The XFL got off to a relatively strong start this past weekend, posting the two top-rated sports broadcasts of the weekend, according to viewership.
The inaugural game had 4 million viewers by the end of the game. It’s pretty impressive, especially considering the AAF capped out at 2.9 million in their inaugural game. The product was much better than the AAF as well. There were some incredible throws and truly exciting plays.
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Though we didn’t get any particularly dramatic finishes, I thought the games were pretty good overall. In the run-up to the games, betting lines were popping up everywhere. I saw a lot about the spreads and totals and wanted to get in on the action, but I thought it was a little too early to start blindly throwing money at a modified version of the NFL with players many of us haven’t seen since college.
So the question is, how do we go about betting the sport going forward?
Identifying the talent levels, playcalling modifications, and rules changes
I’ve heard variations of the phrase “You can’t solve the problem without knowing the factors” at least twenty to a hundred times in my life. From military school to business school to marriage counseling, it’s the same formula at its core.
Betting is the same and the way to approach it is the same. We have our constant, which is the NFL. Now, we take what we know about the NFL and identify the other factors. In this case, the rule changes, playcalling, and talent level.
There are some fairly significant rules changes worth talking about and some others I won’t be addressing because they aren’t particularly relevant.
Kickoff Changes – The ball has been moved back to the 30 on kickoffs and the kicking team’s players line up at the receiving team’s 35, while the receiving team has one player deep and lines up the rest of the players at their own 30.
The purpose of this is to limit high impact but also serves as a strategic addition to the game. If the ball falls short of the 20-yard line or goes out of bounds, the receiving team will get the ball on the opposition’s 45-yard line. If the ball is fair caught in the end zone, the receiving team gets it at the 35. If the ball rolls into the end zone, the receiving team gets it at the 15.
Impact – This creates a level of volatility that should slightly increase the scoring when compared to the NFL. With the quality of kickers in the XFL, you can expect more KOBs and more kickoffs that don’t break the 20-yard line. Also, consider how many NFL drives just start around the 25 and then understand what it means when the XFL will have teams starting around ten yards further up the field. One first down puts that team in the “no man’s land” zone and on the fringe of four down territory on fourth and short scenarios.
Extra Point Changes – A conversion from the two-yard line is worth one point. A conversion from the five is worth two points. A conversion from the ten is worth three points.
Impact – Coaches didn’t appear to see the need to take advantage of the conversions, as may simply went for one and being repeatedly unsuccessful. Houston had 24 points on four touchdowns. Had they just attempted a two or a three a few times, they could’ve made up serious ground.
This opportunity to get as many as three points will give the trailing team opportunities to make up serious ground in a short time. This should have a profound swing effect on spreads because of an opportunity to close the gap so quickly. Also, it’s worth considering point totals and spreads can be much more volatile in the XFL when you consider the Houston game.
In the NFL, there’s a strong chance four touchdowns is going to get you to 28 points. With a 38.5 total points average on opening weekend, this was apparent. I expect as the offenses settle in, the two and three-point conversions will go up and the success rates will as well.
Clock Adjustments – The clock is different in the XFL, but it may not be as significant as we think. For one, the clock stops on incomplete passes or plays ending out of bounds but the clock starts again when the ball is spotted (all plays reset to the 25-second play clock, 15 seconds shorter than the NFL). Inside the two minute warning, the clock stops after every play until the ball is spotted and then the 25-second clock starts. The clock will stop on incomplete passes, spikes, and plays that end out of bounds, just like the NFL.
Impact – Here’s the angle on this one: Bet the quarters point totals. Due to the conservative clock rules of the XFL, there should be considerably more scoring in the second and fourth quarters (due to the two-minute warning).
With the clock rules, the NFL should produce more scoring in the first quarter and outside the two-minute warning, but outside of that, the XFL should make up the scoring differential in the two-minute warning. Also, the plays count should be higher in the XFL because the play clock is only 25 seconds. Expect scoring to be higher and spreads to be increasingly more volatile as the season goes on, but once the offenses settle-in, the scoring averages should go up.
Overtime – The rules of overtime as like a shootout in soccer or Hockey. Each team alternates one-point conversions from the two-yard line until both teams have attempted five. If the score is still tied after five, it goes round for round until it’s over.
Impact – To be realistic and conservative, we can assume each team will make around 2/5 of their overtime points. That’s at least four total points being added to the point total. Unlike the NFL, which typically ends with one team winning on a field goal, totaling three points, the XFL games should end with slightly higher scoring.
Two Timeouts – Another leveling factor in play is the fact there are only two timeouts for each team.
Impact – As expected, it’s not as great for scoring with one less timeout for each team, but the accelerated play clock and clock stoppages under two minutes in the second and fourth will really increase scoring.
The playcalling in the XFL is slanted towards the offense. Unlike the NFL, there is no cutoff on the mic between the play-caller and the quarterback. Up to 18 players can have communication devices and they can talk to the coaching staff during the play.
Impact – This tweak on playcalling is insane if you think about it. Over time, this league is going to slowly become very offense-happy with these kinds of advantages.
From a betting perspective, this means quarterbacks are going to get even more settled-in and you’re going to see bigger plays on blown coverages. Imagine being an NFL quarterback and the defense gives you a late audible. It’s under 15 seconds and you have no idea the remedy. The odds of your offensive play call working when the defense has changed their look isn’t great. In the XFL, a coach can make those adjustments and see things and process them more efficiently than a young quarterback can.
Also, consider in-play if a quarterback breaks the pocket and evades the rush, a coach can tip-off which guy is breaking open. Over time, I expect the offenses to get even better and more efficient. For now, you can probably ride the over in games with the quarterbacks who looked good in Week 1.
Until the others get settled in (many will look better than they probably are in terms of an NFL evaluation), chase the proficient offenses. It’s worth noting up to 18 players can have communication devices, so things should get interesting.
This is a tricky aspect of XFL betting because this is all relative. On the one hand, you can say there are guys like Tyreek Hill in the NFL (and numerous other examples) who can take a slant to the house and the XFL doesn’t have that same level of talent.
That’s true, but we saw Austin Proehl take a check down to the house, so again, it’s all relative. To me, this league should resemble the Pac-12 in a lot of ways. We’ll see some quarterbacks and offenses put up huge games even though there may not be much NFL talent on the field. When everyone’s close to the same level of talent, the schemes and offensive execution will dictate the scoring.
What to Expect in Gambling on XFL Games
As I stated earlier, I expect the average total points to make a significant climb by the end of the season. This past week’s 38.5 point total points average should be a lot closer to 50 as the offenses get in more reps. There’s a lot of room and potential for offensive growth, given the rules changes and rules for cross-communication in-play.
Defensively, I expect we’ll see more cover three-zone variations to add a little haze to the offenses reading the defenses in-play, but the upside is clearly in the offense’s favor. With lines certainly being adjusted for the opening week, total points and team scoring lines should drop to compensate for Week 1. Pay attention to the teams with the offenses that are already looking competent and dangerous now, as they’re only going to continue to go up from here.