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Fancy Stats | Analysis

Football betting trends, takeaways and a bad beat seven hours in the making

September 10, 2018 at 10:18 AM

Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Tannehill tormented bettors wagering on the under Sunday. (Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

Every Monday during football season The Post will examine the top takeaways from a weekend’s worth of betting-related story lines. Below you’ll find a breakdown of the top trends, analysis of unexpected outcomes and an anguished account of the bad beat of the week.

The weekend’s top trends and takeaways

NFL Week 1 breakdown per Covers.com

Favorites: 7-6-1 ATS
Road favorites: 2-2-1 ATS
Home favorites: 5-4-1 ATS
Home teams: 7-6-1 ATS
Road teams: 6-7-1 ATS
O/U: 8-6 to the over

College football Week 2 breakdown per Covers.com

Favorites 38-41-1 ATS
Road favorites: 7-9-1 ATS
Home favorites: 31-32 ATS
Home teams: 41-39-1 ATS
Road teams: 39-41-1 ATS
O/U: 37-43 to the under

College football year to date, per Covers.com

Favorites: 81-81-3 ATS
Road favorites: 16-17-1 ATS
Home favorites: 65-64-2 ATS
Home teams: 83-80-3 ATS
Road teams: 80-83-3 ATS
O/U: 88-76 to the over

NCAA favored loser of the week

North Carolina, a 15.5-point favorite over East Carolina, trailed the Pirates by two at halftime after the Tar Heels’ Freeman Jones kicked a 42-yard field goal as time expired. UNC proceeded to lay the biggest of eggs in the second half, failing to score as underdog ECU — projected to be one of the worst FBS teams in the country this season, and a team that lost to FCS North Carolina A&T; the previous weekend — finished off a 41-19 whipping of its big-name in-state opponent. The Pirates now have three straight wins over North Carolina by a combined score of 166-91.

Related: [Top takeaways from a thrilling NFL Week 1]

NFL favored loser of the week

The Cardinals entered Sunday’s game as two-point favorites over the Redskins despite having a ton of questions all over the field. They exited with a 24-6 loss and perhaps even more questions. — Matt Bonesteel

NCAA trends that didn’t pan out

• Nick Saban’s Alabama teams entered Saturday’s game against Arkansas State 1-7 against the spread in their home openers after starting the season with a neutral-site game. They exited the game 2-7 ATS after easily covering the 36.5 points in a 57-7 win over the out-of-their-league Red Wolves. The Tide jumped out to a 40-0 lead early in the third quarter but then allowed Arkansas State to score a touchdown, briefly putting the cover in doubt. Seventeen straight Alabama points followed to complete the rout.

Related: [Fantasy football waiver wire rankings: Add T.J. Yeldon ASAP]

• Since 2005, ranked teams that began the season on the road or at a neutral site had gone just 33-50-1 ATS in the Week 2 home game that followed. Since 2008, that ATS record had dipped to just 24-47-1. But the three teams that faced such a situation Saturday covered: Alabama, Michigan (its 49-3 win over Western Michigan covered the 27.5-point spread) and Boise State (which beat U-Conn., 62-7, to cover 34). That’s why they’re called “trends” and not “predictions.”

And some NCAA trends that did

• The Midwest saw windy, rainy conditions Saturday as the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon worked their way north, and many of the affected games stayed under the total, as expected: Duke-Northwestern (under by 19.5 points), Eastern Michigan-Purdue (under by 11.5 points), Iowa State-Iowa (under by 30.5 points), Utah-Northern Illinois (under by 24 points), Virginia-Indiana (under by 14 points).

• USC was 0-7 ATS in its previous seven games as underdogs of less than six points. It’s now 0-8 after failing to cover as 4.5-point underdogs in a 17-3 loss to Stanford.

Related: [College football’s biggest winners and losers from Week 2]

• Louisiana-Monroe improved to 8-1 ATS in its past nine September games after its 21-20 win over Southern Miss. The Warhawks were 6.5-point underdogs.

• Hawaii fell to 0-11 ATS in its past 11 games as a home favorite. It beat Rice, 43-29, but failed to cover the 17-point spread.

NFL trends that didn’t pan out

• In the past 175 such games, NFL teams coming off a season with at least 10 losses were 104-67-4 ATS in Week 1 games against teams that lost fewer than 10 games the year before. Those teams — the Dolphins, Broncos, Browns, Colts, Texans, Giants, 49ers, Bears and Bucs — went 4-4-1 ATS on Sunday (3-5-1 straight-up).

Related: [Six fantasy options to replace injured RB Leonard Fournette]

• NFL teams with four or fewer losses the previous season were 35-48-2 ATS in Week 1 games over the past 85 such games, but the four such teams Sunday (the Patriots, Steelers, Eagles and Vikings) went 3-1 ATS and 3-0-1 straight-up.

• In the past 155 such games, NFL teams coming off a playoff berth were just 68-85-2 ATS in Week 1. On Sunday, those teams went 6-5 ATS (and the Rams play Monday night).

• The past 19 Super Bowl losers had gone 4-15 ATS in Week 1. The Patriots covered against the Texans.

And some NFL trends that did

• Ravens Coach John Harbaugh improved to 16-5 ATS with extra time to prepare (meaning a bye week or the offseason).

• The biggest favorite on the board had gone 12-22 ATS in the past 34 Week 1 games. The biggest favorite on Sunday’s board — the Saints, 10-point favorites over the Bucs — not only didn’t cover but lost outright.

