The Pythagorean Theorem, Turnover Margin, and how they Correlate to NFL Win Expectations

Payne Insider - Posted on 15 August 2013

Written By: Billy Attridge

 Football Betting Picks Image hosted by PayneInsider.comWith the NFL season about to kick off, many recreational gamblers are scurrying to gather as much information and data on all 32 teams as possible. Despite being late to the party, there is still an effective way to evaluate a team’s performance from the previous year using rudimentary mathematics. When analyzing a team’s expected win percentage or games won, the Pythagorean Theorem can be a hidden gem if utilized correctly. At the conclusion of every NFL season, this simple mathematical formula can propel a sports bettor in the right direction when determining a team’s actual performance compared to what was observed on television throughout the year.

Using a team’s Points For and Points Against; we can come up with an expected win total. (PF^2/(PF^2+PA^2)) gives us a sound number of wins expected per game. For example, the Atlanta Falcons scored 419 points and allowed 299 during the 2012-2013 season. Plugging the numbers into the above equation, we see Atlanta averaged 0.66259 wins every 1 game played. Multiplying that by 16 gives us an expected win total for the regular season. Atlanta, based on those stats, ought to have won approximately 10.6 games last year. We can make this number even stronger by analyzing a team’s Turnover Margin.

Joe Fortenbaugh, of the National Football Post, put together some excellent charts detailing NFL success both Straight Up and Against The Spread from 2002-2011 based on Turnover Differential. Adhering to the premise that 80 percent of turnovers are random, teams that have poor Turnover Margins generally improve, and vice versa. Using 3.2 as a value for a single turnover, multiplying it by a team’s Turnover Margin gives us the number of points generated by Turnovers. So, using Atlanta (+13 TO) as our example, we see they benefited from 41.6 “Turnover” points. Subtracting this from our ‘PF’, our new equation shows that Atlanta should have won approximately 9.83 games in 2012 - that’s low compared to the 13 regular season wins obtained. One other team that has caught the interest of sports bettors in the past month has been the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs' suffered from an abysmal -24 Turnover Differential (only recovered 33% of Fumbles!), and based on our formula, played like a five win football club (5.03). They won 2 games, and in only one contest last year did they have a positive Turnover Margin.

How can this information help us in the future? While sharps have sucked virtually all the value out of Season Win Totals at this point, the NFL provides a unique opportunity due to the influx of public money in the marketplace. While Kansas City has the attention of wiseguys and the public, there may be opportunities to fade Atlanta early in the season. After all, the Falcons' had six games with a Turnover Margin of +3 or greater, the most in the NFL. They recovered over 64% of Fumbles last year, second highest in the league. With the NFC South looking extremely competitive this year, a regression for Atlanta would not be shocking.

It must be noted that the above formulas are a great starting point for handicapping, but it's just a small piece of the puzzle. Sports bettors must be cognizant of injuries, coaching change, style adjustments and strength of schedule when focusing on win totals. Incorporating different types of analysis is vital to succeed in the sports betting industry.

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