time. Like the Rams, the 49ers also started 3-1 under. One of those unders came when the teams met each other in Week 4, a 35-0 San Francisco win, a boon for under players examining football predictions.
Other times, coaches have to adapt based on personnel. Tampa Bay has had their strength on defense rather than offensive skill position talent the last few years. In addition, Coaches Jon Gruden and Raheem Morris have been forced to scale back the offense because of injuries or ineffective play by QBs Chris Simms, Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese, Byron Leftwich and Josh Johnson. The Bucs were 11-5 "under" the total in 2004, 10-6 "under" in 2005 year, and 54-40 "under" the last six years.
When teams with similar philosophies or strengths and weaknesses clash, the results with respect to totals can be predictable. When the Bucs and Giants met in Week 3, the game sailed 22 points under the total in a 24-0 Giants' win. The Giants got out to a 14-0- halftime lead and were content to play it safe, running the football 49 times. The Raiders either prefer to run the football or can't pass and they are on a 5-2 run under the total. If you back a low scoring, conservative teams, believing they can control the ball on the ground, you might also want to take a look at the under.
Both the Chargers and Saints started the season 5-2 over the total, with explosive offenses but suspect defenses (they each start 5-3 over last season, too). What happened when they met in London a year ago? A 37-32 Saints' win sailed way over the total. Coaches construct their game plans around the talent on the field and try to stamp their philosophy on the team, something to keep in mind when trying to make football predictions on totals.