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September 22, 2014

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ODDS ’N’ ENDS:

Three solid bets for NFL season, backed by math, not a hunch

Haney's Picks

  • Baltimore Ravens over 8 1/2, minus 155
  • New England Patriots under 11 1/2, minus 110
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers over 6 1/2, plus 105

The Baltimore Ravens exceeded expectations last season, winning 11 regular-season games to smash the over/under of 6 victories attached to them by oddsmakers.

In the NFL playoffs, they advanced to the AFC championship game before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went on to win the Super Bowl.

I’m betting Baltimore’s stellar season was not a fluke, and playing the Ravens to win “over” 8 1/2 regular-season games this year as one of three NFL team season-win picks.

The price on Baltimore over 8 1/2 is minus 155 (risk $1.55 to net $1) at the Las Vegas Hilton sports book. Because the NFL season-win proposition is readily available at casino properties across the state, it could be possible to find a more favorable line, but we’ll use the Hilton as the standard line for grading purposes.

As in previous years, I have used the football version of the Pythagorean theorem — popularized by offshore oddsmaker Simon Noble in the “Pinnacle Pulse” newsletter — to determine a baseline projection of season wins for each NFL team.

The formula as outlined by Noble aims to minimize the effect of a team’s “luck,” such as close victories or “bad beats,” and give credit for consistent performance on the field.

Essentially, using the previous season’s statistics, the formula takes points scored squared divided by the sum of points scored squared and points allowed squared. The result is then multiplied by 16, the number of regular-season games. That will usually yield a figure somewhere between 4 and 12. To account for “reversion to the mean,” the final step is to adjust the figure a half-game toward 8 if it’s between 5.5 and 10.5, or a full game toward 8 if it’s outside that range.

As is the case with any formula, it’s one handicapping tool among many and certainly not a be-all and end-all, or the key to a gambling “gold mine.” When you hear someone uses phrases like that, it’s usually prudent to turn and run the other way.

The Ravens perform well under the formula, with a baseline projection of 10.4 victories even after accounting for a reversion to the mean. This suggests Baltimore was not particularly “lucky” in winning 11 games last season and that a repeat showing is well within the realm of possibility.

In a major coaching move, Baltimore lost defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to the New York Jets. A smooth transition is expected, though, with linebackers coach Greg Mattison taking over as the architect of the Ravens’ superb defense, which allowed 4.5 yards per play a year ago — better than all but two other NFL teams.

Even the team’s acknowledged weakness — depth and talent in the receiving corps — is not much of a worry. Speculation is running high that the organization is poised to acquire a big-name receiver before September. This factor might not be “built into” the betting line.

Two other NFL season-win predictions:

• Tampa Bay Buccaneers “over” 6 1/2. The price on the over at the Hilton sports book stands at plus 105 (risk $1 to net $1.05). As always, odds are subject to change.

A baseline projection of 8.4 victories, after adjusting a half-game downward to the mean, is overshadowed by a series of offseason changes including the hiring of head coach Raheem Morris to replace Jon Gruden. Even so, with new additions such as quarterback Byron Leftwich, running back Derrick Ward and tight end Kellen Winslow joining solid, underrated offensive and defensive lines, a record of 8-8 for the Bucs looks more likely than a total of 6 or 7 victories.

A schedule ranked as the fifth-toughest in the league looks worse than it is, with rivals Carolina (12 victories last season, an over/under of 8 1/2 for this year) and Atlanta (11 victories last season, an over/under of 8 1/2 for this year) expected to drop off a bit.

• New England Patriots “under” 11 1/2. The price on New England’s season-win total is minus 110 either way, according to the Hilton’s odds.

It’s too tempting to resist an opportunity to play “under” the highest win total on the betting board (the Steelers place second at 10 1/2), especially with quarterback Tom Brady coming off reconstructive surgery after sustaining a devastating knee injury last year.

Although Brady is on or ahead of schedule with his rehabilitation, it’s probably overly optimistic to assume he’ll be back in top form immediately. Besides playing New England “under,” I’ll also likely lean against Brady in any betting propositions based on his individual statistical performance in the regular season.

Jeff Haney can be reached at 259-4041 or at [email protected]

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