By Jeff Fogle
Houston at Carolina kicks off the first full week of NFLX Wednesday, plus our weekly tutorial and more sports betting banter in VSiN City.
NFL: Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien carries 8-4 ATS preseason record into Wednesday opener at Carolina
It can be frustrating for sports bettors to latch onto anything solid when trying to find winners in the NFL preseason. The best players barely see action, particularly in the first two weeks. Many coaches are more concerned about avoiding injuries than getting results. Often the straight up win and cover come down to a couple of fluky plays set up by a blown coverage, or maybe a big turnover or a kick return.
But generally speaking, edges can often be found when:
- Backup quarterbacks are fighting for jobs
- Head coaches have established track records of good or bad results
Both of those look to be in play Wednesday night when the Houston Texans visit the Carolina Panthers in this week’s NFLX opener that will be televised live by the NFL Network. That’s a big reason the opening pointspread has been bet down from Carolina -3 to -1 (with a handful of stores testing pick-em overnight).
The Texans have a quarterback war, with veteran backup Tom Savage and rookie Deshaun Watson both under consideration for first string once the regular season begins. Brandon Weeden is the third-teamer, another veteran who shouldn’t struggle against the second and third-teamers on August opponents.
Houston head coach Bill O’Brien looks to prioritize at least parts of the preseason based on past results. In three years as an NFL head coach, his teams are 8-4 against the spread (including a 4-0 board sweep last season). If you throw out the lame duck finale that’s often a “phantom” performance across the league, the 8-4 ATS mark improves to 7-2 ATS. In other words, when not in a lame duck spot, O’Brien’s teams have gotten the money 78% of the time in exhibitions.
A quick recap, starting from last year and working backwards…
2016 (4-0 ATS)
- Houston (plus 3) won at San Francisco 24-13
- Houston (pick-em) beat New Orleans 16-9
- Houston (pick-em) beat Arizona 34-24 (dress rehearsal)
- Houston (-3) won at Dallas 28-17
2015 (2-2 ATS)
- Houston (-3) beat San Francisco 23-10
- Houston (-2.5) lost to Denver 14-10
- Houston (plus 3.5) won at New Orleans 27-13 (dress rehearsal)
- Houston (-3) lost at Dallas 21-14
2014 (2-2 ATS)
- Houston (-1.5) lost at Arizona 32-0
- Houston (-3) beat Atlanta 32-7
- Houston (plus 7) won at Denver 18-17 (dress rehearsal)
- Houston (-3) lost to San Francisco 40-13
Worth filing away in your memory that O’Brien is 3-0 ATS in Week 3 dress rehearsal games, featuring road wins at Denver and New Orleans, and a double-digit home cover last season vs. Arizona.
For Carolina, coach Ron Rivera has a mixed performance. His teams don’t breathe fire, but don’t tank either. At the quarterback position, Cam Newton will miss the game as he deals with shoulder soreness triggered by aggressive practice after offseason surgery. Derek Anderson will be the starter, followed by Joe Webb and Garrett Gilbert.
Respected money is already in at Houston plus 3, plus 2.5, plus 2, and plus 1.5. You can follow the game-day money on VSiN programming in the hours leading up to kickoff.
MLB: Handicapping tutorial on team evaluation
Last week, our summer series of Wednesday tutorials focused on stat evaluation. Today, we’re going to kill two birds with one stone. We’re going to talk about a good way to evaluate baseball teams AS we use that approach to paint the picture of the current pennant race. Football’s about to take up a lot more real estate here in VSiN City. We want to set the stage for the most intense stage of the pennant race while we can.
Many casual bettors (and too many non-casual bettors, media members, and human beings in general) tend to decide what they think before really examining an issue…THEN they try to find pieces of evidence that back up that opinion. If you’re going to beat the market over the long haul, you’ll be much better off trying to get a clean read on teams or players. Then, once you’re comfortable with your read, it’s time to form opinions.
We’ve talked often this summer about the role that ballparks can play in creating illusions. Try winning money betting on illusions! Smart bettors need to figure out how to erase those illusions so they can see what’s really there. A great way to do that is by looking at ROAD ONLY stats. That will provide a cross-section of environments that create a cleaner read.
NL Road Only ERA (thru Monday’s action)
1…LA Dodgers 3.66
3…Chicago Cubs 3.73
8…St. Louis 4.33
12…San Diego 5.18
13…NY Mets 5.33
15…San Francisco 5.40
Pitching obviously is important in baseball. The top six road ERA’s in the National League belong to the six teams most likely headed to the playoffs. Colorado might rank #12 in “overall” ERA. That’s an illusion created by having to play their home games on the moon. Focus on ROAD performance, and you see that Colorado has a playoff caliber staff. (Note that all stats for this report were gathered Tuesday afternoon from the “splits” option on ESPN’s MLB stat pages.)
NL Road Only Offense
1…Washington 5.4 runs per game, with a .782 OPS
2…NY Mets 5.2 runs per game, with a .811 OPS
3…Miami 5.1 runs per game, with a .783 OPS
4…LA Dodgers 4.9 runs per game, with a .784 OPS
5…Atlanta 4.8 runs per game, with a .746 OPS
6…Pittsburgh 4.8 runs per game, with a .726 OPS
7…Chicago Cubs 4.7 runs per game, with a .752 OPS
8…St. Louis 4.7 runs per game, with a .737 OPS
9…Milwaukee 4.5 runs per game, with a .751 OPS
10…Colorado 4.4 runs per game, with a .698 OPS
11…Arizona 4.2 runs per game, with a .697 OPS
12…San Francisco 4.2 runs per game, with a .717 OPS
13…Cincinnati 4.2 runs per game, with a .742 OPS
14…San Diego 3.9 runs per game, with a .697 OPS
15…Philadelphia 3.8 runs per game, with a .687 OPS
Colorado and Arizona fall down to below average in runs scored per game outside of their home parks. You may have noticed that the mainstream media tends to hype sluggers on teams like Milwaukee, Arizona, and Colorado rather than pitchers. ROAD only data shows that those teams are being carried to contender-ship more by quality pitching than by quality hitting. (Oh, if you’re a Cubs fan, be sure you’re complaining about hitting this year more than pitching.)
