Denver Broncos 2019: Minor Improvements

Denver Broncos 2019: Minor Improvements
Denver Broncos 2019: Minor Improvements

Case Keenum Was Not the Answer

Before 2018, the Denver Broncos decided that journeyman Case Keenum would give them their best chance at winning football games. But Keenum was a prime example for statistical regression. Before his prolific 2017 year, Keenum had an aggregated career quarterback rating of 40.8 – significantly below average for signal-callers. Then he suddenly bumped to 72.8 in 2017 (Hey Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen!). John Elway decided that this anomaly was the new standard and rolled with Keenum. He was an upgrade from the Trevor Siemian mess the year before. But Keenum finished the 2018 season with a rating of 46.9, reverting to around his career path. The Broncos offense ranked 5th in “rush DVOA,” but only 24th in pass DVOA. Unfortunately for them, passing is significantly more critical for winning football games.

This team preview will hopefully provide you with a lot of information. But it doesn’t replace your weekly handicapping/pricing process. It’s your job to price all 32 NFL teams and situations accurately weekly. 

Even though the defense played at an above-average level throughout the year, it wasn’t all on Case Keenum. Elway traded away wide receiver Demaryius Thomas after week eight, Emmanuel Sanders tore his Achilles in week twelve. Only two starting offensive linemen played 16 games. The two best players along the line, left guard Ron Leary and center Matt Paradis, went to IR in weeks six and nine, respectively. On the season, the Denver Broncos went 6-10 but had 7.4 Pythagorean victories.  They went 4-6 in one-possession games with a positive turnover differential of +0.4. Their defense created 25 turnovers. Overall, Denver was more of a 7-9 team than a 6-10 one. Head coach Vance Joseph got fired anyway – the right decision.

Flacco SZN

John Elway revamped the coaching staff with former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio who will be a rookie head coach at age  61. He will likely be one of the most experienced rookie head coaches in the history of the league. Fangio is one of the best defensive minds in the league and should easily be an upgrade over Vance Joseph and Joe Woods.

Elway also made another *splash* signing when he traded a third-round pick to Baltimore in exchange for QB Joe Flacco. But the latter is Case Keenum with a stronger arm. Over his career, Flacco averaged 0.013 expected points added (EPA) per dropback. Keenum sits at 0.003. Only 3.7 points separate these two in their respective career QBR with Flacco having the lead. In a friendlier scheme with a robust offensive line, Joe Flacco will likely look better than Keenum did in 2018. However, first-year play-caller tend to struggle.

New offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello served the past two years as the quarterback’s coach for the 49ers under Kyle Shanahan. He also spent the 2015 season as the offensive quality coach for the Atlanta Falcons when Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator. According to reports, Scangarello used Shanahan staples when he coordinated the Wagner offense in 2016. Outside zone scheme, play-action out of running formations, sweeps – we will probably see plenty of Shanahan stuff. This offense is most likely looking more creative than it did under Bill Musgrave. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak might be the most underrated signing. He has coached a terrific Pittsburgh Steelers unit from 2014 to 2018.

An Underrated Supporting Cast

The offensive line could finish as an average unit. Left tackle Garett Bolles hasn’t lived up to his draft status; he’s hoping to get pushed by Munchak. Ronald Leary has been a rock-solid guard throughout his career, whereas rookie right guard Dalton Risner ranked 19th on Pro Football Focus’ Big Board as a tackle. According to draft pundits, Risner should easily slide in and play right guard. His and Bolles’ development is critical for the success of this unit. Risner will kick in because the Broncos signed free agent Ja’Wuan James, formerly with the Dolphins. James is a reliable veteran addition. Center Connor McGovern will try to fill the void left by Matt Paradis, who is now a Panther, full-time.

Denver Broncos Offensive Depth Chart Projection
Denver Broncos Offensive Depth Chart Projection

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders might not be ready for week one, but last year’s rookies showed a lot to be optimistic about this group. Courtland Sutton finished his first pro year with 42 receptions for 704 yards and four touchdowns.  DaeSean Hamilton got the starting gig after Sanders went down. Over the last four games, he had 25 catches for 182 yards and two scores. I struggle to figure out the backups, but Sutton, Sanders, and Hamilton look like a decent unit on paper.

In the first round, the Broncos drafted receiving tight end, Noah Fant. The learning curve for rookie tight ends is steep, so we shouldn’t expect miracles. But he is expected to contribute early. Former college star Jake Butt is coming off his second ACL tear in two years. He was competing with Jeff Heuerman for the starting job last summer. Especially with Sander’s absence, I’m expecting many 2-TE-sets by Scangarello. We will also likely see heavy usage of full back Andy Janovich.  Running back Phillip Lindsay had a good rookie season but is coming off a broken hand.

All in all, this can be an underrated squad, depending on the development of the tight ends and Mike Munchak’s work. With Joe Flacco, the ceiling is not high. But there should be a more upper floor than in 2018.

Get the Mastermind Vic Fangio to Work!

Vic Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell – who spend the last eight years coaching secondaries under mastermind Fangio – have some functional pieces to send out on the field. As mentioned, Fangio is a significant upgrade at the coaching position. He will scheme the defense up to its strengths. While the interior defensive line doesn’t stand out, Von Miller and Bradley Chubb form one of the best edge-rushing tandems in the entire league. According to Pro Football Focus, these two collected 121 combined pressures against one of the harder schedules. With Chubb entering year two, they can only improve. Linebacker Brandon Marshall left the Broncos towards Oakland which means that Todd Davis and Josey Jewell will pave the way. In terms of coverage, both guys have some development in front of them.

Denver Broncos Defensive Depth Chart Projection
Denver Broncos Defensive Depth Chart Projection

In the secondary, Fangio has a functional group on the outside. He brought over slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, one of the best in the league. Chris Harris, also among the best on his position, will play opposite of 31-year old Kareem Jackson. The latter should get targeted a lot by opposing offenses as he seems to be the weakest spot. Free safety Justin Simmons will play alongside William Parks – the two are not close to the level of Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos last year. The performance of this defense is going to get dictated by opposing offenses but also by Vic Fangio. They have a terrific edge-rushing duo and two very good cornerbacks, but the rest isn’t particularly good and can get exploited. This defense seems like an average to an above-average unit that has borderline top-10 potential with Vic Fangio.

2019 Schedule

The Denver Broncos are going to walk a stony road this year. Using the wisdom of the crowd – the regular season win totals at Pinnacle – gives us a clue about their potential strength of schedule. According to these totals, the Broncos are projected to play the second-hardest program in the league at 0.5244. Within their division, they are going to play four tough matchups against the Chiefs and the Chargers, both who went 12-4 last year. In the AFC, they will face the South with three teams potential playoff teams from 2018. An early east game at Buffalo in late November, as well as a matchup against the up and coming Browns, is no cake-walk either.

