Sunday, October 18, 2009

NFL Referee Over/Under Statistics (Week 6)

Let's take a look at the over/under statistics for the NFL referees as of the beginning of week 6. (This means we compiled the statistics through the end of week 5, including games through October 12, 2009). This list is as of the morning of October 18, before today's games take place.

Over/under is a target number that a casino will set for the combined score of the teams that are playing the game. People have two choices -- to wager that the combined score will be larger than the target number or that the combined score will be lower. This operates as a rough estimate of the expected total number of points that will be scored in the game. (It is not an exact estimate because casinos try to set a target number where an equal number of bets will be placed on each side, so the casino is estimating the views of the people wagering on the contest rather than what the casino really thinks will happen.)

Let's take a look at the over/under statistics of referees. Is it possible that some referees have an unconscious tendency to favor the offense of both teams (perhaps a personal interpretation of the rules or tending to get the ball ready more quickly so there are more plays run per game)? If a referee favors the offense of both teams, the referee is not intentionally trying to help one team more than the other. It'd be like an umpire in a baseball game who happens to have a generous strike zone and calls it equally for both teams.

Here are the statistics through week 5:
Mike Carey, +13.4, 100%
Gene Steratore, 10.6, 100%
Alberto Riveron, 12.7, 80%
Ron Winter, 2.7, 80%
John Parry, 4.3, 75%
Terry McAulay, 4.0, 75%
Jeff Triplette, 3.6, 75%
Walt Coleman, 8.9, 60%
Don Carey, 0.3, 60%
Carl Cheffers, 0.8, 50%
Scott Green, -1.9, 40%
Ed Hochuli, -3.1, 40%
Jerome Boger, -12.9, 30%
Peter Morelli, -2.9, 25%
Tony Corrente, -5.2, 20%
Bill Leavy, -10.0, 0%
Walt Anderson, -13.6, 0%

What does this table show? Referee name then average points greater than the over/under line, then the percent of games where the over would win. (We set a push at 50% for that game.)

Using a guess at which referee is doing which game, let's make some over/under predictions for this week. Wager on the over for the Baltimore Ravens-Minnesota Vikings game and the Tennessee Titans-New England Patriots game. Wager on the under for the Houston Texans-Cincinnati Bengals game and the Cleveland Browns-Pittsburgh Steelers game.

If you play fantasy football, then if you are on the fence about whether to play an offensive player on the Ravens, Vikings, Titans, or Patriots rather than someone on the Texans, Bengals, Browns, or Steelers, you might account for the referee and tend for the ones playing in games where referees have had high-scoring games in the first 5 weeks of the NFL season...

And if it turns out there is no correlation between the referee and the points scored, all this analysis will be worthless! Try this out at your own risk!

Update: let's see how our experiment worked (or didn't):
  • Ravens-Vikings: recommended the over. Yes, the over won.
  • Titans-Patriots: recommended the over. Yes, the over won big-time.
  • Texans-Bengals: recommended the under. Yes, the under won, barely.
  • Browns-Steelers: recommended the under. Nope, the under lost.
So our small experiment went 3-1. If you bet the house, you still have a place to live in tonight. Post your comments on whether you think this is a theory worth exploring in the coming weeks or just a bizarre experiment with too small of a sample size.



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