Is Ryan Fitzpatrick the best QB in the NFL? Are the Buffalo Bills the worst team in NFL history? Those might seem like crazy questions (at least the first one does…) but if you could only base your answer on Week 1, I think is “yes” to both.
As usual early in the season, we’re left trying to decide what’s real and what’s not as we look forward to Week 2. Let’s talk generally about regression before diving into some more specific situations.
Regression to the mean sounds straightforward but is easy to miss. The idea is simple, after an extreme performance the next one will generally be closer to the average. Once you learn about it, you see it everywhere.
Throw a pick 6 - maybe on your first ever NFL throw? The very next throw is likely to be better. Put up an MVP season and get put on the cover of Madden? Next season is likely to be worse. The smaller the sample or bigger the outlier, the more regression you can expect (I’m looking at you Ryan Fitzpatrick).
Now let’s size up some of the outliers from Week 1 and what to expect in Week 2.
Big winners/losers in Week 1
Five teams won by more than 10 points in Week 1: should we expect their good play to continue? History would suggest not so much. Since 2002, teams that win by 10 or more points in Week 1 are just 60-58 straight up and 54-58-6 ATS in Week 2.
Similarly, the big losers tend to perform better in Week 2. They’re only 51-66 straight up – teams that lose by 10-plus tend to be below average teams – but 57-56-4 ATS.
The takeaway: don’t let one performance drastically affect your Week 2 projections for a team.
Offensive explosions and defensive stalwarts
We saw a number of offenses go crazy in Week 1, perhaps most impressively the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Bucs. Again, these teams have a history of coming back to earth in Week 2. Since 2002, teams who scored 35 points or more in Week 1 averaged just 22.3 points in Week 2 - versus 18.8 points for teams scoring 10 points or fewer in Week 1. Those teams putting up a lot of points are better offenses, just not nearly as much as it might at first appear.
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What about the great/terrible defensive performances? I’m thinking you see the trend by now. The “great” Week 1 defenses are better than the terrible ones, but only by about three points. Don’t make the mistake of completely ignoring a one-game sample, but be careful how far you move your projections.
The total for the Chargers at Bills matchup has dropped from 44.5 to 43 after the Bills’ disastrous opening game. With Josh Allen starting at QB, we have a likely regression candidate against an explosive Chargers offense and a Bolts defense that struggled in Week 1. Put me down for the Over.
The Cardinals at Rams total has dropped two points to 45 and the line has moved to -13 after Arizona struggled in Week 1. We saw Oakland move the ball well versus the Rams before Derek Carr’s second-half implosion, and I’m willing to bet David Johnson & Co. rebound a bit after a slow start.
One move that’s warranted based on Week 1 is the Chiefs-Steelers total going up three points, from 49.5 to 52.5. For those players we don’t have much of a sample on (Pat Mahomes and James Conner for example), we should be willing to adjust more. Both looked great in Week 1, and Kansas City confirmed that its defense is as bad or worse than we expected it to be after 2017. Unless this number skyrockets out of control, I won’t be going anywhere near the Under.