On top of that, Vic Fangio’s squad will play a tough-nosed AFC North. After their bye week in week ten, Denver is going to travel in four games out of five. Intriguing scheduling spots:

Week 6 vs. TEN: The Broncos have a sandwich matchup between playing on the road against the Chargers and receiving the Chiefs four days later for a prime time game. Home teams before a Thursday game have been bad against the spread, especially as favorites. The lookahead line is Broncos -2.5. But keep in mind that this is more than likely priced into the line.

Become a member for the 2019 season and get all team previews, win totals, weekly analysis, and picks until the Super Bowl. Since I started this service in 2017, we beat the closing line 70.6% of the time for an average closing line value of 4.0%. The record is 136-104 (56.7%) for +27.46 units at 10.5% ROI. Find all the picks with closing line reports on the records page.

Denver Broncos 2019: Minor Improvements

The Denver Broncos are an improved team from last year, but I would describe these improvements as a minor. Denver should have a little bit more luck overall. The offensive line should be healthier, but Joe Flacco is only a small upgrade over Case Keenum if all.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw rookie Drew Lock on the field at some point. The receiving corps has potential but is still very young. Vic Fangio is a defensive mastermind whereas we don’t know what to expect from Rich Scangarello as a first-year play-caller. We can only assume that his scheme is going to be more QB-friendly than Bill Musgrave’s. Is Fangio giving him full control of the offense, or is he interested in a strong-defense / run-first approach?

The neck breaker might be a robust program with a lot of quality opponents. While I expect them to improve, the ceiling is not very high when your quarterback is Joe Flacco. Anything more than 8-8 would surprise me. Therefore I mostly agree with the markets which hold the Broncos at the win total of 7 with little downwards tendency. Seven wins seem like a fair projection. I wouldn’t touch any Broncos futures at all though. If the win total were 6.5, it would have some value for the over.

Baltimore Ravens 2019: Underrated Playoff Contender

Baltimore Ravens 2019: Underrated Playoff Contender
Baltimore Ravens 2019: Underrated Playoff Contender

The Crazy Part About the 2018 Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens have a weird season behind them. Right before their bye week, the Ravens were 4-5 and made the switch from QB Joe Flacco to then-rookie Lamar Jackson. With the latter, Baltimore went on to finish the season 6-1 with the only loss occurring in overtime at Kansas City. People might rightfully point to the ‘weak’ schedule with the likes of Oakland, Cincinnati, and Tampa Bay. They also went 3-1 in close games with Jackson. But they also beat the Chargers and were a fumble away from winning over the Chiefs at Arrowhead. The games against the Bengals and Browns were toss-ups. The range of possible outcomes probably went from 4-3 to 7-0.

This team preview will hopefully provide you with a lot of information. But it doesn’t replace your weekly handicapping/pricing process. It’s your job to price all 32 NFL teams and situations accurately weekly. 

Considering their late stretch, here’s the crazy part: the offense wasn’t good at all. And the defense – while playing well – didn’t collect many turnovers. Lamar Jackson ranked 31st in QBR, which was part himself – all scouting reports indicated that he would need time to develop as a passer. At times, his accuracy spread like a shotgun. But it was also part a horrendous receiving corps. Out of 39 passers with at least 150 dropbacks, Jackson ranked 31st in EPA/dropback (-0.04). It wasn’t good at all, but surprise: it was more efficient than fellow rookies Sam Darnold (-0.06), Josh Allen (-0.18), and Josh Rosen (-0.33). Jackson looked to be a generational talent on the ground, but he failed to get his power on the street efficiently.

The Not-So-Efficient Scrambles

RB runs barely matter, but QB runs do. Among 74 players with 50+ designed runs, Lamar Jackson ranked fourth in EPA per rush (0.13). The record season by Cam Newton sits at 0.49. However, on scrambles, which we would tend to believe makes him so dangerous, he ranked 29th out of 31 quarterbacks with at least ten attempts (0.13). Josh Allen had 0.94 EPA per scramble, Trubisky had 0.93 – absurd numbers. Every time Mitch Trubisky or Josh Allen scrambled, they added 2.6 and 2.7% in win probability. Lamar Jackson added 0.75%. Jackson can only regress positively.

If you think the Ravens should regress, you got fooled. They went 3-4 in close games, had a turnover margin of -0.2 and 10.8 Pythagorean wins. Their defense created 17 turnovers (tied-22th), but those weren’t efficient. The Ravens defense created 15.6 expected points through turnovers which ranked 31st last year and 7th-worst since 2009. They only added 6.4% of win probability per turnover – 2nd-worst in 2018. The Ravens still underperformed. It’s a high probability that Baltimore will collect more turnovers next year, which are also going to be more efficient for their win probability.

All Eyes on Greg Roman and Lamar Jackson

Baltimore has one of the best coaching staffs in the league. Greg Roman will take over play-calling duties from Marty Mornhinweg this year, and this is good for Lamar Jackson. Greg Roman spent five seasons with Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor – QBs similar to Lamar Jackson. During those five years from 2012 – 2016, Taylor and Kaepernick produced four top-10 finishes in QBR. The worst season was 58.1 by Kaepernick in 2014. Rookie seasons are tough – quarterbacks usually improve from year one to year two. But even if Lamar Jackson doesn’t improve as a passer AT ALL, he should get more efficiency out of his runs, especially his scrambles – regression.

Baltimore Ravens Projected Offensive Depth Chart
Baltimore Ravens Projected Offensive Depth Chart

The biggest flaw on the offensive side remains the wide receiving corps. Baltimore drafted WR Marquise Brown in the first round, and fellow rookie Myles Boykin was very high on Matt Waldman’s ranking. Both bring intriguing athletic skill sets to the table, but it’s hard to predict any real impact in the first year. If the Ravens get solid production – and separation – out of either one, it will help this offense tremendously. The tight end position is stacked. Second-year players Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews have a season under their belt and should increasingly take over snaps from Nick Boyle. Hurst had some injury issues, but Andrews was the better receiver coming out of college anyway. Andrews had a stat line of 34-552-3 in his first year. With the lack of quality at WR, we should expect Greg Roman to call a lot of sets with two tight ends. Running backs Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards aren’t great receivers. Rookie Justice Hill comes into the league with an elite RAS of 9.35 and could add a speedy layer to the option game.

More Option Runs for Lamar Jackson

The offensive line should rank in the middle of the pack – no player stands out as elite, but neither is anyone awful. Pro Football Focus graded them as the 14th-best pass-blocking unit and the 10th-best run-blocking unit. Right guard Marshal Yanda is a stud, the tackle tandem of Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown seems to be above-average going into their second year together. Left guard Alex Lewis and center Matt Skura are the two weaker spots along the line. All in all, this line shouldn’t hold Lamar Jackson back from making a step forward.

