Vegas Lines and Team Rushing Performance
Using Vegas numbers as a metric for DFS projections can be a tricky venture. Some outfits build models almost entirely on spreads and implied totals. Some ignore Vegas completely. To simplify things, we land somewhere in between in trying to find places where Vegas can provide a useful *window* into potential game scripts and how a team will *attack* the other.
Running back play is one such area where Vegas can be helpful.
Targeting running backs that are favorites (either at home or on the road) in those situations can lead to clear gains in both numbers of touches and total yards.
And yes, I understand this is something of the chicken or the egg thing. Teams that are big favorites tend to have good offenses and defenses. They can take, and control, a lead early and often. The best practice here would be to compare rushing averages per team based on Vegas lines and then compare specifically team-to-team on lines.
We can (hopefully) run through that exercise at a later date. For our purposes here we will take a birds’ eye view of how Vegas lines might give us a sense of a team’s rushing chances on a given week.
We will separate home favorites and road favorites (rarer) to start and then combine them. These stats are taken over the last three seasons of football. I also attempted to group the lines by the number of instances. For instance, by far the most *popular* line is -3 for a given team. And there are some interesting takeaways around that particular number. From there I tried to set a baseline of instances around a group of lines which is why you'll see things set out by number of occurrences. Without further ado, some graphs:
The initial take away here is that favorites (both home and away) see a (sometimes massive) gain in overall run attempts and yards. It's clearly *better* to be a favorite in a game if trying to pile on rushing yards. For some teams and players, this will be built into the pricing structure. Sites have done a much better job in recent seasons of price-correcting players based on matchups. Good teams against bad teams (at home or on the road) will likely see at least a moderate price increase for optimal situations.
But there's likely some case to be made in possibly overpaying for running backs in these situations, that even with a built-in correction based on matchup, there might not be enough of one when we get to RBs as the heaviest of favorites.
I also found it interesting the outlier volatility around the -3 / +3 odds. If the conventional wisdom is that this specific number is established around unknowns (i.e. teams are even, -3 goes to the home team) then it makes sense to see a lot of variance around that specific line. It happens in each of the graphs.
Other than that blip, we do see clear trends for teams' running games.
For what it's worth, at open, the teams with the highest Week 1 point spreads:
Steelers -7 at Cleveland
Saints -7.5 vs. Buccaneers
Patriots -7 vs. Texans
Packers -9 vs. Bears
As we get closer to the season, things are likely to change with injuries, roster decisions and more. But looking at those early lines it's clear Le'Veon Bell and Alvin Kamara are in excellent spots. Jamaal Williams, with Aaron Jones suspended to start the season could be another bell-cow in Week 1 especially if they move away from Ty Montgomery more. And the Patriots? Well, we'll just have to see about that one.
- Le’Veon Bell, Emmanuel Lamur: AP/Michael Conroy