Ever play blackjack and wonder what the hole card is when the dealer is showing 10? Of course it would be useful to know what that card is before surrendering your 16, but the house rarely tips its hand… that is with the exception of their NFL Power Numbers.
You see, Vegas gets really brave every spring and publishes lookahead lines for 240 games over the course of the season (all weeks except Week 17). The lines from CG technology are shown below in the handy matrix which identifies lines on the “right side” of key numbers with a gold star, and lines on the “wrong side” of key numbers with a white star. A heat index indicates the magnitude of the lines with the darker green implying a higher likelihood or winning, and therefore the team is a more significant favorite and the darker red implying a lower likelihood of winning, and therefore the team is a larger underdog.
Assessing this chart is a great way to evaluate strength of schedule and to visualize stretches within the season that are tougher or easier for a given team. Similarly, thinking ahead about the spread for certain spots and key games may have you better prepared to handicap big games as the season progresses. But we aren’t stopping there… we’re going galaxy brain on this data set.
With these lines we can back-calculate the Vegas Power Numbers and add this tool to our toolbox for handicapping this season. How you ask? Well… if Philly is expected to be 5.5-point favs at home to Dallas then we know Philly has a power number 2.5 points higher than Dallas if we assume 3 points for home field advantage. Similarly, if Dallas is 6-point favs at home vs the Giants then we know the Cowboys have a power number 3 points higher than New York. By the transitive property, the Eagles should have a power number 5.5 points higher than the Giants and low and behold, the Eagles are projected as 8.5-point favs hosting the Giants Week 12.
If we repeat this exercise for all 240 games we can construct a set of numbers that reasonably captures how Vegas sees each team relative to an average team on a neutral field… the Vegas NFL Power Numbers:
It’s important to note that there is misfit on a few games over the course of the season and these numbers were derived by minimizing the error between the difference in VPNs and the lookahead lines. Most of the misfits are half points around key numbers, fair to view these as the books protecting themselves from exposure this far out. However, a handful of lookaheads deviate by more than a point from the best guess power numbers for reasons that are difficult to explain. The lookaheads off by more than a point are highlighted below.
The most unusual lookahead is HOU @ NYJ is in Week 15 where the Jets are 1.5-point favorites... HOU power number is +1.5, NYJ are -4.5 so with 3 points of HFA, we’d expect the Texans to be favored by 3, not 1.5 point dogs. This could be a simple linemaker error or there could be some other reason that line is so shaded but either way the outliers highlighted above are a bit of a mystery.
The original goal of this analysis was to see if we could identity some of the Vegas situational adjustments (Specifically, I wanted to know how many points, if any, are built into a teams spread coming off a bye). From an initial look, the spread itself seems to be more important than anything situational, no adjustments were made for teams coming off bye for instance.
Three lines I’m very interested to see open for Week 2 are:
- NE @ JAX where there will be line value on the Jags if the Pats open the favs, as expected
- DET @ SF where the Niners look to open favs around a field goal, a short number based on the power difference
- HOU @ TEN where the Titans at home could potentially be a pick’em despite relatively close power numbers
If you have thoughts on the misfit spots or questions about the process, drop ‘em in the comments below.