The Baltimore Ravens can’t solely rely on their run game around Lamar Jackson. Greg Roman needs to find ways to stretch defenses vertically and horizontally to create space for Jackson to throw to. Without at least a functional passing game, this offense will die a slow death. I expect Roman to install a lot more option runs and run-pass-options. Baltimore also brought “triple-option guru” Paul Johnson to training camp. I anticipate that Roman is going to present opposing defenses with many different looks, option runs, fake-handoffs and play-action to get Lamar Jackson on the move and cut the field for him.

It’s is a very conservative prediction now. Assuming neither Lamar Jackson improves one bit as a passer nor any of the young receivers has an impact, there is still little chance this offense will be worse than in 2018. Regression-wise, Jackson’s runs, especially the scrambles, should get more efficient. Scheme-wise, the Ravens have a full off-season to build an offense to Lamar Jackson’s strengths. If he improves as a passer or anyone of Marquise Brown or Myles Boykin has a decent impact, this offense will be more efficient than in 2018.

Two-Thirds of the World are Covered by Water

Earl Thomas covers the other third. As Eric Eager and George Chahrouri have pointed out, coverage is more important than pass rush. The Ravens are following this strategy. While their front seven is going to be a grab bag, this defense will likely have the best secondary in the league. Even though he’s coming off a broken leg, Earl Thomas should still be considered the best free safety in the league. He was the centerpiece of the Seahawks defense, consistently defending the deep middle and forcing opposing quarterbacks to go underneath with the football.

Next to Thomas is strong safety Tony Jefferson, who is solid in coverage. A stacked cornerback group consisting of Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, and Jimmy Smith round up this great secondary on paper. But each of those players will be in an advantageous position because Earl Thomas covers more ground than everyone else. As soon as Thomas got hurt in 2016, the Seahawks defense turned from a top-10 unit into a bottom-5 unit against the pass.

Baltimore Ravens Projected Defensive Depth Chart
Baltimore Ravens Projected Defensive Depth Chart

I have no clue how this front seven is going to look from snap to snap. Defensive coordinator Don Martindale runs a “complicated scheme” (Earl Thomas) with a lot of blitzes, and he likes to dial up pressure from various angles. Remember the playoff game against the Chargers? I have never seen Philip Rivers correcting, shifting his pass protection and audibling so much in a single game. Now add Earl Thomas into the mix. The coverage will be stellar; the pass rush will be dialed up via scheme. It’s a top-10 defense on paper with upside because of their elite secondary.

The Schedule

The Ravens are expected to play a below average schedule. Based on current NFL regular season win totals at Pinnacle, the Ravens are expected to face the 16th-hardest schedule. According to 2018 EPA per dropback, their program is expected to be the 21st-hardest. A significant advantage is squaring off against the AFC East. The Ravens have seven games on their schedule against quarterbacks with less than a full season under their belt: Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Jimmy Garoppolo, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield 2x, and Kyler Murray. Their two biggest travel games will be at the west coast against the Seahawks and the Rams. After the game at Seattle, Baltimore will have a bye week. Before the Rams game, they have an extra day off, because it’s on a Monday. There are no back-to-back road games. Overall, this schedule is exceptionally fortunate. Here is a spot to circle:

Week 7 at SEA: The Ravens travel across the country to Seattle after a home game against the Bengals. The Hawks will be home after a tough early eastern game at Cleveland. This game could set up as a great spot to fade the Ravens.

The Prediction

The Baltimore Ravens are EXTREMELY underrated. After winning ten games last year, their season total for the upcoming season sits at 8.5 but is shaded towards the under. The implied total is 8.2. I disagree with the market here and would advise a play on the Over at 8.5 +115 (Pinnacle). People are very low on Lamar Jackson, and the Browns hype is for real. Also, some part of the market might only remember their ugly playoff loss at home against Los Angeles. Baltimore feels like the forgotten AFC North team that shouldn’t be worse than last year. They only have the third-best odds to win their division, which feels a bit off, too.

The Ravens are a very well-coached team on all three phases. Their offense shouldn’t be worse than last year but has some upside while they probably got the best secondary in the league. On top of that, they will play a fortunate schedule without a lot of bad spots but with some inexperienced quarterbacks. I believe this team should win nine to ten games and go back to the playoffs.

Become a member for the 2019 season and get win totals, weekly analysis and picks until the Super Bowl. Since I started this service in 2017, we beat the closing line 70.6% of the time for an average closing line value of 4.0%. The record is 136-104 (56.7%) for +27.46 units at 10.5% ROI. Find all the picks with closing line reports on the records page.

Atlanta Falcons 2019: Offensive Philosophy the Rabbit Punch?

Atlanta Falcons Team Preview 2019
Atlanta Falcons Team Preview 2019

Going into the 2018 season, the Atlanta Falcons had high hopes. Personnel-wise, they had units with top-10 potential on both sides of the ball. One group delivered: their offense ranked 6th in EPA/dropback (0.18); QB Matt Ryan ranked 9th in QBR. Finishing below .500 with these numbers is a tough pill to swallow. There are several reasons why the Falcons finished 7-9.

This team preview will hopefully provide you with a lot of information. But it doesn’t replace your weekly handicapping/pricing process. It’s your job to price all 32 NFL teams and situations accurately weekly. 

Some Late-Game Struggles

They went 4-4 in close games. While this is a decent indicator of luck in general, not all close games are equal.  In their four narrow wins, the Falcons had two-possession leads at some point during the fourth quarter in all of them. In three of their four close losses (vs. PHI, NO, CIN), Atlanta had a lead late in the fourth. But they gave those games away, with a mix of predictive play-calling, scoring too early or not getting any breaks on defense. They also struggled in the red zone at times, especially running the ball near the goal line where the run game should be extremely efficient.

After starting 4-4, they had a rough stretch, losing five straight to put their season into the trashcan. Head coach, Dan Quinn’s defense, lost some essential players like MLB Deion Jones, safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen early in the season. Their coverage was terrible for the most part, and they couldn’t create enough pressure in distinct passing situations. On third and fourth downs, their defense allowed the third-highest DVOA (0.324) after NYG and OAK.

Regression-wise, the Falcons only have some little positive things going on for them. Sure, they will get the aforementioned defensive players back. But overall, their injury luck was precisely average. They had 77.9 adjusted games lost, which was 0.24 fewer than the league average. They went 4-4 in close games, had a turnover margin of +0.1 and had “just” 7.8 Pythagorean wins. Atlanta played an easy schedule on offense and an average one on defense.

Dan Quinn’s Offensive Philosophy

Before we dig into the personnel, it’s essential to address the coaching setup. Defensive-mind Dan Quinn is still the head coach and will take over play-calling responsibilities this season. Former Bucs HC Dirk Koetter, who was Atlanta’s OC from 2012 to 2014, replaced Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator. Ground-and-pound enthusiast Mike Mularkey will coach the tight ends, but it seems like he also has some assistant role.

