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The Two Most Important Stats in NFL Handicapping
by Bryan Leonard - 09/11/2012
Everyone handicaps differently and there are many different ways to get to what we feel is the winner in an NFL match-up. Some have the ability to break down a game position by position. Others use a computer to input data. Some are able to watch a game to come to a solid conclusion. Others use trends and angles to arrive at the pointspread winner.
For me it's a combination of these factors that lead to what team I back with my hard earned cash. But for those who don't have the time to do thorough handicapping I give you the two most important factors in cashing an NFL ticket: Turnovers and Average Yards Per Pass Attempt.
Now that Week 1 of the NFL season is final we have the ability to go back and study game results. In doing so we find that the team that won the turnover battle covered every game, while the team that had the higher YPPA went 13-3 ATS. The ATS winners were Tampa Bay, who by the way won the turnover battle 2-0, Cleveland who had a turnover advantage of 5-4 and St Louis who had a 3-0 TO edge. We counted Jacksonville/Minnesota as a push in our record keeping.
While the ability to handicap turnovers can be argued, it's common knowledge that the value of a turnover is roughly 4 points. Therefore if Team A wins a game 13-9 with a one turnover advantage, you can make a side note that the teams played even on the scoreboard when you back out the turnover edge. This gives you two of many different ways to look at the game in hindsight.
What I find very valuable is to keep records of how teams do when they lose the turnover battle, paying special attention to when they are able to cover a games despite having a turnover disadvantage. That tells me the team may be on the rise and I should look for a way to play that squad in the future. As we saw this weekend in the NFL it's very hard to cover a game when you don't win the turnover battle, when a team accomplishes that feat it's a rarity.
As for Yards Per Passing Attempt it's pretty clear that the most important position on a football team is quarterback. You gain more yards on average throwing the football than you do running the ball. YPPA is far more accurate than total passing yards because most teams that pile up large passing totals are behind in the game and need to put points on the board fast. That explains the common misconception that the team with more rushing yards wins. You run more with the lead and pass more when you are behind.