Favorites are performing at an unusually high level in XFL this season. Looking at Week 2 forward, favorites are covering the spread at a rate of 75%. Over time, this number should naturally drop towards 50% as the sample size grows. However, for the past three weeks, as this trend has occurred, sportsbooks release lines, and favorites get bet higher and higher.
What are we missing? I have surmised that this is due to a psychological bias towards favorites. While that may be true, I don’t believe it explains the line movement and the favorites’ staggering rate of covering. I have a theory. Let me explain with an example.
Let’s assume that the 49ers and the Rams are playing a game, and they are separated in expected efficiency by one yard per play. That is, the 49ers average one yard per play more than the Rams. In the NFL, if both teams score touchdowns, they will be tied 7-7 in most scenarios.
Using XFL rules, there are more scoring margin combinations possible, such as 9-7, 6-6, 8-6, etc. If I told you that the 49ers and Rams both played and each scored three touchdowns apiece (no FGs) and asked you to guess the final score, you would guess 21-21.
However, in the XFL, it’s more likely that the 49ers won the game because they are better and are more likely to have converted their extra-point attempts along the way. Below is a graph that displays simulation results of this exact situation. The same two teams played 10,000 NFL games and 10,000 XFL games using the corresponding league rules.
You will notice that in the XFL, it’s more common for teams to play games resulting in a higher margin compared to NFL games. Starting with a scoring margin of 8, the frequency of “bigger wins” in the XFL is greater than that in the NFL, with significant differences at 9, 11, and 12. In these simulated games, the NFL rule structure resulted in the 49ers winning by a median of 7 points, while in the XFL, it ballooned to 9.5 points. This is a massive shift that should influence our betting strategies going forward.
Let’s discuss QB play and evaluate who’s performing well and who’s struggling, and more importantly, who’s struggling but still getting favorable results, and vice versa.
One metric that PFF tracks is a QB’s passing grade when clean, which reflects how a QB performs when not under pressure. This metric is predictive and tells the story of a QB’s effectiveness independent of his offensive line, receivers, and offense. Not surprisingly, AJ McCarron tops this category with a grade of 83.8 out of 100. Kyle Sloter comes in second, but with only 46 clean dropbacks, it’s hard to draw any conclusions. If we remove Sloter from the mix, the next best QB in this category is Jack Coan. Although the Brahma offense doesn’t seem to let him air it out down the field with a mere 6.2 ADOT.
Some teams are experiencing a QB battle, and the Vipers and the Guardians seem to be the most unstable at the moment. For the Vipers, Brett Hundley appears to be the clear best choice, as he has a higher rate of Big Time Throws, a lower rate of turnover-worthy plays, and is more willing to throw the ball downfield by a significant margin, despite his limited snaps. Hundley has been hampered by drops from his receiving corps, which is a significant reason why his stats don’t match his grades. This is precisely the kind of play that Vegas needs to turn their season around.
In Orlando, many fans are clamoring for Francois, the local talent, to start at QB, but Lynch has been the starter, and he hasn’t played as poorly as it may seem. Lynch has the second-highest overall passing grade after McCarron, and he also has the second-highest rate of Big Time Throws. However, Lynch has been let down by his supporting cast, to say the least. He has the highest rate of dropbacks under pressure of any player with 100 dropbacks, and his receivers have the highest drop percentage (12.9%). It’s challenging for any QB to succeed in such conditions.
The rankings below are derived from a model that considers player data, coaching tendencies, and play by play data that occurred prior to week 5.
Earlier this week, I chose Seattle to win on the moneyline and was able to cash that ticket so we’ll skip that game and focus on the remaining three.
DC at STL
I’ve made my feelings known about DC. While Ta’amu is playing better, their defense isn’t elite, and the market is pricing them as if they’re the class of this division. STL has the best quarterback in the league and perhaps the most balanced offensive attack. Given the environment in STL we saw last week, I have trouble picturing DC gashing the STL defense. Despite the line movement to the Over, my model still shows a decent edge there, though it isn’t as large as the one on STL to cover +2.5.
PICK: STL +2.5
ORL v LV
I don’t know what to make of this line. I’ve been higher on Vegas than the market for both weeks and higher on Orlando as well. I have them rated similarly, with a slight edge to Vegas because of home field advantage. 7.5? Orlando will have trouble blocking Vegas, but Vegas doesn’t seem to be able to cover on the back end. Orlando makes enough big plays to keep it close in this one.
PICK: ORL +7.5
ARL v SA
San Antonio is finally back at home after a long road trip. They’re facing a team that has struggled to score but looked better in a hostile environment last week. Sloter was making plays, but unfortunately for him, the receivers couldn’t catch the ball. San Antonio unveiled a new, more aggressive passing attack last week. While I think SA may run away with this game, the line has already moved from a pick-out to SA -3. I’ll stay away from the side and look at a more favorable number with the total. Sitting at 34.5, that’s extremely low considering the game will be played indoors.
PICK: Over 34.5
What are wagering on this weekend? Let us know down in the comments below or join the conversation on Discord.