Dan Quinn is a Pete Carroll disciple; he is an “establish the run” truther and believes that stopping the run on defense should be the primary goal. It’s no secret anymore that the NFL is a passing league and the run game only plays a minor role. Each offensive philosophy should follow the goal of being as efficient as possible. Running the ball for the sake of it, to stay “balanced” or to set up play-action is dumb. Even though it’s Dirk Koetter’s offense, he will make sure that he runs his unit according to Dan Quinn’s philosophy. He recently said they ‘have been adjusting to the style of football Quinn wants to see out of that unit.’ It’s not great news for Falcons fans. Dan Quinn’s offensive philosophy is highly questionable, as indicated by the following four quotes from an article in January:

  • “Having that kind of balance, Dirk and I both agree, is the best way to attack and is the best way to feature the guys on our team”
  • “The thing I think for us to get back from an identity standpoint is the amount of run attempts,”
  • “What I’d like to make sure is we can feature … the run game” to make play-action passes more effective.
  • “We’re going to work really hard at that,” he said, adding “That will be a big part of our identity, not just this year but for years to come.”

Run More, Punt More

These quotes mirror everything you do NOT want to hear from an NFL head coach. A run-first offense is a wrong approach to NFL football, especially when you have Matt Ryan and a lethal passing attack. Wanting to stay balanced is the wrong approach, too.  Before week 13 last year, coming off a 17-31 prime-time loss at New Orleans, Quinn named three areas his team has to improve: 1. Win the turnover margin, 2. Get the run game going and 3. Stop the run. Especially about the second part, Quinn said he wants balance and make the play-action go. They had a top-10 passing attack and ranked 5th in play-action yards per play – despite having a below-average run game and not being ‘balanced’ enough. The quality or the volume of the run game has nothing to do with how effective teams are at play-action. NFL teams establish the run when they leave their locker rooms.

The defense had the worst run EPA/play since 2009 (0.14), but it correlates little to win games. You always need to stop the pass or at least prevent it to a certain degree so that your offense has an advantage. If your passing attack is efficient and you also use it efficiently (two different things), you will inevitably score many points and force your opponent to stop running the ball. Prime example: the 2018 Chiefs had a brutal run defense, but where a flag away from the Super Bowl. Dan Quinn’s approach to offense increases the probability of scoring fewer points, going into more and longer third downs, and also of punting more.

A Revamped Offensive Line for the Falcons

The willingness to run the ball only for the sake of it must be matched with quality offensive line play, among others. After the retirement of the injury-riddled LG Andy Levitre and the release of RT Ryan Schraeder, the Falcons had some work to do. Thomas Dimitroff drafted guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary whom I both expect to start in week one. Former Jets-guard James Carpenter should be penciled in on the left side. There is a lot of uncertainty with this group. While James Carpenter isn’t an upgrade, the right side heavily depends on the development of the rookies.

According to the College charting of Pro Football Focus, Lindstrom ranked 1st in pass-blocking grade at his position, McGary ranked 10th. Pass blocking grade has stable predictive value translating to the pro game. However, predicting success for rookie offensive linemen is still hard to do. Especially when they are forced into more run-blocking snaps than necessary, this will inevitably lead to some longer passing downs. Center Alex Mack and LT Jake Matthews are both above average to good starters. With Carpenter and the two rookies, the range of possible outcomes for this unit is wide.

Atlanta Falcons offensive depth chart projection
Atlanta Falcons offensive depth chart projection

I don’t need to lose many words about the receiving corps. Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mo Sanu in 11 personnel are top-notch. Atlanta’s tight end group could need an upgrade though; Austin Hooper isn’t near the top group at his position, Logan Paulsen is primarily a run-blocker. The offense is set up for success but depends on the development of both rookie offensive linemen and help via play-calling. They can be explosive and efficient on early downs and score a lot of points. But their head coach wants to be balanced. Somewhere, Mike Leach is shaking his head.

Will the Falcons Fly on Defense?

Atlanta got a lot of speed and range on defense, but this is the year they need to bring it on the EPA and DVOA boards. Grady Jarrett is a stud pass rusher from the inside who might develop into a borderline All-Pro starter next year. Next, Jack Crawford and young Deadrin Senat will share the load. The question mark remains where the full dose of pass rush should come from. Takkarist McKinley has been their best edge rusher last year and will develop further. But Vic Beasley remains inefficient, and Adrian Clayborn is a below average pass rusher over his career. Dan Quinn, who loves getting pressure with four rushers, will need to get creative with this unit. He took over play-calling duties from fired ex-DC Marquand Manuel.

The back-seven has potential. Deion Jones is one of the best coverage linebackers in the league, De’Vondre Campbell struggled in his absence last year. However, Campbell will only need to fill the role next to Jones, who will get the critical tasks in coverage. Desmond Trufant is one of the better cornerbacks in the league, but he got burned quite sometimes last year. Opposite him, second-year player Isaiah Oliver will get the starting gig. Oliver was a Brett-Kollmann-favorite coming out of college. Oliver was the fourth cornerback on the depth chart last season and only played 240 snaps, according to PFF.

Atlanta Falcons offensive depth chart projection
Atlanta Falcons offensive depth chart projection

The slot is a big question mark. Blidi Wreh-Wilson is an outside corner, Kendall Sheffield is a green rookie. My best guess is that they will try to rotate safeties Damontae Kazee, Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal around. Allen and Neal missed almost all of 2018. On paper, this defense has some intriguing coverage potential. But the pass rush should remain a weakness, and it’s not easy to predict quality production from Oliver and the slot cornerback position.

Schedule Analysis

The schedule is going to get harder for the Falcons in 2019. According to the win totals market at Pinnacle (06/11), Atlanta is projected to play the seventh-hardest schedule (0.5127) next year. Their defense is going to face the eight-strongest program in opposing EPA per pass from 2018. That has a decent predictive value year-to-year. Passing EPA per play correlates year-to-year at R^2 = 0.1994 since 2010. The NFC South is probably going to be more competitive than last year. Cam Newton seems to be back healthy and has an improved offensive line, while the Bucs got Bruce Arians and a lethal passing attack. We shouldn’t expect a significant drop-off by the Saints.

On top of that, the Falcons will face the NFC West and the AFC South who produced four playoff teams last year – even though that doesn’t mean a lot. One significant advantage for them is that they won’t play outside a dome until November 17th at Carolina. They only have three games outside, two of them in good weather (SF & TB). They only have one game on the west coast. Some interesting scheduling spots:

  • Week 6, @ ARI: The Falcons play their third road game in four weeks with LAR and SEA on deck. Depending on their result at Houston a week prior, this is a spot where Atlanta could be overvalued.
  • Week 12, vs. TB: For whatever reason, home teams with a Thursday night game on deck are a losing proposition historically. Since 2010, home favorites at -3 or higher are  44-65-3 (40.4%) against the spread. Falcons will have the Saints on deck.

2019 Prediction

Two rookies along their offensive line, a head coach who dictates an efficiency-reducing approach and one of the harder schedules – I’m not in love with the Falcons for 2019. In a tough division, a lot of things need to go right for them to grab a playoff spot. They still have Matt Ryan, a good receiving corps and are healthier on defense. However, the circumstances are more complicated than last year. Matt Ryan will probably need to overcome offensive line struggles early in the season as well as the “balanced” rushing attack.