• The under was 12-2 in the past 14 games in which the Cardinals were home favorites. Arizona’s 24-6 loss to the Redskins stayed 13.5 points under the total.

• The Chiefs were 6-0 ATS in their previous six games as road underdogs against division opponents. They not only covered as 3.5-point underdogs at the Chargers but won outright. — Matt Bonesteel

Most improbable win: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (33 percent win probability)

Before Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers stole the limelight with his unbelievable, one-legged dismantling of the Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was the hero of the day.

Related: [Aaron Rodgers just showed again why he is so ridiculously good]

Thanks to his efforts, the Buccaneers, 10-point underdogs, the largest spread in the NFL in Week 1, stood toe to toe with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday and emerged with a 48-40 victory.

Fitzpatrick threw for a career-high 417 yards with four touchdowns and added a score on the ground as Tampa Bay enjoyed a two-touchdown lead before halftime and led by as many as 24 points in the fourth quarter. What made the victory more remarkable was Fitzpatrick scored 17 points more than you would expect based on the down, distance and field position of each throw, per data from TruMedia. His biggest throws of the day were a 58-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson in the first quarter and a 50-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans in the third, two attempts that had a negligible expected point value before the snap.

According to ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, Fitzpatrick was the most valuable passer in Week 1 (97.5 QBR), perhaps creating a bit of a quarterback controversy once starter Jameis Winston is eligible to return from suspension.

Bad beat of the week: The Titans-Dolphins under 45

This is taking forever. Two weather delays, the 4 p.m. games are in the fourth quarter already, and the Dolphins are beating the Titans 7-3 in the third quarter. Just get it over with and pay me my money on under 45, okay?

Oof, Marcus Mariota got hurt. Then he threw two picks and had to come out. Nobody wants that, of course. But when you have money on the line and points are your enemy, the materialization of Blaine Gabbert is certainly welcome.

Related: [All the top takeaways from a thrilling opening Sunday in the NFL]

Still just 10-3 heading into the fourth. So what if Dion Lewis is scoring a touchdown? Tie game, but no problem. At least that drive took almost five minutes, and these teams aren’t making any big pl … oh, no. No. Jakeem Grant just took back the kickoff for a touchdown. It’s 17-10 now.

Deep breaths. There’s 14 minutes left, and even if both teams score one more touchdown, the under is still a winner. The Dolphins will kill some clock and get this thing under control.

What the hell is going on? Did Kenny Stills really just catch a 75-yard touchdown? How are there 34 points on the board? There were 10 like 15 minutes ago! Can’t get much worse than that.

Oh come on, that is worse. Another kickoff returned for a touchdown? So now there are more than 10 minutes left, the Dolphins are up 24-17, and another touchdown ruins the under.

Gabbert’s not going to move the Titans anywhere, certainly not fast. The only way he can screw this up is an interception. Good lord, he just threw an interception. The Dolphins took it back to the 12. Please don’t score a touchdown.

Alright, that field goal makes it 27-17. Still a winner. Only 3:49 left. The Dolphins are trying to run out the clock, and the Titans have Gabbert. Relax.

Count the money! The Titans lost the ball on downs, and they don’t have timeouts. A first down, and the under hits.

Three and out. Well, no problem. The Titans have it at their own 20 with no timeouts and 67 seconds left. Also, Gabbert.

Huh, 18 yards on first down. Wait, another first down. Hold on, they’re crossing midfield.

Now there’s 16 seconds left and the Titans have it on the Miami 40. Clock’s running. Good, good. Gabbert spikes — what is that flag doing? How do you have 12 men on the field when they’re spiking the ball?

Well, no problem. The ball’s on the 35 now, but NFL coaches always screw this up. They should kick the field goal and try for the onside, but they never do that. They always go for the touchdown.

Oh, God. They’re going to kick a field goal. Well, at least it’s 53 yards. He can still miss. Come on, Ryan Succop. Don’t be a jerk. Just miss.

It’s good. Eleven seconds left. 27-20. That’s 47 points. Over.

More than seven hours after the game kicked off and after you’d counted your money a half-dozen times, the over hit with 11 seconds left — after it was 7-3 at halftime, after it was 10-3 after three quarters, after Blaine #$%^&*! Gabbert moved the ball 45 yards in a minute with no timeouts.

You swear you’ll never bet again. Or at least until Lions-Jets on Monday night. — Adam Kilgore

Honorable mention

Florida Atlantic 33, Air Force 27: The Owls were 8.5-point favorites and were trying to kill the clock with a 33-20, spread-clinching fourth-quarter lead. All that’s left to do is punt it away with less than a minute left, but wait! The Falcons’ Garrett Kauppila blocks Sebastian Riella’s kick, and Lakota Wills returns it five yards for a touchdown with 50 seconds left. Air Force gets the miracle suck-out. — Matt Bonesteel

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Neil Greenberg is a staff writer with The Washington Post whose beat is sports analytics. His analysis and insight can be found on the Fancy Stats blog, where he covers all pro sports, as well as college football and basketball.

Matt Bonesteel spent the first 17 years of his Washington Post career writing and editing. In 2014, Bonesteel pivoted from the newspaper to online and now he blogs for the Early Lead and other Web-based products owned by The Post.

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for The Washington Post. Previously, he served as The Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.

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