It seems like we are in the middle of yet another seismic shift in how NFL games are being played. The 2023 NFL season is shaping up to be a historic one for single-game NFL teams under totals, which have dominated the NFL gambling world. Per-game scoring is way down — for the second year in a row — as it seems that defenses, and defensive coordinators, are starting to catch up to how offenses are operating. In turn, offenses have started to lean more on their respective running games which also helps depress scoring.
Primetime is Shine Time On Unders
This is particularly true in primetime games in which the under has hit over 75% of the time so far despite the surprisingly high-scoring Ravens-Bengals game from Thursday night. Only four teams — the Cowboys, Colts, Cardinals and Bears — have hit the game total over six times this season while the vast majority of teams have had the under hit more often than not. The league-wide NFL team stats bolster the notion that scoring is way down across the board.
There are six teams whose games have only hit the over twice all season: the Chiefs, Steelers, Titans, Buccaneers, Raiders and Giants. Yes, the over is just 2-7 in Chiefs’ games so far in 2023. The team that seemed to revolutionize the modern NFL pass-heavy West Coast-style offense is averaging just 23.1 points per game (13th in the league), down almost a full touchdown from a year ago. Granted, Kansas City’s defense holding opponents to under 16 points per game has played a big role in the under pattern but it’s still jarring to see a Patrick Mahomes-led unit be so pedestrian in terms of scoring.
Scoring Bonanza Become Scoring Boondoggle
What’s to blame for the huge downturn in scoring and uptick in NFL teams under totals? Well, increased enforcement of offensive penalties — particularly pre-snap penalties — has certainly hurt scoring as has the recent tendency for teams to hire defense-first head coaches. It has been a couple of years since a Kyle Shanahan or Sean McVay-type has burst onto the scene with unique play designs that have taken defenses completely off-guard. Even for the Dolphins‘ well-regarded Mike McDaniel, Miami’s pure speed and talent has outweighed any tactical advantages.
Also, at least for this season, quarterback injuries — and general underperformance — have played a huge role. Guys like Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Daniel Jones, Anthony Richardson and now Deshaun Watson have gone down with major ailments so less-experienced, and less-dynamic, backups have had to take their place. Justin Fields and Matthew Stafford have also missed significant time. It’s not surprising that the Jets and Giants are in the bottom-three in scoring offense while the other cellar-dweller in that category, the Patriots, are on the verge of benching their own quarterback.
So, for all of you bettors out there looking for smart NFL picks against the spread, the questions are whether Vegas will adjust to the NFL’s low-scoring environment for the rest of the season and if scoring will bounce back up toward more “normal” numbers.
At least for Week 11, it doesn’t look like the game totals are particularly low. Jets-Bills (39.5 points), Giants-Commanders (37 points) and Steelers-Browns (33 points) are the only three games with sub-40 point totals and each game features a team with a uniquely messed-up quarterback situation so even those totals may be too high. These NFL matchups are the kind of low-octane games that have filled up the league calendar and with temperatures dropping across the Northeast and Midwest over the next few weeks, scoring could be at an even bigger premium.
In Vegas, Value is Golden
Otherwise, the game totals look to be relatively normal so Vegas may be hesitant to fully adjust the lines yet in line with how this season has gone. That means that NFL teams under totals could have another big week. For example, the Dolphins-Raiders total is currently 46.5 points and while the Dolphins are leading the NFL in scoring (31.7 points per game), the over is only 5-4 in their games while the over is 2-8 in Raiders’ games. Miami plays shootouts but Las Vegas plays tough, low-scoring games. 46.5 looks to be high.
Now, the other side of the coin is whether scoring will stay low. Considering that guys like Cousins, Watson and Jones won’t return to the field this season — even if Rodgers does — it holds to reason that the teams which have struggled to score behind backup quarterbacks aren’t going to get a whole lot better. Without the boost of top players coming back into the fold, certain teams are primed to continue to be under darlings. Barring a big league officiating directive which leads to increased penalization of defensive players, look for this “trend” to become one of the defining themes of the 2023 NFL season.
It might feel weird to strongly consider taking the under for games that already have sub-40 point totals but that’s just the way the NFL is going right now. With betting, either you get in on the wave at the right time or you miss out completely and wind up behind the curve. The days of the routine 350+ passing yard and 4+ touchdown quarterback performance are behind us.