They are priced at -148 on the Under at nine regular season wins – that’s an implied win total of 8.6 which got bet down from 8.8 since early May. This range seems about right. I expect them to compete for a wild card spot rather than a bye week late in December. In the division market at BetOnline with a 10.2% hold, the Falcons are priced at +350 (22.2% break-even). While the Saints are the favorites for a reason, the Falcons seem to be a bit underpriced.

Become a member for the 2019 season and get win totals, weekly analysis and picks until the Super Bowl. Since I started this service in 2017, we beat the closing line 70.6% of the time for an average closing line value of 4.0%. The record is 136-104 (56.7%) for +27.46 units at 10.5% ROI. Find all the picks with closing line reports on the records page.

How to Bet with Pinnacle via Asian Connect

Picture with the headline: How to Bet with Pinnacle via Asian Connect

First of all, the platform I am going to refer to doesn’t have any affiliate connections to me. Maybe they are going to contact me after reading this, but right now, there is not an affiliate deal in place. I write this for betting purposes only. In this article, I will explain how to bet with Pinnacle without actually using the original site.

Pinnacle is one of the largest off-shore bookmakers in the world. They are also known as the ‘sharpest’ book with the best odds and the lowest margins. Also, they do not ban ‘sharp’ players but instead use their money to balance their action. Getting the best of the line and saving a few cents can make a big difference in the long run.

But there’s a problem: Pinnacle prohibits bettors from several countries, such as essential markets like the United States of America or the United Kingdom. US-bettors who want to benefit from betting into spreads at -105 odds are not allowed to sign up and bet with Pinnacle. The website blocks users when they log in with an IP from the prohibited country. Withdrawing money is impossible with a residence in a prohibited country. Asian Connect prohibits US residents, too. However, residents from many countries like Germany or England are allowed to sign up.

The Middleman

The solution? Last year I was looking for ways to bet at Pinnacle. My attention shifted towards Asian Connect when I read some excellent reviews. You can bet with Pinnacle via Asian Connect. It is an Asian broker that acts as a middleman between several bookmakers and bettors. They work together with books like Matchbook, SBObet and – Pinnacle.

Screenshot of the dashboard at Asian Connect
The dashboard at Asian Connect

After signing up, you can request an account for one of the several available bookmakers and deposit money via Skrill, Neteller, Bank Wire or Bitcoin. I haven’t tried out the other books, because I only wanted to bet with Pinnacle. After depositing, Asian Connect immediately creates an ‘anonymous’ account at PS3838.com, which is some manner of a farm or daughter site of Pinnacle. Your primary account is at Asian Connect.

The design of PS3838 differentiates quite a bit from Pinnacle’s original website, but it’s the same content. Asian Connect claims that PS3838 is the same as Pinnacle. I have never experienced any deviations during the last NFL season. As soon as a line changes at Pinnacle, it shifts at PS3838, too. It feels like a duplicate of the original site.

NBA odds table at PS3838
NBA odds table at PS383

There’s just one hurdle: Pinnacle still blocks access from banned countries. That’s why Asian Connect tells you to use VPN software before logging in to PS3838. I am using Tunnel Bear. It’s a smooth software that you can also use as an app on your mobile device. The free version has enough Megabyte traffic per month to place your bets. You need to open it before logging in to PS3838. It’s worth the effort to bet into Pinnacle lines.

Last step to bet with Pinnacle: Deposit via Bitcoin

Everything worked out smoothly. The significant advantage of Asian Connect that I’ve found out is its 24/7 live chat. As soon as I experienced a problem or had a question, I used the conversation, and my problem was solved immediately. You can even use it to speed up your deposit or verification process which I found to be very useful.

I deposited via Skrill and withdrew via Bitcoin after the NFL season. According to Asian Connect, there are no deposit limits with Skrill, but the Bitcoin limit per deposit is 50 BTC. I’m not a pro sports bettor, so I can’t test out potential limits. But I had no issues in the thousands range, depositing or withdrawing. It was a smooth process for the benefit of betting with Pinnacle.

Withdrawal and Verification

When you intend to withdraw your money, you need to verify your account. I sent photos of my ID card, the last TV/Internet bill and a screenshot of Skrill via email. It’s essential that you use the same email that you use at Asian Connect. I assume that you don’t need to send a screenshot of Skril when you deposit via Bitcoin.

One day after sending those documents, I got a code via text message that I got to communicate via email. I posted the code, and after a couple of days without a response, I contacted the chat. The verification processed immediately.

Asian Connect is a fantastic way to bet with Pinnacle. I cannot guarantee you that everything works out as smoothly as it did for me. But I highly recommend Asian Connect to bet at websites that ban your country. Check it out!

Week 7: Carolina Panthers @ Philadelphia Eagles

Carolina Panthers @ Philadelphia Eagles (-5, 45.5)

Line: this line is too low. It opened at -3.5 and -4 in some places and got bet up to -5 by now. I expected an opener around -6.5, -4.5 felt way too low when I locked in my bet. My power number is Eagles -8. I think the betting markets aren’t catching up with the current Eagles performances and are overrating the Panthers.

Situation: Doug Pederson has ten days to prepare, Carson Wentz has ten days to get more confident in his leg. Advantage Eagles.

Analysis:  When we exclude the Nick Foles data from the first two weeks, which I did, we understand that the Eagles offense ranks 8th in passer rating, 9th in ANY/p and 18th in total DVOA (includes run DVOA) while progressing every week. The defense is about as average as it could get. They are 2-2 since Wentz came back and played very well against the Vikings but had some breaks going against them with a goal-line fumble and a fumble return touchdown. I believe the Eagles offense will – considering there won’t be more wind as of now – move the ball easily on the Panthers, especially through the air. Every offense except for Dallas was able to create big plays against a weaker Carolina secondary and I expect Wentz to do so as well when Alshon Jeffery is matched up against those corners and especially out of their 12 personnel grouping (2 TEs) which they run 36% of the time. The Panthers defense allows the fourth-highest success rate (69%) on passes to TEs and 9.6 YPA against 12 personnel. They are average against WRs. Zach Ertz should have a big game.

Carolina is vastly overrated in my opinion. Year to date, they got three home wins against two losses on the road. They beat a bad Cowboys team in week one and were outgained by the Giants and Bengals in their other two home games they won. They had a 4-0 turnover advantage over Cincy and they got outgained by three yards against the New York Giants who didn’t convert a third down. On a different day, they could have easily lost both matchups. If they lost against the Giants, this line would be Eagles -6.5. The way to attack the Eagles is by exploiting their secondary with quality route running and signal-callers who are not afraid to throw the ball. The Falcons, Bucs, and Vikings went off against them when Diggs, Thielen, Julio, Evans, and Jackson exploited that secondary. The Panthers don’t have that premium quality on their roster, their strength is the run game and feeding Christian McCaffrey as well as TE Greg Olsen. The Eagles defense, with their stout defensive line and athletic linebackers, ranks 7th in success rate (38%) against RB passes and 2nd (44%) against TE passes. This defense will take away the Panthers’ strength which forces Cam Newton to air it out against one of the best pass rushes in the league behind a questionable offensive line. Kirk Cousins was under pressure a lot, but he is a better passer than Cam and has much better perimeter weapons.

