NFL Stats

NFL stats history

NFL stats started being tracked in the 1932 season— prior to that, all records were held unofficially.

As the game has evolved, individual offensive marks have flourished, especially in the passing game. The adaptation and evolution of rules have been partially responsible for this, alongside the increase in overall talent on a yearly basis and smarter coaching schemes.

Whether used in betting, fantasy football, or simply bragging rights, NFL stats can help paint a picture of what is going on in the league without knowing the complete story from each team.

How Can I Better Understand Statistical Calculations?

An important point to consider when looking at NFL statistics is how many of them rely upon averages. While averages can be helpful for things like average yards per carrying or average air yards per attempt, they can be less useful when extrapolated to full-game events, such as average yards allowed or an average number of passing attempts per game.

With only 17 games in an NFL season, especially early in the season, the smaller sample size can lead to skewed events. For example, let’s say Team A put up 500 yards in its opening game, then only 250 yards in the next four games. This averages 300 yards per game, even though they only met or exceeded 300 yards once. At the same time, Team B puts up 299, 300, 301, 299, and 301 yards over the same five-game span. Team B also averaged 300 yards per game, but they met or exceeded that mark three times. Because of lesser variance in their data, Team B would be a more reliable team on which to bet because of a closer data cluster; the higher degree of unpredictability with Team A makes them a riskier bet.

To help offset the skewing of averages, bettors can also employ median statistics. The median is the exact middle point of a data set (though sometimes, the median can fall between two data points rather than being one exact point). In the above example, Team A’s median yards per game is 250 while Team B’s median is 300. By cross-referencing the average data set with the median data, bettors can give themselves a clearer picture of a team’s performance. This further confirms Team B as the more reliable betting option.

Reference websites will usually have the average data set due to the ease of calculation in the back end of their programming. However, to get median data, you may need to use spreadsheet software or break out the pencil and paper to calculate it on your own. Remember: successful sports bettors use as much available data as possible, even if they need to put in extra work to find it.

What Are the Most Important Statistics to Use While Betting on the NFL?

As any good high school statistics teacher will tell you, “Data DOES NOT equal information. Numbers NEED context.” If there’s one thing you take away from this piece, it’s that context is power, and the more of it you have, the more likely you are to be successful in betting endeavors.

Why is context so important?

Let’s use this as an example: if a website says:

“The Dallas Cowboys passed for 200 yards,”

That number means nothing until knowing the circumstances around that stat line.

  • Was this game in the 1950s when the forward pass was nowhere near as prominent as today?
  • Did those yards all come in the first half of a game, or was that the full game total?
  • What was their rushing total for the game?
  • How many touchdowns?
  • Interceptions?
  • What was the final score?
  • How many other teams passed for more than 200 yards?

As another example:

  • “DeAndre Hopkins is tied for third in the league in receptions.”
  • That sounds great, but to clarify, how many people are Hopkins tied with?
  • How many times was he targeted?
  • What is Hopkins’ yardage total?
  • Did he score?
  • Was his team able to win?

With only one individual data point, statistics are virtually useless when betting if there isn’t any provided context. In any circumstance, gathering information that provides context is more important than simply having the statistic available. Using available resources to provide context is crucial to betting success.

ESPN’s website is useful in helping clarify league-wide, conference-specific, and player-specific information. For example, let’s take a look at their team yardage page. In that section of the website, you can sort the NFC, AFC, or league-wide statistics to see how teams stack up.

Team-Focused Stats

One of the best indicators to use for picking a winner, either straight up or against the spread, is yardage; more specifically, how many yards a team gains and how many it allows. While previous points are a good reference point, yardage is a better indicator of future success. If a team can move the ball effectively, they are more likely to score. Relying on yardage, not points, takes some of the randomnesses of the game out of the betting equation.

Let’s do a small case study here. Entering Week Six of the 2021-22 season, the Baltimore Ravens lead the league in yards per game at 440.6. The closest team is the Dallas Cowboys at 439.6, but the closest AFC team is the Kansas City Chiefs at 420.4. Baltimore is tied for second in league with a 4-1 record, but they’re tied for first in the AFC. Dallas is tied for second in the NFC, while the Chiefs are tied for ninth in the league at 2-3.

The Ravens have put up the ninth-most points in the league, while Kansas City is fifth and the Cowboys are second.

So what do those numbers tell us? They back up the trend that teams with higher yardage totals tend to score more points, but that also doesn’t necessarily translate to wins. Digging deeper, we can find out that Kansas City has allowed the second-most yards in the league. Dallas has allowed the eighth-most and Baltimore the ninth-most. The Chiefs allow the most points per game in the league (32.6 per game), but the Ravens and Cowboys (tied for 14th-fewest at 23.4) are in a much better position. All of the stats we’ve listed here work together to paint a clearer picture of teams’ successes and shortcomings.

