This is not going to be my normal style of article. Rather than give you a system like always bet home underdogs when the total is 46 or higher, I am going to warn against making a critical NFL betting mistake.
Field goals are the bane of fantasy football players and NFL bettors alike. Relatively few attempts per game and seemingly random outcomes make predicting the kicking game nearly impossible.
Many statisticians have taken a stab at cracking the field goal code, to no avail. MIT grads created a system that could rank kickers by the value they added to their team (good for fantasy sports) but soon realized they could not accurately predict individual field goal attempts.
Likewise, a team of brilliant Stanford students tried using a similar method to accurately predict field goal attempts but could not figure out a good algorithm despite countless hours of tweaking the model.
Maybe you are a renowned mathematician who has uncovered the magic formula for predicting field goals. If so, keep this to yourself and you will make a lot of money. I am guessing that most of us reading this do not have a strong grasp of concepts like interpolating continuous variables to binary form and performing logistic regression.
Before you fall out of your chair, don’t worry. I am not about to teach you any of that (although it’s really not too difficult). Instead, I am writing this to warn you to never make bets based on field goals in the NFL.
The reason is twofold. The first part was discussed above. Field goals are insanely difficult to predict. Not to burst your bubble, but any trend you think you found in field goals is probably just random chance and bound to regress back toward the mean.
The second reason I am about to share with you defeats the purpose of even trying to predict field goals in the first place.
There Is No Correlation Between Missed Field Goals and ATS Record
Games in the NFL are often very close. I figured that missing one or two field goals over the course of the game would really hurt a team’s chances ATS. After all, two missed field goals are the difference between a 7-point favorite winning by 3 and losing ATS or winning by 9 and covering.
I ran the numbers. This is about to sound like clickbait, but what I found shocked me.
This chart shows the ATS record for teams that missed at least 3 field goals in a game dating back to the 2012 season.
|Total||7-8 / 46.7%|
Missing three field goals is terrible. It obviously does not happen much in the NFL. Despite shooting themselves in the foot 3 times, teams are still winning 46.7% of their games ATS. This is not a remarkably low percentage.
Next, check out this chart that shows ATS win percentages for a more common occurrence – teams missing at least 2 field goals.
|Year||ATS Win %|
I expected the win percentage to improve and it did. This seems pretty logical so far, right? Winning percentage improves when we now include 2-miss games.
This all makes sense until I reveal my final chart – ATS win percentages for teams who miss just 1 field goal or more.
|Year||ATS Win %|
How did this happen? We now include games in which a team missed just 1 field goal (which happens all the time) and the win percentage drops?!
This goes to show the lack of correlation between missed field goals and ATS record. Why is there no correlation?
Remember at the beginning of the paragraph when I said that “games in the NFL are often very close”? Well, the reality is that the Vegas spread is way off from the actual final score more times than not. I was wrong to think that most games were nail biters.
As big a deal as we think leaving 3 or 6 points on the field is, these lost points do not affect the spread outcome as heavily as we would assume.
Stick to other methods of handicapping and leave field goal predictions for the suckers with too much time on their hands.
Remember, you are bound to make -EV NFL plays if you base them off projected field goal numbers.
Kreighton loves sports, math, writing, and winning — he combines all of them as a writer for WagerBop. His favorite sports to review and bet are MLB, NFL, NBA, NCAAF, and NCAABB.