The Pick:  Philadelphia Eagles -4.5 -105 (Pinnacle, 10/15 04.00 PM EST). They will take care of business at home against an overrated Panthers squad by taking away their strengths and doing enough on offense to comfortably win this one. Give me 31-17 Igglez.

Week 6: Seattle Seahawks vs Oakland Raiders

Seattle Seahawks vs Oakland Raiders (London, +2.5, 48)

Line: The line might be a bit too high from a power rating perspective and an overreaction to the Seahawks playing a close game against the mighty Rams whereas the Raiders got pummeled by the Chargers. The lookahead line last week was a pick’em, my power numbers make it a pick’em without adjusting for the banged-up offensive line for Oakland and their awkward travel schedule.

Situation: the travel factor is going to be crucial here as you need time to adjust to the new time zone (8 hours from Pacific time). I’ve spent two weeks in Florida during July this year. After flying back to Germany, I needed more than four days to get back to my sleep routing – I couldn’t sleep until late in the night and wasn’t myself during the day. Most people deal with jet lags when traveling west. Our bodies and brains usually don’t perform at the highest level when we mess up our sleep rhythm. There is a reason why teams from the west coast perform worse in early east coast games than the average road team. Teams who travel earlier to London and focus on sleep rhythms have had significant advantages in the past. The Seahawks traveled on Wednesday and Pete Carroll explained in detail how they chose the time to give their players the best possible sleep adjustments:

“There is some science to it. We’ll try to sleep on the way over and then keeping them up the day that we get there so that they can get a regular night’s sleep, a real healthy night’s sleep without going to sleep during the day—that’s one of the big issues. Then we have days to turn it around. There’s a lot of different ways people have done it whether they go over in the first of the week, where they wait as long as they can. We have chosen our options after a long study and we feel really good about what we’re doing. We should be OK, we’ll be fine.”

The Raiders travel on late Thursday to arrive Friday in London, basically “just in time” and Jon Gruden couldn’t even explain why. He just said that he “talked to guys who have been there”. And there is something else:

“I hope I can make it, honestly. I’m not great (traveling),” Gruden said. “I get claustrophobic. My son was a weightlifter and he won a powerlifting competition in Belarus. I had to fly 14 hours. I had to fly home 14 hours. I had vertigo for a month. I couldn’t even lay down, the house was spinning. I am hoping I don’t get vertigo. I’m not a great traveler. 

“I’ll be honest with you, I hate it. I’m not good. I’m concerned. I’m more worried about that than our goal-line offense right now.”

When the Jets traveled to London in 2015, they started their research during the spring by consulting sleep specialists. The Dolphins arrived on Friday that year and the Jets dominated them from the get-go. The Jaguars arrived early in London last year – they blew out the Ravens 44-7. The Rams played at Jacksonville before playing the Cards at London. They stayed on the east coast and traveled earlier – they beat Arizona (with Carson Palmer) 33-0. The Saints faced the Dolphins in Wembley: the team of Sean Payton traveled immediately after their Sunday game and arrived in London on Monday morning. They won 20-0. This is a significant advantage for the Seahawks!

Analysis: This game pretty much comes down to a better rested and sleep-adjusted Seahawks defense against Derek Carr without All-Pro LG Kelechi Osemele, RT Donald Penn (IR) and three other banged up offensive linemen in Kolton Miller, Gabe Jackson, and Rodney Hudson. Rookies Miller (sprained MCL) and Brandon Parker are going to protect the edges. Against the Chargers, Parker and Miller gave up a combined 12 pressures, according to PFF. Especially Kolton Miller has struggled mightily against quality edge rushers the past two games. This week he is going to face Frank Clark who created 20 pressures year to date with only two coming against Andrew Whitworth last week.

Derek Carr, one of two qualifying quarterbacks who has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns (Case Keenum is the other), can’t deal with pressure. As soon as he recognizes the slightest push of pressure, he gets happy feet and gets rid of the ball. This has been the case throughout his career and this season he has a bottom-five passer rating under pressure. This doesn’t bode well, not even against a Seahawks-defense that could have conceded 44 points to the Rams last week. I expect the Hawks to attack those edges consistently and make Derek Carr uncomfortable in the pocket. DC Ken Norton Jr has been the Raiders DC last season and while I don’t think he is any good, he might know a bit about Derek Carr’s tendencies. Based on efficiency numbers, the Raiders underperform in terms of scoring, but I doubt they will be able to score a lot with Derek Carr behind a super banged up offensive line. Their ceiling is probably around 17-20 points.

While every analytics guy hates the Seahawks offensive philosophy – which I agree with, I like that the Seahawks have recognized their highly efficient play-action offense. Russell Wilson ranks first in play-action passer rating and second in play-action yards per play. Brian Schottenheimer has increased the play-action percentage, last week he called play-action on more than 50% of the dropbacks. The Seahawks offense has a great matchup this week because the Raiders defense ranks 30th in pass efficiency (while playing a tough schedule), they rank 32nd in pressure rate and 23rd in play-action yards per play while facing the 2nd-highest PA rate in the league. This is a superb matchup for the Seahawks offense as I don’t know how the Raiders are going to defend those play-action passes.

The Seahawks have the much better traveling schedule while the Raiders travel late to London, have significant offensive line problems and a bad matchup. Seahawks should take this one home at Wembley!

Pick: Seattle Seahawks -3 -101 (Bookmaker, 10/11 07.45 AM EST)

Week 5: Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers

Line: A 0-4 team is traveling to a 1-3 team that looked somewhat competent and came close to beating the Chargers and the argument could be made that the Cards are slightly worse on a neutral field – therefore the line opener of 5/5.5 might have seemed pretty fair from the market perception. However, I think the Cardinals are underrated in this buy low spot after four tough games of which they should have won the last one and the Niners are overpriced. I give Josh Rosen a neutral rookie grade, which might be too conservative after last week. My power number is Niners -4, but that line includes data from the first three weeks when Jimmy Garoppolo and Josh Rosen had played and I might be a bit too low on the Cards defense. It would be a different line with Rosen and Beathard for the full season. 

Situation:

Analysis: Wow, what a performance by Chosen Rosen! You don’t recognize it when looking at the box score, but this young guy was super sharp against the Seahawks and they should have won that game. Rosen was throwing dimes all over the field, but his stat line of 15/27 for 180 yards and a touchdown is misleading. His receivers dropped four passes and caught one out of bounds that would have been an extra 123 yards, one touchdown, and two grabs right in front of the goal line. It would have been 22/27 for 303 yards and three touchdowns and an easy win on a different day. The Seahawks actually got the worst coverage grade by Pro Football Focus since 2016 in this specific game. And that was with Earl Thomas playing all but five snaps in coverage.

