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Even Bruce Arians Can’t Keep Beating the Spread

As interim coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, Bruce Arians was remarkable. He was named AP Coach of the Year, as the Colts went 9-3, and 8-3-1 against the spread, under his watch. In his first year with the Cardinals in 2013, Arians went 10-5-1 against the spread, making him one of the best coaches ever by that metric. Then in 2014, Arians again was again named Coach of the Year, as he rode some Pythagenpat Magic to go 11-5 against the spread, bringing his career mark up to 29-13-2 against the wise guys in the desert. And in 2015, Arians started off red hot yet again! A 39-32 victory in Seattle against the defending NFC Champions on Sunday Night Football put the Cardinals at 7-2, and 6-2-1 against the spread. At that point, Arians was 35-15-3 against the spread for his coaching career. That’s a 0.660 winning percentage ATS if you count pushes as half wins and half losses, and an even better .700 winning percentage if you discard all pushes (arguably the better approach, since for wagering purposes, a push just means you get your money back). Nobody can beat the spread 70% of the time, right?

Well, yes. Right. Since then, Arians is 9-15-0 against the spread, dropping from a 70% success rate to a 37.5% rate. And he’s just 6-12 ATS in his last 18 games. That includes a stretch in 2016 where Arians’ Cardinals failed to cover in five straight games and seven of eight contests. And it includes a 12-point loss in week 1 of the 2017 season on Sunday, when the Cardinals were 2.5-point favorites. The graph below shows every game of his head coaching career and how many points his team beat (blue) or were beaten by (in red) the spread:

Most of this has to do with increased expectations: Arizona is still 13-10-1 over those last 24 games. That means there have been four games during this run where the Cardinals won but did not cover, and a fifth where Arizona was favored but the game ended in a tie. The graph below shows the average point spread — and a negative number represents the favorite — for each of the 77 regular season games Arians has been a head coach. I’ve also included a trend line:

Arians was an underdog a lot early, but as the Cardinals became good, he’s been a favorite more recently. He’s been an underdog in 30 games — all but five coming prior to 2015 — and he’s 18-12 against the spread in those games. He’s been favored in 47 games, and gone 26-18-3. Arians still boasts an impressive 44-30-3 ATS record: the real question now is how he’ll do over his next subset of games. What do you think?