Is there anything worse than watching a team you’ve backed shoot itself in the foot with penalties? The distance between you and that winning wager grows every time the zebras push your team back 10 yards for holding.
Penalties can be, and often are, the difference between winning and losing. (Or, for our purposes, the difference between covering the spread and not covering the spread.)
A heavily-penalized team is usually an undisciplined one, and that’s certainly something to take into account when determining who you will bet on from week to week.
Here is a look at the six most penalized teams in the NFL through the first month of the season:
Oakland Raiders (9.8 penalties, 89 yards per game)
2-2 straight up, 3-1 against the spread
The Raiders have a new coach but the same old problem. When Hue Jackson took over in the offseason, he promised to have a smart, disciplined football team. The Raiders led the NFL in penalties in 2010 and for decades they have been among the league’s most penalized teams.
Jackson has had as many as three NFL referees in his practices, and he has preached to his players repeatedly that they must cut back on penalties if they hope to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The Raiders have responded by once again being the most penalized team in the league. They’ve had seven or more penalties in all four of their games, including 15 penalties for 131 yards in a season-opening win against Denver.
St. Louis Rams (8.5, 81.8)
0-4 SU, 0-4 ATS
The 0-4 Rams have scored an NFC-low 46 points and have allowed a conference-high 113 points, and the penalties certainly aren’t helping. In the Rams’ most recent game, a 17-10 loss against the Redskins, an untimely illegal shift penalty, followed by a pair of sacks, took them out of scoring position and prevented them from tying the game late.
Most troubling, perhaps, is that the Rams are piling up the penalties at home. The Rams have played three of their first four games at the Edward Jones Dome, meaning the worst might be yet to come.
Arizona Cardinals (7.3, 74)
1-3 SU, 2-2 ATS
The Cardinals committed 11 penalties for 118 yards in Sunday’s 31-27 loss to the Giants. False starts and holding penalties were the primary culprit, but a few carless penalties — including one for unnecessary roughness and another for excessive celebration — were particularly dumb.
Not to mention, at 1-3 overall, the Cardinals shouldn’t be celebrating anything excessively.
New England Patriots (7, 67)
3-1 SU, 3-1 ATS
Bet you didn’t expect to see the Patriots on this list, did you? Despite their blue-collar, hard-working, disciplined approach, the Patriots haven’t been able to avoid the yellow flags to this point.
A good portion of the Patriots’ penalties are coming along the offensive line, which has been penalized nine times for 80 yards. Overall, the Patriots have been flagged for holding eight times and false starts five times.
Minnesota Vikings (8.3, 66.8)
0-4 SU, 1-2-1 ATS
The Vikings have a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising that they’re among the league’s most penalized teams.
But with a low margin for error, the Vikings can’t continue to make the costly mistakes that have been plaguing them all season. In Sunday’s loss to the previously winless Chiefs, a careless facemask penalty extended a Kansas City drive that resulted in a field goal.
Tennessee Titans (7.3, 63.8)
3-1 SU, 2-2 ATS
Aside from the Patriots, Tennessee (3-1) is the only team on this list with a winning record. In Sunday’s 31-13 victory over the Browns, the Titans were flagged just five times for 45 yards, which were both season lows.
In previous weeks, the Titans had 60, 70 and 80 penalty yards, so perhaps they have begun to address the problem.