This week, Chosen Rosen will meet a Niners defense that is not good. SF got some interior pressure and two young studs at LB (Warner & Foster), but they have zero edge rush, mostly poor coverage ability on their secondary and they have tackling issues. Greg Mabin, who got some snaps last week, looked like the best coverage guy – remains to be seen whether it was just a one-hit wonder. The Cardinals offense is still limited in terms of pass protection and playmaking ability on their receiving corps and I don’t like their coaching, but it’s hard not to see Rosen orchestrating some scoring drives for six points in this one.

Kyle Shanahan and CJ Beathard got the best out of a bad Chargers defense for almost three quarters, before the Chargers defense started covering underneath routes and exploited the injuries on the Niners offensive line. LT Joe Staley, RT Mike McGlinchey, and C Weston Richburg are all questionable for next week whereas Staley looks rather doubtful as he hasn’t practiced on Thursday. Those are actually the best positions along the line as both guard positions are low-level quality. Even if all three will be able to play, it’s safe to assume that they are banged up.

Joe Staley hasn’t reached his 2017 level of play thus far, age might be catching up with him. He – or either one of Garry Gilliam or Shon Coleman (yikes) – is going to face Chandler Jones, arguably one of the best pass rushers in the game. DE Markus Golden, who is coming off an ACL injury, has played 12 snaps in week three and 34 snaps in week four when he collected a couple of pressures – the pass rush is slightly coming together. The Cards actually rank 6th in pressure rate and their coaches love to blitz as they have the 2nd-highest blitz frequency in the league right after Cleveland. They are going to get after Beathard – this is one of the key matchups in this game.

I don’t think Beathard is anywhere near an average quarterback. He was mostly throwing to open receivers last week and came down to earth after the Chargers started playing tighter. I would expect the Cardinals defense to dominate the trenches and win their matchups more often than not in order for the team to get the win done. I can see a 24-20 road victory.

The Pick:  Arizona Cardinals +4.5 -110 (Bookmaker, 10/04 11.15 AM EST)

Week 4: Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts

Line: I really had hoped for an overreaction to the Texans going 0-3 – I thought the books could open this line at Colts -3. They opened this Colts -1.5, early Indy money poured in to push it to -2.5 before Texans bettors came in on a bigger buyback down to +1 and now to pk on Saturday. It seems like the sharp money is seeing what I am seeing: an underperforming Texans team against an overperforming Colts squad. I’ve got the Texans slightly favored, by 0.5 points. Texans could be favorited by Sunday after the Colts injury reports.

Situation: Texans play their third road game in four weeks and Bill O’Brien should be on the hot seat.

Matchup: Andrew Luck cannot throw the ball deep, he just cannot. Not only did the Colts sub in Jacoby Brissett for the hail mary, but Luck also had three of his five worst “yards per completions” games this year. His zip is gone, he doesn’t possess the arm strength to hit comeback and out routes to the far side – he is far away from being 100%. His shoulder is still a big issue. To this point, he wasn’t forced into any shootouts where his arm strength could be exposed. He is also bad under pressure, plays on which you need to get the ball out quickly with power – he doesn’t have it right now.

The Texans pass rush is slightly coming alive, JJ Watt registered the first sacks since 2016. The Colts offensive line ranks bottom-five in pressure rate to begin the season and I believe Watt, Mercilus, Reader and Clowney will get the best of them. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is still out as well as right tackle Joe Haeg. Haeg has been a liability to this point, but I don’t think Denzelle Good will do any better against Watt. The Colts will also be without starting tight end Jack Doyle. Eric Ebron can’t be trusted.

The Colts have been playing very conservatively, “bend but don’t break” on defense and small steps on offense which kept them in the games. But their defense – which I’m not sold on – has only been tested in the Bengals game when Dalton went downfield a couple of times. This will be different this week: Deshaun Watson is the most aggressive downfield passer, by nature, but also by numbers this season. He leads the league in air yards, even ahead of Fitzpatrick, Big Ben, and Patrick Mahomes. This week the Colts secondary who are without starting safety Clayton Geathers, will finally get tested  by DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and rookie speedster Keke Coutee. I can see a breakout game for the Texans offense. I give the edge to Houston.

Bill O’Brien is plain stupid and he shouldn’t be the head coach anymore, but he is coaching for his job and we gotta believe that he is finally going to take limitations off Watson by designing more zone reads and play-action. He publicly talked about how bad his offensive line plays – which is true – and the only way to fix it is to mask it by play design. This is O’Brien’s game of the year, at 0-4 I could see him getting fired.

I expect the Texans to score which will force Luck to air it out where I don’t see them succeeding. The Texans are on a 0-8 run in close games which got to regress at some point, the coach is fighting for his job, the pass rush is getting stronger and their offense should really be successful against this Colts-secondary – Houston is going to take this one home.

The pick: Houston Texans ML +103 (Pinnacle, 09/28 03.10 PM EST)

Week 3: Denver Broncos @ Baltimore Ravens

Denver Broncos @ Baltimore Ravens (-5.5, 44)

Update: CJ Mosley has practiced and is questionable, but I am having a hard time seeing him play with a bone bruise just ten days later.

Line: The total wasn’t on my radar at the beginning of the week, but I did my research and came up with a play on the over because it is a brilliant setup. Without CJ Mosley and Michael Pierce, my model comes up with a total of 46, but I think Mosley is even more valuable than that. He’s the head of the defense.

Situation: If this game was played in week 8, I wouldn’t touch the over. But this time, the Ravens are without their two most important defensive players and they are coming off extra rest which has been favorable for the over in the past: Games with teams coming off TNF with extra rest are 240-185-15 (56.5%) to the over with 45.7 PPG scored – 46.9 PPG since 2010. Last week, both overs in the Falcons & Eagles game hit with 48 and 55 points scored.

Matchup: The Broncos defense isn’t what it used to be. Not only did they lose players like Malik Jackson, Aqib Talib and TJ Wart, they also lost DC Wade Philips before the 2017 season. Head coach Vance Joseph switched that defense from a man-heavy scheme to a scheme that is zone heavier and that didn’t work out. Their big weakness is over the middle of the field, especially over the short middle: The linebackers Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis struggle in coverage and SS Justin Simmons is much more a run defender than a coverage guy. Through two weeks, Russell Wilson and Derek Carr have combined for 23/27, 319 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs against this Denver defense over the middle, a passer rating of 128.3 and 11.8 YPA!

