Submitted by Jim Feist on Tuesday, November 1, 2016 at 12:00 AM
by Jim Feist
There are many factors to examine when studying football totals. Defensive and offensive statistics need to be examined, of course. Some of the questions a good handicapper asks: Is there speed in the defensive secondary? Does a club have a one-dimensional offense? Do they prefer a powerful running game or wide-open passing attacks? What kind of weather conditions will there be?
Another area that is correlated to totals is coaching philosophy. Coaches build their teams around a combination of the style they want to play, plus the personnel on the field.
The Ravens, for example, have had an abundance of defensive talent the last 17 years with limited offensive skill in many of those years. That imbalance isn't necessarily a bad thing, as they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in 2001 and 2013. During crunch time, the Ravens their recent championship season on a 4-2 run under the total, holding the Colts to 9 points and the Patriots to 13 in the playoffs. In the Super Bowl, that defense came in handy during a goal line stand in the final minute against the 49ers. During their other Super Bowl season, Baltimore was 13-7 "under" the total.
New England, by contrast, has a different offensive style. Bill Belchick is rarely conservative on offense, always going for the jugular, even when forced to use backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo back in September, leading Miami 31-3 before he got injured. They didn't scale back to offense for the kid.
Belichick still gets criticism of his famous "fourth and two" call at the Colts in 2009, but to this day when asked about it he shrugs, "I still think that was the right call. We had two plays to get two yards and ice the game with one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, so why not?" When you think about it, they had Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker, so why not try and ice it with those talents? As opposed to punting to Peyton Manning against a young and very shaky Patriots defense. It did have sound merit, even if it failed. And whose going to argue with a coach with four title since 2001?
Two season ago in the Super Bowl the Pats essentially bailed on the running game and threw short quick passes all game against the great Seattle defense. That was not a surprise, all part of their aggressive offensive style. For the record, the 2014 Patriots were 11-8 over the total, including that Super Bowl win.
Their record setting 2007 offense started 10-2 over the total. However, QB Brady was out in 2008 and they scaled back that offensive approach for inexperienced QB Matt Cassell. It was no surprise New England started 6-3 under the total.
Last season Denver had subpar QB play with Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler, so new coach Gary Kubiak brought in zone-blocking and scaled back the offense. GM John Elway wanted this, too, knowing the record-setting Denver offense in 2013 got mauled in the Super Bowl by the dominant Seattle defense.
That offensive style was all about attacking the defense with Welker, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. Defense and even oddsmakers couldn't keep pace with that high octane passing attack as Denver started 7-0 over the total in the regular season. Last year the eventual champs were 11-6-1 under the total on the way to a Super Bowl victory over Carolina, 24-10.
Like Baltimore, the Bills under Rex Ryan, the Rams under Jeff Fisher and the Jets under Todd Bowles prefer ground-oriented offenses as the strength of the team is defense. The Rams started 3-1 under the total this year, while Buffalo started 2-0 under on the road scoring 7 and 16 points as the defense allowed 6.5 ppg.
Former coaches such as Jimmy Johnson, Dick Vermeil and Bill Walsh had offensive philosophies that liked to spread the field. They were more like gunslingers in the old west, with wide-open attacks that were ready to score on every play. The Chiefs under Vermeil went 10-6 "over" the total in both 2003 and 2004. Kansas City is far more conservative on offense under Andy Reid and his West Coast, short, safe passing approach featuring plenty of running. He is smart enough to know the offensive limitations for their quarterbacks and regularly put in game
plans to control the ball and the clock.
When teams with similar philosophies or strengths and weaknesses clash, the results with respect to totals can be predictable. We saw this a few weeks ago when the Jets and Chiefs clashed in a 24-3 final and the Seahawks and Rams didn't score a TD in a 9-3 final.
The Saints under QB Drew Brees and Coach Sean Payton are a classic example of a wide-open offensive approach. They can score points but the defense, like last year, is atrocious. They've already played in games with scores of 35-34, 45-32 and 35-34. The Chiefs, Vikings, Seahawks, Jets, Cowboys and Bengals have conservative offensive philosophies. Aggressive, attacking offensive coaching staffs can be found on the Saints, Patriots, Steelers. Coaches construct their game plans around the talent on the field and try to stamp their philosophy on the team, something to keep in mind when examining football totals.