by Jim Feist
There are many factors to examine when studying football totals. Defensive and offensive statistics need to be examined, of course. Some of the questions a good handicapper asks: Is there speed in the defensive secondary? Does a club have a one-dimensional offense? Do they prefer a powerful running game or wide-open passing attacks? What kind of weather conditions will there be?
Another area that is correlated to totals is coaching philosophy. Coaches build their teams around a combination of the style they want to play, plus the personnel on the field.
The Ravens, for example, have had an abundance of defensive talent the last 16 years with limited offensive skill in many of those years. That imbalance isn't necessarily a bad thing, as they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in 2001 and 2013. During crunch time, the Ravens their recent championship season on a 4-2 run under the total, holding the Colts to 9 points and the Patriots to 13 in the playoffs. In the Super Bowl, that defense came in handy during a goal line stand in the final minute against the 49ers. During their other Super Bowl season, Baltimore was 13-7 "under" the total.
New England, by contrast, has a different offensive style. Bill Belchick is rarely conservative on offense, always going for the jugular. He still gets criticism of his famous "fourth and two" call at the Colts in 2009, but to this day when asked about it he shrugs, "I still think that was the right call. We had two plays to get two yards and ice the game with one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, so why not?" When you think about it, they had Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker, so why not try and ice it with those talents? As opposed to punting to Peyton Manning against a young and very shaky Patriots defense. It does have sound merit, even if it failed.
Last February in the Super Bowl they essentially bailed on the running game and threw short quick passes all game against the great Seattle defense. That was not a surprise, all part of their aggressive offensive style. For the record, the 2014 Patriots were 11-8 over the total, including that Super Bowl win.
Their record setting 2007 offense started 10-2 over the total. However, QB Brady was out in 2008 and they scaled back that offensive approach for inexperienced QB Matt Cassell. It was no surprise New England started 6-3 under the total.
Two years ago Peyton Manning broke many of Brady's single season record with the 2013 Broncos. That offensive style was all about attacking the defense with Welker, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. Defense and even oddsmakers couldn't keep pace with that high octane passing attack as Denver started 7-0 over the total.
Last year the Broncos changed that philosophy midway through the season under John Fox and GM John Elway, admitting that they wanted to run the football more to control the clock and not tire out their defense. That team finished the season on a 5-3 run under the total. They have continued that style under new coach Gary Kubiak and started 4-1 under.
Like Baltimore, the Jaguars under Gus Bradley, the Rams under Jeff Fisher and the Jets under new coach Todd Bowles prefer scaled back offenses. The Jets started 3-1 under the total this year. In 2012 the Jags with their bad QB play started 10-1 under the total!
Former coaches such as Jimmy Johnson, Dick Vermeil and Bill Walsh had offensive philosophies that liked to spread the field. They were more like gunslingers in the old west, with wide-open attacks that were ready to score on every play. The Chiefs under Vermeil went 10-6 "over" the total in both 2003 and 2004.
Currently the 49ers and Rams prefer the ball-control style, as do the Chiefs under Coach Andy Reid and his safe, West Coast offense. These coaches are smart enough to know the offensive limitations for their quarterbacks and regularly put in game plans to control the ball and the clock.
When teams with similar philosophies or strengths and weaknesses clash, the results with respect to totals can be predictable. We saw this a few weeks ago when the Titans and Rex Ryan's Bills clashed in a 14-13 final. And how about Jacksonville opener this season up against Carolina? It was not a game with attacking offenses in a 20-9 Panthers' victory.
Four years ago in the opener the Saints and Packers met. Ball control? Forget it. New Orleans had the edge in yards 477-399 with Drew Brees throwing for 419 yards and Aaron Rodgers for 312. Both QBs combined for 6 TDs and no picks in a 42-34 shootout.
The Panthers, Chiefs, Vikings, Seahawks, Jets and Lions have conservative offensive philosophies. Aggressive, attacking offensive coaching staffs can be found on the Saints, Packers, Patriots, Eagles and Falcons. Coaches construct their game plans around the talent on the field and try to stamp their philosophy on the team, something to keep in mind when examining football totals.