Finally, the regular season is upon us. NFL betting is back. Yes, a preseason bet cashes the same as a regular season bet, but as a non-professional, there’s something lacking when you’re one of the few risking your hard-earned money on players 95% of casual fans have never heard of. The judgmental scowls from friends and family are also a bit more warranted during the preseason. Nevertheless, we have strength in numbers. The regular season is here which means all the casuals come out of the woodwork, the judgment shrinks, and the fun begins.
Follow the Light
If you’re new to NFL betting, don’t have the time to do research, or simply want to bet on games just to have a rooting interest, you likely need somewhere to start. Bookmakers feed on people who “trust their gut” and shamelessly shovel money into the burning flames that are their off-base sports takes. Perhaps you’d like a few easy, proven trends to get you started. It’s not uncommon for people to blindly follow the advice of others on Twitter who give off the illusion of betting-competence and allegedly do the hard work for you. I get it; I was once a college kid thirsty for winning picks.
Some social-media-gurus are legit, but most are not. Rather than have you Venmo a shadowy figure that claims to hit on 80% of their bets, I’ll provide a few notable trends that have formed over the past couple years. These trends are not picks. This is simply information that can support your decisions throughout the NFL season.
Betting Against the Spread (ATS)
With NFL betting, it’s extremely common for novices to fall in love with either road favorites or home underdogs. Some people love road favorites because you’re getting the better team with a smaller spread due to the three-or-so points associated with home-field-advantage. Others prefer the home underdogs because of the belief that home crowds play a significant role in carrying a lesser team to victory. Regardless of the side you stand on, you’d have lost money if you blindly bet on every road favorite or every home underdog in the last three years. Brutal. Home underdogs have been considerably less damaging to a bettor’s bankroll, but damaging nonetheless. So, if road favorites and home underdogs aren’t profitable, who is?
Certainly not home favorites. Home favorites have proven to be real costly against the spread since 2018. Betting on a home favorite doesn’t require much convincing. They’re the better team and they’re at home? It’s easier for us silly little bettors to fall into that trap than it is to persuade ourselves to bet on the worse team or the road team, even if the spread is supposed to be the equalizer.
Your precious profit lies with everyone’s least favorite bet: The Road Underdog.
Road Dogs Run Faster
The ill-defined “Vegas” knows betting on road underdogs requires the biggest mental hurdle. I’m not claiming to know the math that goes into line-adjustments based on human psychology, and I’m speaking rather anecdotally when I allude to the mental hurdles and necessary convincing it takes to place certain bets. However, the numbers speak for themselves:
Above is the win-loss, win percentage, and profit-loss calculation for all the aforementioned bet-types in the last three years based on just $10 per bet.
Not only have road underdogs been the only profitable bet to make over the last three years combined, they have also garnered a profit in each individual year. If you placed $10 on every single road underdog since 2018, you’d have made $64 in 2018, $185 in 2019, and $59 in 2020. To me, a bet that has won at least 53.1% of the time three straight years is a substantial trend to consider. Rather than blindly bet 148 games per year, on average, let’s drill down further to see if there’s a sweet spot in these road underdog spreads.
The Sweet Spot
Drilling down into a trend to find either a root cause or a more profitable sub-trend is a key part of maximizing profit. Sadly, I don’t have a root cause. I do, however, have a strong sub-trend. After drilling down into specific spread ranges for road underdogs, I identified a sweet spot that sits in between the two most key numbers in NFL betting. Road underdogs of 3.5-6.5 points have brought even more profit than your generic road dog. These dogs have the hook, or the points, to cover the most key number in football: three. Since 2018, 14% of all games have been decided by exactly three points, the most of any margin followed by seven (10%). Of those games decided by three, a third of them have finished with a margin within one point of the spread. Getting past that key number is huge in the long run.
Over the past three seasons, road underdogs of 3.5-6.5 points are 96-67 (59%) against the spread. These dogs fetched win percentages of 53.6% in 2018, 65% in 2019, and 57.4% in 2020. There are two big reasons I like this more than taking all the road underdogs. One, 54 scenarios per season is way less than the 148 from all road underdogs and two, more profit per bet. Yes, more games equals more total profit, so why not bet on all road underdogs, have a lower win percentage but higher profit? To me, a lower win percentage shows a less reliable trend. I’d rather take the more risk-averse strategy and shoot for any profit as opposed to aiming for the big bucks.
What About the Totals?
Life’s too short to bet the under, right? People root for points and don’t like when their wallet strays from their heart. Sadly, it’s about as even as it gets over the last three years. Unders are 382-375 since 2018, which translates to money lost for unders and overs because of the juice. There are essentially zero noteworthy trends when looking at over-unders based on what the total is, but there is one trend worth pointing out surrounding totals based on certain spreads.
In games with double-digit spreads, the under has hit at a 65%-clip over the last three seasons. Similarly to the road dogs trend, this has occurred in each individual season. If you blindly bet ten dollars on the under for every game with a double-digit spread since 2018, you’d have made a profit of $70 in 2018, $55 in 2019, and $122 in 2020. The unders in games with double-digit spreads in those years hit at 64%, 59%, and 72% respectively.
Logically, it checks out. If a team is a double-digit underdog, they most likely aren’t a top offense, so we aren’t looking at a shootout. Plus, the double-digit favorite, assuming they are in control of the game as the odds predict, should be able to milk the clock, play ball control, and cruise to an easy victory. Again, this sole criteria shouldn’t necessarily drive every decision you make as a bettor, but it’s important to understand.
This isn’t advice to take every single road underdog of 3.5-6.5 points without doing an ounce of relevant research on the teams that are playing. If you do, good luck. This also isn’t advice to take every single under in games with double-digit spreads. The best way to use this is to add it to the repertoire as another tool for decision-making. Being aware of trends and pairing them with tangible, on-field data can make it easier to identify bad lines, and make you more confident in your bets. NFL betting can be extremely fun, but as all of us have experienced, a Sunday of bad bets amplifies the Sunday scaries to the max. Finding value is the best way to consistently avoid them.
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