Where contrarian betting value lies in NFL Week 13

David Solar, ESPN Staff Writer
ESPN INSIDER

It's not a new or particularly novel idea: Win the turnover battle in an NFL game and you're far more likely to come out on top.
The 11-0 Carolina Panthers lead the league in turnover differential, while the 10-1 New England Patriots owe their long-term success to avoiding costly mistakes. Winning the turnover battle provides teams with additional opportunities to score, yet bettors still don't properly value teams that avoid damaging fumbles or interceptions.


The cliché "the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game" exists for a reason. Since 2003, teams with fewer turnovers in games have gone 2,147-564-4 straight up -- a win rate of nearly 80 percent. While defenses that cause turnovers are typically well respected (i.e., Seattle or Arizona), there is not much love for offenses that hold onto the football (i.e. Kansas City or Minnesota). Many have argued that fumbles lost is a statistic based more in luck than skill, but is that true?
We love to disprove these widely held theories, and this week's contrarian system examines the success of teams that have minimized turnovers. As the season progresses and inclement weather becomes a more pressing issue, the importance of ball control is amplified. Using this hypothesis to drive our research, we created a new betting system that has covered the spread in more than two-thirds of all past matches.
Our Bet Labs software found that teams that had not committed a fumble in their previous game had gone 759-726 against the spread (51.1 percent). When they had avoided losing a fumble in two consecutive games, that record improved to 208-146 ATS (58.8 percent).
This confirmed our initial theory. Digging deeper, we discovered when a team did not throw an interception in its previous game, our win rate improved from 58.8 percent to 64.3 percent. When we narrow our focus once more and examine games played during the second half of the season (Week 9 or later), that winning percentage ticks up to 67.0 percent.
Why does this work?

Our systems focus primarily on three contrarian strategies: Betting against the public, taking the league's least popular teams and taking advantage of overly reactionary square bettors.


Bettors tend to overvalue specific stats, many of which are driven by fantasy football. While countless bettors view points and yards as the Holy Grail, the turnover battle is often overlooked.
The NFL is a league in which every team is capable of winning on any given Sunday. The disparity between takeaways and giveaways is frequently the deciding factor between evenly matched teams.
Teams that avoid turnovers set themselves up with great field position and maximize their number of possessions. In late-season games in which cold weather and precipitation are more prevalent, it becomes even more important to limit turnovers.
Our betting system matches have gone 20-14 (58.8 percent) this season. We intend to improve upon those results with two Week 13 picks.
Note: All lines courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas as of Tuesday evening.

Week 13 system matches


Detroit Lions (+3) vs. Green Bay Packers
After a rough start to the season, the Lions fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and replaced him with 31-year old Jim Bob Cooter. In the four games since being promoted, Cooter has helped lead Detroit to a 3-1 straight up record, including a 45-14 win over Philadelphia on Thanksgiving.
In Thursday night's game, the Lions opened as 3.5-point home underdogs and have received just 27 percent of spread bets at our seven contributing offshore sportsbooks. Despite this one-sided public betting, Detroit has moved from +3.5 to +3. This reverse line movement is an excellent indicator that early sharp money is pounding the Lions.
This is fairly interesting because underdogs have traditionally performed poorly on Thursday nights. But that is largely a result of the limited rest that has disproportionately benefited the favorite. In this instance, both teams have a full week between games having played on Thanksgiving.
A majority of public bettors are siding with Green Bay covering the spread, but it's worth noting that the Lions actually defeated the Packers 18-16 in Week 11. Past research shows that taking underdogs in divisional games has been a lucrative strategy, so we're happy to take the Lions and the points in this NFC North rivalry.
Pick: Lions +3


Kansas City Chiefs (-2.5) at Oakland Raiders

Admittedly this game goes against many principles that we hold dear. The Chiefs are favorites who are being pounded by the public in the midst of a five-game winning streak. This would typically make them a superb sell-high candidate, but we have a number of excellent betting systems that point toward value on Kansas City. For starters, the Raiders have been the second-worst home team in our database with a record of 35-62 ATS since 2003. Furthermore, Chiefs coach Andy Reid has gone 58-42 ATS as a visitor -- the third-best regular-season mark in our database, trailing just Bill Belichick (59-37) and John Fox (56-40).
Our past research shows that home teams with potent passing attacks are overvalued in late-season games while road teams with effective rushing offenses have been undervalued in late-season games. This suggests that bettors should be backing Kansas City and fading Oakland.
We have previously discussed the importance of key numbers for NFL bettors, and "3" is the most common margin of victory. For that reason, we're happy to take the best of this number and pound Chiefs -2.5.
Pick: Chiefs -2.5
These lines are always subject to change, so make sure to check ESPN Chalk'sLive Odds page throughout the week for updated lines and betting trends.