“If it’s in the game, it’s in the game”
Old-school Madden players know that ancient EA slogan. At the time, it meant if something happened on the football field, it would be represented on your Sega Genesis. (We’re more “ancient school” than “old school.”)
But now that we’re well and thoroughly into the Matrix (references inching closer to the smartphone-and-social media era!) you could flip that on its head. If it’s in Madden, it’s a more accurate description of football than what you get listening to Joe Buck and Troy Aikman.
Which is to say: when it’s early in the season, Madden team and player ratings can go a long way to setting up your power ratings.
First the why, then the how.
As in, Madden Madden?
Yep. The one with Josh Allen on the cover and everything. And we’re going to use it to bet real money on actual sports. Hopefully to win money. Money we could use to buy Madden. You see how it all ties together.
First, a little bit on why you might want to use this approach.
Most power rating systems use previous game results, market-based ratings (ie. using look-ahead betting lines to quantify a team’s relative strength), or a combination of both. They get better as the season goes on because we learn more about each team every week.
But by using Madden ratings you can build a ground-up system. It uses each individual player as an input to the overall power rating.
Pseudonymous author Pokerjoe sums it up in his tremendous sports betting book, Sharper:
“They are amazingly important to a lot of football fans and very, very closely followed by the most important people of all in this respect: NFL players themselves. Madden’s feet are to the fire on this issue. Fans and players care about their ratings, so EA Sports cares. It shows.”
The player ratings, which you can get here, are going to be quality.
You don’t need EA to tell you Patrick Mahomes, at a 99, is one of a handful of the very best players in the NFL. But how good are you at quantifying the importance of an injury to Isaiah Rodgers or Romeo Daubs to the point spread?
These individual player ratings allow you to build team ratings in a way that lets you objectively quantify player and team value.
The problem here is we don’t know exactly who does these ratings, how sharp their analysis might be, or what factors might be incorporated into the ratings that may not be relevant to bettors.
Also, if the information is good and the NFL betting markets are efficient, these numbers could get baked into betting lines.
Finally, there’s a point where prior information is of diminishing return compared to in-season information. The consensus is that these ratings are useful in Weeks 1-4. After the first quarter of the season, the markets will start to become more efficient and other ratings systems may catch up.
How to Incorporate Madden Ratings
Power ratings are designed to be translated into point spreads. The short version: if the Cowboys are playing in Washington and they’re rated a 6, the Commanders are rated -1, and we think home field advantage is worth 1.5, the spread on the game should be lined Dallas -3.5.
To build power ratings from Madden ratings, you need to create a formula to help translate ratings.
Pokerjoe does this by applying his formula that translates the Madden rating into a player value. Then he weights each position (quarterbacks get the highest weight). If you want to see his method, we recommend grabbing a copy of Sharper, but you could also work some of it backwards.
Travis Kelce has a 99 rating. When he was ruled out in Week 1, the line moved as much as 2 points at some books. Was that entirely due to Kelce? How much was Chris Jones’ absence worth? Were there other factors involved, like sharp bettors gobbling up the Lions and the points?
That’s something we’ll leave to you to solve. You have to weigh all the variables that go into using a system like this. In the meantime we’ll be blowing on the cartridge for Madden ‘95 to see how much damage we can still do with Rodney Hampton.