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Football Totals and Coaching Philosophies

   by Jim Feist - 11/05/2013

There are many factors to examine when studying football 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 decade with limited offense talent in many of those years. That imbalance isn't necessarily a bad thing, as they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in 2001 and 2013. During crunch time, the Ravens ended last year on a 4-2 run under the total, holding the Colts to 9 points and the Patriots to 13. During their other Super Bowl season, Baltimore was 13-7 "under" the total.
Six years ago the Patriots had a record setting offense starting 10-2 over the total. They had an aggressive, attacking offense. However, QB Tom Brady was out in 2008 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 year there is another version of the 2007 Patriots: the high octane passing attack of the Denver Broncos. Even before the season began Peyton Manning said he wanted to run the no-huddle more with the addition of WR Wes Welker joining Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Denver has done exactly that and oddsmakers have been challenged to make Bronco totals high enough, starting 7-0 over the total.
Like Baltimore, the Jaguars under Jack Del Rio and Gus Bradley are another team that is making their living playing a bruising, physical defense, but is terrible offensively. The Jags are stuck with awful QB play and have had more under than overs. That’s nothing new: Last year the Jags started 10-1 under the total!
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, Chiefs and Raiders. The 49ers prefer the ball-control style, as do the Chiefs under new Coach Andy Reid and his safe, West Coast offense. Did you notice the Chiefs started this season 6-1 under?
When teams with similar philosophies or strengths and weaknesses clash, the results with respect to totals can be predictable. We saw this in the opening game of the season when the Saints and Patriots met, a thrilling 30-27 New England win.
Two years ago in the opener the Saints and Packers met. Ball control? Forget it. New Orleans had the edge in yards 477-399 with Drew Brees throwing for 419 yards and Aaron Rodgers for 312. Both QBs combined for 6 TDs and no picks in a 42-34 shootout.
The Panthers, Chiefs, Vikings, Seahawks, Jets and Bengals have conservative offensive philosophies. Two of those teams met in the opener and the Seahawks beat Carolina 12-7 – under the total by 22 points!
Aggressive, attacking offensive coaching staffs can be found on the Saints, Packers, Patriots, Eagles and Falcons. And it doesn’t mean teams only play that way at home. The Chargers and Saints had coaching staffs that prefer uptempo, attacking styles when they met in London four years ago. The final tally? A 37-32 Saints' win, sailing 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 examining football totals.

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