Another point to consider is the turnover margin. Turnover margin is calculated by subtracting giveaways from takeaways. The more positive the number, the more likely a team is to retain possession of the football.

Let’s use the Ravens, Cowboys, and Chiefs again in this example. Dallas has a +7 turnover differential, which is second-best in the NFL. They lead the league with ten interceptions and have recovered two fumbles (12 total takeaways) while they’ve thrown three interceptions and lost two fumbles (five giveaways).

Baltimore has a -1 turnover differential, while Kansas City is at -7. The Chiefs’ turnover margin is the second-worst in the NFL, behind only the winless Jacksonville Jaguars.

Using turnover differential with the yardage outputs, we can see that Kansas City’s offense has been relatively productive despite some turnovers. Still, the defense has a greater share of the blame for the losing record through the first five weeks.

However, it’s important to know that no stat shifts betting lines quite like a good or bad turnover week. If a defense forces two fumbles and two interceptions in one week, the public may “overcorrect” on the betting lines for that team the following week. Similarly, a bad game with three picks from a good quarterback in one week can swing bettors to their opponent for the next game. As always, remember the context and what has happened that led to the turnovers. There’s an opportunity to turn a profit on your bets by paying attention to the trends and not overreacting to one bad week.

Hand in hand with turnover margin is the time of possession. In general, there’s a strong correlation between win percentage and time of possession. Though, as a reminder, correlation does not equal causation. Teams could dominate the time of possession and lose or have the ball for 20:00 minutes and win because of a quick-strike offense. It’s a good rule of thumb, but it shouldn’t be your only unit of measure.

The Cowboys and Ravens rank ninth and 10th in a time of possession through the first five weeks of the 2021 season, while the Chiefs rank 16th. As Top 10 teams in yards, points per game, and time of possession, Baltimore and Dallas are higher in the standings than Kansas City despite the generally-held perception that the Chiefs have the best offense of the three.

Offensively, looking at a team’s success rates on first and second downs is important to analyze how efficiently the team moves the ball down the field. Most stats sites consider a “successful” play to be a play on first or second down to be a play that gains at least 40% of the yards remaining to get the first down.

Similarly, a team’s third and fourth down conversion rates are important to look at. However, if you’re trying to gauge a team’s true offensive capabilities, look at how many times they can pick up first down yardage on either first or second down.

We also can’t go much further without talking about the Achilles heel of any team: penalties. Coaches at all levels preach discipline and make it a point to avoid taking penalties. There’s no worse feeling for any player than having a big play wiped out by a penalty, and good teams generally keep their penalties to a minimum.

But beyond breaking down just how many penalties teams take and how much yardage those penalties account for, pay attention to the type of penalties said teams are frequently taking. Does the team take a ton of offensive holding penalties? They’ll be in trouble against a team with a solid pass rush. Too many defensive pass interference penalties? Lookout against teams with a quality aerial attack.

Penalties are hard to predict consistently in terms of timing. Still, they can be expected to happen throughout the game, and penalties are a critical component to account for when determining your betting strategy.

One of the more recent stats that has taken off in popularity is the “big play rate.” A big play is defined as a passing play that goes for 20+ yards or a rushing play for 10+ yards. The frequency with which teams can generate big plays has a strong positive correlation with their point totals. Conversely, teams who struggle to generate big plays likely have lower point totals (and, in turn, win totals).

Passing-Specific Stats

The NFL has evolved from being primarily run-focused to being mostly centered around effective passing attacks. However, effective passing doesn’t necessarily mean a team is throwing the ball 50 times per game. Effectiveness looks different from team to team based on who the playmakers in the offense are.

For teams with prolific passers under center like the Chiefs (Patrick Mahomes), Green Bay Packers (Aaron Rodgers), and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Tom Brady), effectiveness usually looks like finishing a game with around 300 yards and three touchdowns (or more). However, run-first teams like the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans only need their quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield and Ryan Tannehill, respectively) to keep their completion percentage high. They stretch the field a few times each game to open up the run game and avoid turnovers.

Metrics like passer rating and total QBR try to incorporate all aspects of a quarterback’s game into a single statistic. Again, they should be used in conjunction with other statistics, but there is usefulness as a sole figure because they combine multiple stats in their calculation.

Passer rating is calculated using a player’s passing attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions and runs on a scale from 0 to 158.3. The formula looks like this:

  • A = (completions/attempts – 0.3) x 5
  • B = (yards/attempts – 3) x 0.25
  • C = (touchdowns/attempts) x 20
  • D = 2.375 – (interceptions/attempts x 25)

NOTE: If any value for A, B, C, or D is greater than 2.375, it is reset to 2.375. If any value is negative, the value is reset to 0.

