NFL betting: This is the lowest-scoring start to a season since 2017

For years now, we've been hearing about how the NFL is becoming more and more offensive. The large majority of head coaching hires these days have an offensive background. Scoring across the league has been up in recent years. However, that hasn't really come to fruition so far in 2022.

Slowest start since 2017

In Week 4, eight games went over the total and eight games went under the total. That was the first week this season where unders didn't win the week. However, overall, it's been a solid start for under bettors. Through four weeks, unders are 36-27-1. That's good for an almost 58% winning percentage.

Overall, through four weeks, we're seeing an average of 43.9 points per game and a median final total of just 42. By comparison, through the first four weeks of the 2021 season, the average amount of points per game was 47. The median was 44.5 points. In 2020, those numbers were 51.3 and 49 respectively.

Overall, scoring to start this season is down over 3 points per game this year compared to last, and over 7 points from two seasons ago. At the start of every season, bettors rely on previous years' data for a lot of their handicap. Oddsmakers do the same. It's the reason we're seeing so many games go under.

As a result of the lower scoring, games are tighter. Through four weeks, we've seen 23 games already that have been decided by three points or less. Of course, lower scores also cause more and more props to go under as compared to over. It's all correlated.

Oddsmakers are adjusting

Your first thought might be that oddsmakers are setting inflated totals, knowing that the public mostly prefers to bet on overs compared to unders. That hasn't really been the case.

The average closing total through the first four weeks of this season has been 45.1 points. Last year through the first four games, the average closing total was 48.3 points. Oddsmakers are setting totals over three points lower than they were last year. In 2018-2020, the average closing total for the first four weeks was higher than it has been this year.

That trend continues into Week 5. The average total at BetMGM for this upcoming week is set at 45 points. Last season, the average total in Week 5 was 47.6 points. Last year, there were four totals in Week 5 listed over 50 points. This week, only the Raiders-Chiefs game has a total in the 50s. This upcoming weekend, there are seven totals listed at 44 points or lower. Last year in Week 5, there were just three.

Oddsmakers are bumping totals down. That might be why we didn't see as many unders last week. The question becomes, will the points return as the NFL season goes on?

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 12: Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos looks on during the third quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field on September 12, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Russell Wilson is one of many marquee quarterbacks struggling to open the NFL season. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Why is scoring down?

It's hard to pinpoint why scoring is down. This breakdown from a week ago by the NFL's Extra Point blog basically concluded that the main reason is the efficiency of passing offenses across the league.

That would make sense. The league is becoming more pass heavy as teams try and get ahead of the chains on early downs. However, there's another reason why games might be flying under totals.

If you look at the top 10 teams in terms of EPA/play at RBSDM, you'll see a mixed bag. Nobody is surprised to see teams like Kansas City, Buffalo, Baltimore or Philadelphia there. However, you'll also see teams that are quarterbacked by the likes of Geno Smith, Marcus Mariota, Jacoby Brissett and Jared Goff are in the top 10.

If you further scroll through the list, you'll see even more surprises. Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay rank 14th, basically league average. Joe Burrow and the Bengals are 18th. Offensive genius Kyle Shanahan's team ranks 20th. Russell Wilson's Broncos are 22nd. Last year's highest-scoring offense, Dallas, is 23rd. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers rank 24th. Last year's champions, the Rams, rank 28th.

That's a lot of the most highly regarded offenses in the league that are struggling mightily to open the season. We should expect most to bounce back. In the meantime, it might create some betting opportunities. For example, last week on Sunday night, the Chiefs played the Buccaneers. The total closed at just 46.5 points. Last season, that's a game that closes well over 50 points. When these teams met in the Super Bowl in 2021, the total was 56 points. The Sunday night game ended with 72 points, flying over the closing total.

Thursday night's game is ugly on paper. Both Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan are struggling mightily with their new teams. The total between the Colts and Broncos is just 42 points. At BetMGM, 80% of bets are on the under. Bettors and oddsmakers are well aware of the low-scoring start to the season. The question now becomes if and when the scoring picks up.