And now guess who is very good throwing over the middle, especially in the short/medium range? Joe Flacco. This was his best area last season and he continued this season. Through two games, Flacco is 32/42 for 363 yards and two touchdowns targeting the middle of the field. The middle of the field is generally easier to attack, but the Ravens put a high emphasis on it and try to scheme the MOF open on purpose. With ten days to prepare, I expect Marty Mornhinweg and Joe Flacco to come out with a great game plan and attack the Broncos’ weaknesses early and often because they know their defense is banged up. Ravens should be able to score at least into the 20s, maybe even high 20s.

This brings us to the Ravens defense – Jimmy Smith and CJ Mosley are the two most important players on that defense. Last week, the Bengals shredded the Ravens secondary and consistently picked on Tavon Young in the slot. The Broncos put Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas in the slot which is another terrible matchup for the young cornerback. When the Ravens tried to put Marlon Humphrey on AJ Green in the slot, it didn’t work out either. I truly expect the Broncos – even though I believe their offense isn’t really good with Keenum – to benefit from the Ravens injuries here and be able to score in the low 20s, which will be enough to put this game over the total. 31-24 or 28-24 kind of score wouldn’t surprise me.

The pick: Broncos/Ravens Over 44 -107 (Pinnacle, 09/20 09.15 AM EST)

Closing Line Value on NFL Spreads and Totals

On Sundays, between 12 and 1 PM EST, I take a look at the SBR odds board to check where all the lines are heading. I am especially interested in the games I have already bet on because I want to check how good my line is against the closing line. A lot of bettors might know the feeling: you take a team at +3 on Tuesday, and by Sunday afternoon it’s suddenly +3.5. The negative shift makes me feel a little bit mad. But when I grab a -4 early and the line closes -5.5, it gives me a satisfying feeling. In this article, I want to explain how to calculate the closing line value.

Pricing matters

The key to handicapping is pricing teams more accurately than the market over the long run. A spread on any given game says: this is the point where the market believes that 50% of possible outcomes fall on either side of the number. Our job as handicappers – no matter how we do it – is to find discrepancies between our estimate and the market’s estimate for a spread, total or whatever.

Let’s say the Miami Dolphins are favored by three points over the Raiders. If your handicapping process comes up with an estimated line of -6 in favor of the home team, your edge will be three points. You would think that the Dolphins win by 3 or more points in more than 50% of the possible outcomes. You apply a higher probability by your estimated line. That’s what handicapping is about. A very important aspect of sports betting, which goes hand in hand with pricing teams more accurately than the market, is beating the closing line. When bettors combine the latter with sound money management, they are on the right path.

Why beating the closing line is important

Sports betting is not about results; it’s about the process. You cannot control the outcome of games, but you can manage your handicapping/betting process. Our goal is to make +EV (plus expected value) decisions that lead to profitable outcomes long-term. The probabilities we apply in our handicapping process are estimated probabilities, we don’t know what the real chances for winning a particular bet are.

Beating the closing line means that you take a better number or price than what the market closes at, therefore holding a ticket with a higher probability of winning than if you made it at a later (or earlier) time. By beating the closing line, we add a share of possibility in our favor against the market. That’s why getting ahead of the closing line is such an integral part of betting. In theory, the closing lines represent the most efficient market conditions, because, at this point, all participants in the market had the best information available.

According to the efficient market hypothesis the closing odds are on average more accurate than the opening odds in predicting the probability of how a fixture will play out.

As Pinnacle explains in that article, opening lines, don’t reflect all the information available in the market, and therefore “inefficiencies exist”.  As bettors, we want to bet into inefficient markets, to exploit discrepancies when we think our pricing is more accurate than the market. By beating the closing line consistently, you can prove that you do just that. Because Pinnacle is known as the sharpest bookmaker in the world, using their closing lines makes a lot of sense, because you expect their markets to be the most efficient when closing. 

A consistent track record of beating the closing odds is, therefore, an indicator of consistent profits in the long run.

Calculation of Closing Line Value

But how to calculate how well you are beating the market? By tracking the closing line value (CLV). It is the difference in break-even percentage between the line you bet into and the closing line. Each price has a scientific break-even point (BEP). For +100 (2.00 in EU odds) it is 50%. You need to win 50% of your bets on prices of +100 to break even. For -120 it is 54.54%, you need to win 55 bets out of 100 to generate a profit. Here is how to calculate the break-even point:

Odds lower than EVEN: (1 / (odds / -100)) + 1

Odds higher than EVEN: (odds / 100) + 1

In an Excel spreadsheet, you type in the odds in one cell (A1) and another you type:  =1/(IF(A1<0;1/(A1/-100)+1;A1/100+1))

In sports like Baseball or NHL, it’s relatively easy to calculate the closing line value. It’s simply the BEP from your line minus the BEP from the closing line. This gets divided by the original BEP. The last step is important because you want to measure the price difference relative to the original price. If you bet into -110 and the line closes -132, you will have managed a CLV of +8.63% ((56.90% – 52.38%) / 52.38%). But on the spread and total betting, it’s a little bit more complicated. The reason is that there aren’t just changes in the odds, but also for the lines.

Push Probabilities

Here comes the push probability into play. The push probability is the rate at which a certain spread pushes. For instance, 3 is the most common scoring margin in the NFL. The push frequency is around 9.6%, depending on which database you use. For instance, you bet into +3.5, and the line closes at +2.5. You would have added the whole push probability of the 3 to the range of your possible outcomes. At 3, the market would have bet into a line that pushes 9.6% of the time. When the line moves half a point, half the push frequency is applied.

You have two options: either you track the true closing price for the number you bet into, or you calculate an estimate. Now you could do a lot of work and calculate a lot of push frequencies. Or you are lazy and use a free calculator from the website SBRodds. Let’s say you bet into a favorite of -5 at -105 at Pinnacle and the line closes at -6.5 -110 with the dog closing at +6.5 +100. You type the closing line and prices into the tool:

Half Point Calculator from sbrodds.com

Get the estimated closing price

Now the tool calculates the proper odds for the other lines around that number, based on the historical push probabilities. Because you bet into -5, you are interested in the current value of the -5 after the line moved to -6.5:

Half Point Prices from sbrodds.com

The current price of the -5 would be -132. This means you beat the closing line by 22 cents and managed to get a CLV of +8.6% – that’s it. In your spreadsheet, you type in your price and the closing price. You calculate both BEPs and subtract the second from the first, then divide it by the first BEP. The result is the closing line value. You are now able to track the closing line value of all your bets.

How to beat it

Beating the closing line requires handicapping skills and market knowledge. As I explained in the first paragraph, your goal is to price teams and totals more accurately than the market. By that, you can exploit an inefficiency in the markets. A big advantage is looking ahead. Before Sunday, take a look at the next week and handicap those games already. Make notes and write down which market reactions you expect depending on possible results during the current week. Try to anticipate where influential money will be going.

If you want to bet a line you expect money was coming in on, you grab the line as early as possible. You are prepared when the opening lines come out and have a much better market overview. Some services advertise things like sharp action reports to bait you to bet on so-called “steam moves.” But you want to bet those numbers as early as possible, not after the whole world recognizes the move. There lies the best closing line value.