Real or Fake: Grading Every 2-0 NFL Team
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Patrick Mahomes
- Entering Week 3 of the NFL season, there are seven 2-0 teams.
- While it's unsurprising that the Rams are undefeated, the Chiefs, Buccaneers and Dolphins have won every game despite not being favored.
- Four of the seven teams -- Chiefs, Bucs, Dolphins and Broncos -- have relied on quarterbacks who weren't their starters last year.
After Week 2 of the NFL season, seven teams remain undefeated with two wins (sorry Packers and Vikings).
Which of these 2-0 teams have records representative of their actual talent?
By the end of the season, which of these teams will be in the playoffs, and which will be thinking about golf?
Here are the seven teams (with points scored and allowed in parentheses as well as their differentials), ordered according to their cumulative points:
- Kansas City Chiefs (80, 65, +15)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (75, 61, +14)
- Cincinnati Bengals (68, 46, +22)
- Los Angeles Rams (67, 13, +54)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (51, 35, +16)
- Miami Dolphins (47, 32, +15)
- Denver Broncos (47, 43, +4)
In looking at these teams, I want to examine their performance relative to their year-to-date Vegas expectations.
- Team totals
- Opponent team totals
- Against the spread (ATS) records
If you subtract the spread from the over/under and divide the difference by two, that will give you a team’s implied total for a game. For instance, in Week 2 the Chiefs closed as +4 road underdogs against the Steelers in a game with a 53-point over/under.
- (53 – 4)/2 = 24.5
Thus for Week 2 the Chiefs had an implied total of 24.5 points.
Last year I created a Vegas Plus/Minus metric (similar to our proprietary daily fantasy Plus/Minus metric) that compares a team’s actual production in points per game (PPG) with its implied total. Here’s how the 2-0 teams have done relative to their weekly Vegas expectations.
- Bucs: Have outperformed expectations more than any other team under journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick
- Chiefs: Have scored the most points in the league. QB Patrick Mahomes has thrown for more touchdowns (10) than anyone else in NFL history in Weeks 1 and 2. The league is on notice.
Imagine playing dynasty fantasy football and not having Patrick Mahomes.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) September 16, 2018
- Broncos: Have played two home games against hollowed-out defenses. “Led” by the gunslinging, interception-throwing Case Keenum, the Broncos are the only team to in this group to fail to exceed their average team total.
- Dolphins: Have attempted a league-low 51 passes.
- Four of these seven teams are using quarterbacks who weren’t their primary starters last year. Perhaps Vegas has underestimated the positive impact of these quarterbacks on their offenses.
Opponent Team Totals
Here’s how the undefeated teams have allowed their opponents to perform relative their Vegas expectations.
- Rams: Have held opponents to a league-low 25 first downs.
- Jags: Have built upon the success of last year’s top-ranked campaign.
- Chiefs: Have allowed an NFL-high 1,016 yards through two weeks. Luckily for them, they’ve scored the NFL’s most points this year
- Bucs: Have surrendered the second-most passing yards (753) in 2018 after allowing the most (4,169) last year.
- Defense hasn’t been especially important to this group of teams: Their opponents have exceeded expectations in nine of 14 games.
- The Rams, Jags and Broncos all look like defensive stalwarts. Don’t be surprised if this trio finishes among the top five scoring defenses.
>> Sign up for The Action Network’s daily newsletter to get the smartest NFL conversation delivered into your inbox each morning.
How have the 14 games gone in which these teams have participated?
We can determine this by subtracting the over/under from the actual game total to get an over/under differential.
- Chiefs (over): Have created a team as bad on defense as it is good on offense. Vegas has whiffed on KC’s totals by an average of more than three touchdowns per game. That will regress, but we should also expect to see oddsmakers elevate their game totals.
- Rams (under): Have been built to control the clock and prevent the big play. They led the league last year with 29.9 points per game and have averaged 33.5 this year, but their defense has been ridiculous (just 13 total points allowed this season).
- Broncos: Have suffered from inconsistency on both sides of the ball for a couple of years.
- Dolphins: Have rid themselves of playmakers and identity.
- Collectively, the cohort’s games have averaged 52.1 points and exceeded the over/under by a meaty 6.5 points.
How have these teams done ATS? And if they’ve outperformed the spread, by how much have they done so?
We can add their point differentials with the closing lines to get spread differentials, which directly show how teams have produced relative to the spread.
- Rams: Have picked up where they left off after leading the NFL in 2017 with a +7.19 spread differential. One of the most complete all-around teams in football.
- Chiefs: Have made a habit of covering with a league-best 12-6-0 ATS record since last year.
- Broncos: Have disappointed with a league-worst 4-12-2 ATS record with head coach Vance Joseph. They’re the only undefeated team that has yet to cover a game. With upcoming games against the Ravens, Chiefs, Jets and Rams, the Broncos might not have even a .500 record in a month.
- Dolphins: Their two wins have come at home against the Titans in the NFL’s longest game ever and on the road against the Jets in rookie quarterback Sam Darnold’s second career game. The numbers are respectable, but the Dolphins will need to prove themselves on the road against the Patriots and Bengals within the next few weeks.
- Bengals: They are 62-46-6 ATS in quarterback Andy Dalton’s starts. Their offensive line has improved with the additions of left tackle Cordy Glenn and center Billy Price, tight end Tyler Eifert is healthy and wide receivers John Ross and Tyler Boyd are progressing in their second and third seasons. The Bengals have perhaps returned to their 2011-15 form, which can only mean they’re destined to disappoint eventually in magnificent fashion.
For more ATS information on these teams, check out the ATS Standings at The Action Network.