AL Road Only ERA
1…NY Yankees 3.74
5…Kansas City 4.40
6…Tampa Bay 4.49
7…LA Angels 4.58
12…Chicago White Sox 5.00
One of the most overlooked stories of the season has been how strong the Yankees pitching staff has been when not having to deal with the home run jet stream in the Bronx. And that was accomplished before their recent acquisitions of more arms. The Yanks may be better going forward than that great stat already suggests! The Yankees have the fourth-best road ERA in the MAJORS despite pitching in the league that uses a Designated Hitter.
You can see why analytics types are so fond of Boston and Cleveland down the stretch. And, you can see why there’s skepticism about Houston having enough pitching. The Astros may be the only team in the playoffs on either side of the brackets that gets in with an “offense first” mentality. Though, as you’re about to see…WHAT AN OFFENSE!
AL Road Only Offense
1…Houston 6.9 runs per game, with a .880 OPS
2…NY Yankees 4.8 runs per game, with a .742 OPS
3…Boston 4.8 runs per game, with a .730 OPS
4…Cleveland 4.6 runs per game, with a .758 OPS
5…Seattle 4.6 runs per game, with a .733 OPS
6…Baltimore 4.5 runs per game, with a .723 OPS
7…Tampa Bay 4.4 runs per game, with a .746 OPS
8…Toronto 4.4 runs per game, with a .721 OPS
9…Minnesota 4.4 runs per game, with a .697 OPS
10…Detroit 4.3 runs per game, with a .709 OPS
11…Kansas City 4.3 runs per game, with a .703 OPS
12…Texas 4.3 runs per game, with a .688 OPS
13…Chicago White Sox 4.2 runs per game, with a .722 OPS
14…LA Angels 4.1 runs per game, with a .694 OPS
15…Oakland 4.0 runs per game, with a .704 OPS
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Houston suffered a couple of injuries recently that slowed down what had been a historically great road offense. They should be healthy again by October. That will provide quite a challenge for handicappers when the time comes. In the meantime, note again how the Yankees, Red Sox, and Indians are in the top four in this facet as well. Some pundits are picking Kansas City to outplay the Yankees down the stretch in the Wildcard hunt (as Bob Nightengale of USA Today did with Brent Musburger and Ron Flatter on Monday’s “My Guys in the Desert.”). Could happen…but that would be a team currently ranked #5 in pitching and #11 on offense in relatively clean stats chasing down a team ranked #1 and #2 in those categories.
Can Houston win with unbelievably great hitting but average pitching? The best recent style match, as Ron Flatter pointed out the other day, is the 2001 Seattle Mariners squad that went 116-46 in the regular season but couldn’t reach the World Series. The 2001 Mariners led the league in road hitting, and were a respectable fourth in road pitching. But this Houston offense has been much more potent.
2001 Seattle: 6.0 runs per road game, with an .819 OPS
2017 Houston: 6.9 runs per road game with an .880 OPS
Bettors have a couple of months to decide if that level of production will mostly disappear against the frontline pitching Houston will face in the playoffs.
Wrapping up the Wednesday tutorial…bettors must do their best job to get clean reads on teams before investing their money in any sport. A fair approximation of clean reads has the following rankings for notable contenders in the 2017 championship chase:
LA Dodgers 2.5 average rank: #1 in road pitching, #4 in road offense
Washington 3.0 average rank: #5 in road pitching, #1 in road scoring
Chicago Cubs 5.0 average rank: #3 in road pitching, #7 in road scoring
Arizona 6.5 average rank: #2 in road pitching, #11 in road scoring
Milwaukee 6.5 average rank: #4 in road pitching, #9 in road scoring
Colorado 8.0 average rank: #6 in road pitching, #10 in road scoring
NY Yankees 1.5 average rank: #1 in road pitching, #2 in road scoring
Boston 2.5 average rank: #2 in road pitching, #3 in road scoring
Cleveland 3.5 average rank: #3 in road pitching, #4 in road scoring
Houston 4.5 average rank: #8 in road pitching, #1 in road scoring
Minnesota 6.5 average rank: #4 in road pitching, #9 in road scoring
Tampa Bay 6.5 average rank: #6 in road pitching, #7 in road scoring
Kansas City 8.0 average rank #5 in road pitching, #11 in road scoring
Helps you better understand why the Dodgers aren’t prohibitive market favorites to win the NL given the quality of Washington, and quality pitching elsewhere…and why the combination of the Dodgers and Astros is a dog to “the field” in that South Point prop we’ve been discussing. A lot of high quality, well-balanced, pitching deep teams in “the field” this season.
Sports Betting: Odds and Ends
Before we call it a day…
The Westgate posted some additional props for this week’s PGA tournament, golf’s final major of 2017. According to Jeff Sherman’s twitter feed, you can bet:
Winning Score: 271.5 (12.5 Under)
Lowest Round Shot: 63.5 (Over -140, Under plus 120)
Will Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth win?: No is -450, yes plus 350
From David Payne Purdum of ESPN’s twitter feed (by way of the Westgate)
Head-to-head: Rory McIlroy -150 vs. Jordan Spieth plus 130
The PGA begins early Thursday morning at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina. Who will be crowned king of the Queen City?