Vegas Odds and Fantasy Kickers: What the Data Tells Us

Kicker production, which hinges on opportunity, can be forecast using game totals and lines from Vegas oddsmakers

We’ve reached that part of the NFL offseason in which I try to scratch that proverbial itch: better understanding how and why we should target kickers in daily fantasy and seasonal leagues.

I’ve tried prescription cream, but the itch remains. Nothing works. I’ve given up.

Anyone who doesn’t reflexively dismiss the kicker position in fantasy football — screaming into the void the myth that kicker scoring is unpredictable — knows that kickers on good teams that pile up passing yardage are usually premier fantasy producers. By the waning weeks of the 2017 season, all but one of fantasy’s most productive kickers just so happened to be on teams chasing playoff spots, providing plenty of positive game script necessary for field goal attempts throughout a game — not just in the first two or three quarters.

The only position more predictable than kicker is quarterback. Though the legions of losers and haters will deny this, it’s true.

It’s not a complex idea: we want kickers attempting plenty of kicks. To deploy a kicker who misses two of his four field goals on a given Sunday is good process, bad results. To have a kicker who makes his only field goal — even if it happens to be a long one — is bad process, good results. We shouldn’t care if a kicker is good if all signs point to him not having the opportunity that correlates so closely with fantasy production. See: not hard.

Vegas lines are always where we start with kicker selection, so wrapping our collective brain around which scenarios offer the most reliable pointers for kicker success would seem worthwhile. Let’s get a better feel for how Vegas totals and lines could (or should) affect our kicker choices in 2018 and beyond.

We see in the data charted above that high Vegas totals aren’t just important for the home kicker, but the visiting kicker too. Check out that ugly blue line, peaking around the 1.5 mark, showing that games with low totals aren’t all that likely to give us kickers racking up the field goal tries. The games with mid-range Vegas total aren’t hideous here — those contests seem to offer some stability in field goal attempts, whereas the lowest scoring contests see a rollercoaster dip in the 3-4 field goal attempt range — the holiest of kicker grails. That beautiful red line, meanwhile, stays high around the four attempt range, especially for the home kicker.

You won’t be shocked when I remind the good kicker truthers that we can’t look at Vegas total alone. There are plenty of NFL games that have a mid-range total with one team sporting a gleaming implied total thanks to being big Vegas favorites (to answer a frequent in-season question: there’s no reason to hesitate playing a kicker on a team favored to win by double digits; game script can’t be too good).

Another trend of which to take note: home field kickers have almost the exact same opportunity prospects in games with middle-of-the-road Vegas totals and games with low totals. It seems, at the very least, that we shouldn’t downgrade a home field kicker because Vegas has a game pegged at 42 total points rather than, let’s say, 45 or 46 points.

The above charts serve as life-affirming confirmation that using kickers whose team is an underdog is, in fact, horrid process. It’s the sort of process that makes one consider how bad bleach can really taste (don’t wince — you know this to be true). This is a lesson best applied when fantasy players fall head over heels for a kicker who delivers one week, then enters the next week in a decidedly unfavorable situation. Nevertheless, we persist, and stay loyal to the guy who put up a dozen fantasy points for us seven short days ago. This is unforgivably stupid. If a kicker heads into a week on the road on a big-time Vegas dog, we must cut bait. Loyalty is for suckers.

Kickers on home underdogs have slightly better prospects than those on visiting squads, as seen above. It’s impossible not to notice the incredibly even distribution in all scenarios for the home field kicker. It doesn’t seem to matter much if the kicker’s team is a Vegas favorite or not — the number of attempts is fairly steady. The heavy home favorite, however, has a far better chance at trying 3-5 field goals than his visiting counterpart. Let’s chalk it up to home cooking, though I’m awaiting the data on said cooking.

Games that have a decent chance of featuring neutral game script — the black line — seem to favorite kickers on the road. Not by much, but by enough to take note.

The biggest surprise here: kickers on away teams favored bigly by Vegas are a hideous bet to end up with multiple field goal tries. The red line distribution on the Away Team FGA chart is an utter nightmare, whereas the red line on the Home Team FGA chart is more stable and inviting if we’re looking to maximize field goal attempts (we are). I suppose we should exercise some degree of caution when deploying a kicker on an away team favored to win by a touchdown or more. While this puts me on the rare offseason tilt, it’s helpful to know.

Denny Carter is a staple in the fantasy football world of journalism. He hosts a fantasy football podcast call LateRoundQB. He wrote the book, "How To Think Like a Fantasy Football Winner and his work has been featured on New York Times, Fifth Down, Rotoworld, Rotogrinders, 4for4. Denny has unbreakable love for NFL Kickers.

Hot Betting News Stories