- Minnesota has the league’s lowest early-down pass rate over expectation. Seattle has the league’s highest such rate.
Through the first four weeks of the 2020 NFL season, scoring is up considerably. In the first game preview I wrote for OddsChecker this year, I talked about one reason to expect that — the shortened offseason was likely to impact defenses more than offenses. The only recent precedent we had for an offseason like this, the 2011 lockout, confirmed as much.
That’s probably not the only reason scoring has been up. In fact, it’s been up for some time, as rules changes have tended to benefit the offense, and observers have noted that after the league has cracked down on downfield penalties like defensive holding and pass interference, referees now seem to be much more lenient with offensive holding penalties as well. On top of that, teams are embracing faster, more aggressive play styles thanks to wider acceptance of the effectiveness of things like passing, no huddle offenses, and fourth down conversion attempts.
But as overs continue to hit, game totals continue to rise. And it’s always important to be one step ahead. While certain elements of the increased scoring environment are likely to stick, the extent to which a shortened offseason helped offenses is likely to be minimized as the season rolls along. Further, scoring typically drops the deeper we get into NFL seasons as the weather changes and teams more frequently have to battle the elements.
No Week 5 game has a higher total than Sunday Night Football, with the Vikings and their porous defense visiting a Seahawks team that has easily given up the most passing yardage in the NFL and will play without standout safety Jamal Adams for the second-straight week. This game looks like a shootout on paper.
But it’s important to recognize that NFL games have constraints. Even with teams playing faster and being more efficient, there are only so many possessions in an NFL game, typically about 10-12 for each team. For a game total to break 55, you need at minimum eight scoring drives, and that’s if each is a converted touchdown and not a field goal try.
And Sunday Night Football might not oblige. The forecast in Seattle tomorrow is for 100% chance of rain throughout the afternoon, tailing off to no lower than 60% during the game with winds of 13 mph. An outdoor night game in a rainy environment should slow things down a bit, especially for two teams with a history for preferring to run the ball.
Through four weeks, no team has a lower early-down pass rate over expected than Minnesota, per The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin. Seattle, interestingly enough, is at the opposite end of the spectrum, leading the league. What that stat says is when we control for factors like down-and-distance and the score of the game which impact how often a team calls a pass or run play, Seattle has been actively choosing to pass more than any other team in the league, while Minnesota has been most likely to run.
This is significant because the line for Sunday Night Football suggests that Seattle's tendencies will dictate this game, as they will be willing to throw and their defense's inability to stop the pass and reasonably solid results against the run will force Minnesota into a pass-heavier gameplan than is typical for them. That would create a higher-scoring environment for two reasons. First, passing is quite simply more efficient than running, and there’s overwhelming evidence NFL teams should pass more. Second, when teams run more, the number of overall possessions and offensive plays gets cut down because the clock stops less frequently.
And again, it doesn't take much to go under a total this high. At some point, there will be a great opportunity to fade the larger trend of increased scoring that betting lines will adjust to. Chasing rising totals won't be profitable forever.
Sunday night feels like a perfect example of that. The Vikings are unlikely to completely abandon the run, particularly given the weather expectations. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s defense has allowed the fourth-highest success rate against the run while they are closer to league average against the pass, so a reasonable case can be made that Seattle is just as likely to adjust their own tendencies to fit their opposition. For the under to hit, we don't need the Seahawks to completely revert to their tendencies from 2019 and seasons prior and turn this into a lower-scoring, run-heavy affair. We just need them to be a little more willing to run in a rainy environment to attack their opposition's weakness.
Ultimately, I still expect points to be put up in a game that, as I noted at the top, features two bad defenses. But not every game can get up over 55 points. I love the under in this one.
NFL Expert Picks
1u – Under 56.5 @ -105
NFL Free Picks
There's a host of exciting games on the Week 5 slate this Sunday, although the NFL world is set for more potential postponements in light of recent positive Covid-19 tests. The week will end with Justin Herbert given a primetime game to showcase his talents as the Chargers face Drew Brees' Saints in New Orleans. OddsChecker's crack team of Ben Gretch, Ben Rolfe and Davis Mattek are here to give you the best free picks for the games.