2017 Could See Historically Bad Offenses; Should You Bet Unders?

Photo: emeybee (Wikimedia Commons) (CC License)

The worst offense in the history of the NFL was the 1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite allowing only 15.9 points against per game, the ’77 Bucs lost 12 of 14 games, because they averaged a stately 7.4 points per game. They were truly a woeful team, which extended the franchise’s winless streak to 26 games before beating the New Orleans Saints on the road in the penultimate game of the regular season. Their preseason quarterback battle was supposed to be between a guy with a career passer rating of 58.1 and a certified public accountant. I say “supposed to be” because both succumbed to knee injuries before the season started. Rookie Randy Hedberg out of Minot State University (go Beavers!) got the job, and was by all accounts dreadful. The running back came to the Buccs from the Canadian Football League, and before that the World Football League, so he was a rookie for the third time in his career. They got shut out a league-record six times. Their coach, John McKay, said they couldn’t score against a strong wind and considered playing quarterback himself.

They were bad, is what I’m saying … really bad … 7.4 points per game bad.

What I want to find out, however, is if another NFL team could be worse. More specifically, could a 2017 team be worse?

It seems implausible at first glance in this run-and-gun, pass-happy era of the NFL, but there a couple great candidates. Andrew Luck’s orthopaedic surgeon is calling plays for the Colts. The Jets are in a mind-melting position of not having anything that resembles a starting quarterback but are forced to start a quarterback every week. The Texans are deciding between a man who has never thrown an NFL touchdown pass in his life and another, different man, who is a rookie. The Bills just kind of suck. The Bengals have scored nine points in two games in the year of Our Lord two thousand and seventeen.

Can they do it? Can they fall to the level of not just being mediocre, or even bad, but historic? Can they produce fewer points per game than the 1977 Buccaneers (7.4 PPG) and be the worst offense in NFL history? That’s a tall order. Perhaps they’ll only “better” the 2000 Browns (10.1 PPG) and be the worst offense of this millennium, or the 2009 Rams (10.9 PPG), and be the worst offense in the last ten years?

Maybe. The Bengals are off to a great start, averaging 4.5 PPG after playing two of the best defenses in the league. That probably won’t last; AJ Green alone can catch more than 7.4 PPG if you just throw the ball his way, which new OC Bill Lazor is likely to do because he’s a human with five functioning senses. The Texans are the next worst (10.0 PPG) after games against the Jaguars (admittedly, a solid defense) and the Bengals (not quite that). The Colts are at 11.0 PPG, but with Andrew Luck set to return … someday … the Colts should pull out of this death spiral. That leaves our money on the Bengals, and what a place to put it.

Before we delve into the best betting strategy for these tipless spears, here’s a realistic assessment of how bad these teams are likely to be by season’s end, as always, in the form of props …

  • Odds a 2017 team averages fewer than 7.4 PPG: 40/1
  • Odds a 2017 team averages fewer than 10.1 PPG: 14/1
  • Odds a 2017 team averages fewer than 10.9 PPG: 8/1
AJ Green in training camp. Photo: Navin75 (flickr) (CC License)

BETTING OVER/UNDERS

We’re always looking for unique betting angles and hidden information around here. Let’s say we do have a historically bad offense on our hands. What do we do with that information? Kneejerk reaction is to bet the under, of course, but once word gets around about how bad a team is on offense, the lines start to shift, sometimes to unrealistic levels.

The 2016 Rams, the 75th-worst offense in NFL history, were visibly, notoriously bad on offense. They only hit the under nine times in a 16-game season, barely better than chance. Betting the under on the Rams every week last year served you well for a string of games in the middle of the season, but was otherwise an unremarkable strategy.

However, five of their seven games against playoff teams hit the under, suggesting that good teams were able to more confidently control the game, wrangle an already limited offense, and win without expending too much effort. It makes sense that bettors would expect good teams to run up the score on a bad team, and for great teams to conserve their playbook and top players in a game they know they can win.

The Bengals have a schedule loaded with likely playoff teams. They play the Steelers twice, and the Packers, Ravens, and Broncos once each. The Texans play the Patriots this week, and later the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers. Targeting the unders in those games should be a good bet based on historical trends of historically bad offenses.