Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012 | 3:32 p.m.
In Saturday’s playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Detroit Lions, it’s easy to see why early bettors took the “over,” driving the total from an opener of 58 points to as high as 59.5 in Las Vegas.
Only four quarterbacks in NFL history have passed for more than 5,000 yards in a season. Three of them did it this season. Two of those three, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, face each other Saturday at the Superdome. (Tom Brady was the third.) So it makes sense that the game features one of the highest NFL over/unders ever.
Even so, in a classic contrarian play, I’ll take the “under.” Several factors have combined to artificially juice the number enough to make me want to “fade,” or bet against, the early line move.
Those over bettors might be putting too much emphasis on the teams’ most recent outings. The over went a combined 5-1 in the Saints’ and Lions’ final three regular-season games. If I were to make an over/under on this game, I would place it between 55 and 57 points, expecting some reversion to the mean.
Perhaps more significantly, both teams’ potent offensive numbers have been boosted by gaudy performances in the red zone. The Saints ranked No. 2 and the Lions were No. 4 in red zone touchdowns per game this season. In the last three games, the Saints were No. 1 in the NFL in this category and the Lions ranked No. 3.
I contend, however, that red zone efficiency is an explanatory football statistic rather than a predictive stat. It describes what has already happened but has little value in projecting what will happen next—kind of like a batter’s “hot streak” in baseball.
On a less theoretical level, consider that both defensive squads should be in better shape than they were on December 4, when the Saints beat the Lions 31-17. Detroit was missing several starters, most notably defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Cornerback Johnny Patrick and linebacker Martez Wilson sat out for New Orleans.
That game stayed comfortably under the betting total of 55 points.