NFL totals in 2020
I've mentioned before how playing totals this year in the NFL was a challenge (at least for me!). My methods that had generally worked, primarily for Unders, were not working this season (they were about 50%). What was going on?
Well, scoring was significantly higher this season. The average NFL final total score this regular season was 49.7, with 48.1 being the average posted total line. In the prior five regular seasons (2015-2019), the average final NFL total score was 45.5, with 45.4 being the average posted total line. And in those five prior seasons, the highest season total scoring was 2018 at 46.6 and the lowest was 2017 at 43.6 -- which means it was a very tight range (46.6 high, 43.6 low) around the five-year 45.5 average. But then 2020 comes along and boom, 49.7 average final total, which is a huge 9% higher than 45.5 average.
It took awhile for linemakers to adjust. The first 4 weeks of the NFL season, the average final total was 51.3 and the average posted line was 47.4, or far below that 51.3, and not surprisingly totals the first 4 weeks went 37-22 to the Over. But the first 8 weeks saw the linemaker catching up, with scoring then 50.4 average final total vs. 48.4 average posted line for the 8 weeks. The final weeks of the season after week 8, the average final total was 49 vs. 48 average posted line, and totals went 67-66 in those final weeks.
I can tell you most of the damage to me re totals occurred during the first 6-7 weeks of the season, when scoring was higher and linemakers were way off.
Why was scoring so much higher during the 2020 season? Based on my analysis (and others like Five-Thirty-Eight), the primary factor was the refs. Namely they were calling MUCH fewer penalties, which allowed for higher scoring games.
I looked at how many teams in 2020 at any point in time were averaging less than 6 penalties a game. I confined it to just underdogs (I also did using just faves, basically same result). Now that 2020 regular season is over, how many underdogs were there during 2020 who were averaging fewer than 6 penalties called on them in a game? Answer: 131. And here's how many there were in prior seasons:
2019: 36, 2018: 31, 2017: 42, 2016: 43, 2015: 25
That averages to 35 times. Compare this 5-year average of 35 to year 2020 figure of 131, with the 131 being nearly FOUR TIMES greater than 35! Clearly in 2020 the refs were not calling nearly the number of penalties as in prior seasons.
As with the linemakers, perhaps the refs caught on to this trend or was told by NFL, since they gradually started calling more penalties. Considering 131 teams were averaging fewer than 6 penalties per game in 2020, during the first 8 weeks that number was 50 and the remaining 8 weeks it was 81, so you can see the refs started calling more penalties in the 2nd half of season. Nonetheless, the damage was already done to totals players....
Will this trend continue next season, meaning refs calling fewer penalties (and I need to adjust my methods)? Or is it a one-time aberration? Who knows. But I tend to think it was an aberration. I believe the empty stadiums meant no fan noise which meant much less pressure for refs to pull flags. I'm not saying crowd noise necessarily influences refs, but c'mon, we all know it's a factor and refs are only human. And maybe NFL told refs to go easy in the initial weeks given COVID & no preseason games. We all know the NFL will take high scoring over low scoring any day! Better for TV ratings and viewer enjoyment.....