Scoring is down in the NFL this season. For the first two weeks of the season, teams are averaging 21.41 points per game. In the first two weeks of the season last year, teams averaged 24.0 points per game. Let’s consider the implications of teams averaging 2.59 fewer points per game. The average combined score last year in the first two weeks of the season was 48 points. In the first two weeks of this season, the combined score is just 42.82. The scoring is down even more in this third week of the regular season. Through Sunday night’s low-scoring affair between San Francisco and Denver, teams are averaging only 20.37 points per game, and the average combined score for the previous fifteen games this week has been only 40.74 points.
The betting market has yet to catch up with the under posting a 29-17-1 record this season. For prime-time games, the under has cashed in seven of the nine games. These under trends will probably fade as the oddsmakers and the betting market adjusts. Yet when we see the oddsmakers install an over/under below 40 as they did for the Monday night Cowboys/Giants game, we should not get scared off an under play.
We had the under for that Monday night game, and bettors won with 39.5 tickets and pushed with 39s with Dallas winning the game, 23-16, to continue the lower-scoring trend. These numbers fly in the face of the conventional wisdom that the NFL has evolved into an offensive-dominated league.
Certainly, rule changes designed to protect the quarterback and wide receivers running routes in the middle of the field have had an impact. Yet it would be more precise to indicate that these rule changes help the passing game. Yet with more teams passing the ball more often, scoring has not necessarily increased, as the early season numbers indicate.
Perhaps offenses are simply behind the progress of defenses since more and more head coaches opt to not play their first-string offensive players in the preseason. More than a third of the opening week's starting quarterbacks did not take a snap in the preseason. Only three quarterbacks who did not play in the preseason led their team to a victory in Week 1, and two of those quarterbacks were playing against teams who also did not play their quarterback in the preseason. Kirk Cousins led Minnesota to a win against Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers and Justin Herbert led the Los Angeles Chargers to a victory against Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders. Only the Baltimore Ravens with Lamar Jackson started 1-0 after their quarterback did not play in the preseason. Matthew Stafford, Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Joe Burrow, and Ryan Tannehill were all losing quarterbacks in Week 1 after not playing in the preseason. These 11 quarterbacks combined for an 86.1 passer rating and a 6.9 yards per attempt average, which was a significant drop from their combined 100.4 passer rating and 7.7 yards per attempt average in 2021.
If rust is the reason for the scoring decline, then it will be a short-term phenomenon. Yet some reasons support the notion that defenses may be catching up to the recent trends on offense that have emphasized the passing attack. More and more defenses are embracing the principles of Vic Fangio who deploys 3-4 base fronts with two high safeties. The two-high safety look became an effective counter to explosive offenses like Kansas City who thrived on big plays from Patrick Mahomes. Yet the Chiefs struggled against teams who played these two-high safety looks. These defensive concepts are now being used against other high-octane offenses like the Los Angeles Rams and the Buffalo Bills. For those who consider NFL trends to be cyclical in nature, then it makes sense that it would only be a matter of time before defenses began to adjust, adapt, and catch up to these new offensive principles.
Injuries and poor play on the offensive line are likely playing a role as well. Some observers are concerned that college football is not doing as good a job as they have in the past in training linemen for the next level. As more and more programs rely on pass-reliant passing offenses in the Air Raid vein, many offensive linemen are getting drafted by NFL teams despite the lack of experience playing with a hand on the ground at the line of scrimmage before the snap.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that other teams are finding success running the football. As defenses play more nickel and dime sub-packages to defend against passing attacks, those teams that move in a different direction by emphasizing the run can take advantage of these schemes and lack of linebacker depth on the roster. The Philadelphia Eagles and the Detroit Lions are two teams with heavy run tendencies who are scoring plenty of points early this season.
Bettors should consider these early under trends with a grain of salt. Yet it is important to monitor the possibility that the high-scoring games of the past which compelled oddsmakers to install the over/under in the 50s for many NFL games may be starting to wane.
Good luck - TDG.