Once the above values are calculated, the formula becomes:

((A+B+C+D)/6) x 100

Similarly, Total QBR aims to isolate a quarterback’s overall efficiency by adjusting for the strength of the opponent in the equation as well. However, this is also one of the downfalls to the utility of Total QBR. When defensive strength isn’t as well known early in the season, that adjustment level is estimated. While this adjustment level is updated throughout the season to offset the estimates, making Total QBR less useful early in the season.

Another stat to reference is air yards per attempt, which can be split into both intended air yards per attempt and completed air yards per attempt. Air yards per attempt are a useful predictor for total passing yards, a popular prop bet. Pairing average air yards per attempt with average attempts per game and average completions per game is a useful formula for calculating an expected prop bet total.

From a receiving standpoint, be sure to look at stats such as targets, receptions, reception rate (receptions/receptions + drops), yards per game, yards per completion, and depth of target. These are especially useful for fantasy football and daily fantasy sports.

Rushing-Specific Stats

Similar to wide receivers with yards per game and yards per completion, running backs, fullbacks, quarterbacks, and even wide receivers can pick up rushing yards.

Players like Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyreek Hill, and Rondale Moore are wide receivers whose speed allows them to throw defenses off their rhythm through jet sweeps and end around. Quarterback Lamar Jackson ranks fifth in the NFL in passing yards (1,519) and eighth in rushing yards (341). Jackson also ranks second in rushing yards per attempt (6.2). Another good stat to utilize is rushing yards before and after contact. This can again be broken down on a per attempt basis.

Rushing yards before contact indicates how effective a team is at run blocking because they’re keeping the rusher from being touched until he’s further down the field, leading to higher projected totals throughout the game.

Yards after contact is best used with before contact to estimate total rushing projections again. In recent years, broken tackles have been included with rushing statistics. While this is usually a lower total (Joe Mixon is the league leader through five weeks with 11), it can also be used to show how often running backs are taking on additional contact per play.

How to bet using NFL stats

Betting using stats is very handy for player and team props, but also moneylines and spreads as well.

Starting with props, indications as to whether players will go over or under certain totals can be given by that player’s stats. For example, if Player A has excelled against teams running a base 4-3, like his upcoming opponent, he is set up for success. At the same time, maybe Player A’s season average for yards per game is under the total for the upcoming game, but he has gone over that total in five straight games— based on that, it would be smart to bet this player’s over because of his recent success.

Team stats are also helpful because they detail what teams do and do not struggle with, which makes examining the matchup and predicting the future much easier. 

Advantages of betting on the NFL with stats

Betting based on team and NFL players’ stats can give gamblers a leg up over the oddsmakers. For example, say Team A is only 2-13 this season, but they strangely have the fourth-best run defense in the league— also assume that Team is playing 10-5 Team B, which is a team that is first in rushing offense but last in pass defense and third-down conversions. 

In this scenario, if Team A’s rush defense can hold up as it has for most of the season, it will put Team B in a position of needing to pass, which it has struggled with. The NFL odds would almost certainly favor Team B, but Team A would be in a strong position to cause them a problem, which would lead bettors to consider going for their spread, or potentially a team prop on total rushing yards.

Taking it one level further, assuming this scenario is correct and Team A would force Team B into passing the ball, it would also be smart to check out Team B’s total passing yards total and risk the over.

NFL Stats Frequently Asked Questions

Sportsbooks generally list only the game lines, odds, and over/under totals because it is always the job of the bettor to have done their research before placing a bet. At the end of the day, the sportsbook’s job is to make money, and the costs involved with upkeeping enormous statistical databases that can already be found elsewhere are an unnecessary expenditure for the company.

Insiders Betting Digest will have a ton of content to help you win your bets, but for anything we can’t provide, the NFL website tends to have good, yet limited, information, as does The site we’ve found to work the best is pro football reference, but it’s usually a good idea to cross-reference with either of the other two sites. Also, Pro Football Focus has a lot of specific information in regards to player performance. For college football, checking ESPN, team and conference-specific pages/websites, and are all good resources to use.

Like with preparing for your wager, researching multiple sportsbooks is essential for betting success. You can have an account with as many of the legal sportsbooks in your region as you would like, and one oddsmaker may have better odds for a game than another. The more you prepare, the more likely you are to succeed?

Absolutely! As the game changes, there will always be new ways to measure success or failure on the field. You should always be looking for new information that will add to your betting strategies so you can have the most up-to-date methodology and data.

Losing wagers is a normal part of sports betting. Anyone who tries to tell you they’ve never lost a sports bet has never made one (or they’re trying to sell you something). If you’re running into a losing streak, it’s ok to make a game (or set of games) off to adjust your strategies and methods – those who are great at anything are constantly learning and adapting. However, make sure you’re only betting on what you can afford to lose. If you or someone you know needs help with a gambling addiction, call the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700.

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