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NFL Betting Strategy

NFL Betting Strategy: Betting on Teams Struggling Against the Spread

By Loot, NFL Handicapper,

By midseason in the NFL, you start to see which teams are covering a lot of spreads and which ones are not. The urge can be to assume that’s the way it’s going to be for the rest of the season. At the very least, we may tend to avoid struggling teams, while leaning toward teams that are winning against the spread.

Again, we have broken down the facts to see if there is any credence to avoiding teams struggling against the spread, while loading up on teams that are hot at the betting windows. Most teams fall somewhere in the middle. But from 2008 to 2010, there were 21 teams who covered the spread only once in their first 6 or twice in their first 8 games. Meanwhile, there were 19 teams who covered 5 of their first 6 or 6 of their first 8 games. Let’s see how they did in the remainder of the season.

If a team only covers 1/6 or 2/8 to open the season, they are definitely struggling against the spread. The results, however, show that these teams from 2008-2010 who open poorly actually become solid bets for the remainder of the season. Of these 21 teams who either began by covering 1/6 or 2/8, they finished the season a combined 106-78-4 ATS. That’s not bad at all.

While it’s natural to be hesitant to back teams that are stinking it up ATS, there is an explanation for why these teams become better betting choices as the season wears on. As these teams struggle to cover spreads, the bookie has to start going above and beyond to create betting interest for those teams. The result is some pretty juicy spreads for teams who are lacking the public’s betting confidence.


In addition, teams that are massively struggling tend to pick it up in the second-half of the season. Jobs are on the line. Players begin feeling the urgency. Head coaches and staff start feeling the heat. So with teams picking up the pace combined with some nice spreads, struggling teams tend to become better betting options later in the season.

Now let’s look at teams that began the season with a slew of covers, either 5/6 or 6/8. Of those 19 teams from 2008-2010, they finished the season a combined 71-72-3. Whereas teams that aren’t covering seem to turn it around, the teams that are covering don’t seem to fall apart or maintain their fever pitch. While .500 is not close to the percentage they were hitting, it’s not profitable to bet against them, despite the falloff.

Teams that begin the season covering a disproportionate amount of spreads are simply doing well and even though the spreads may become more difficult, they continue playing well enough to make betting on them a move of average success.

There are, as with all numerical breakdowns, some items to keep in mind. First of all, even though there are hundreds of results here, that doesn’t necessarily indicate a true pattern. As is the case with most patterns, once you even notice them, they’re due to go the other way. Teams that struggle to cover may have done well for the remainder of the season in 2008 to 2010, but from 2012 to 2014, a similar breakdown might not yield the same results.

Choosing teams that cover or fail to cover 5/6 or 6/8 games to begin the season is also a somewhat arbitrary measuring stick. You could use a variety of different standards and emerge with any number of possible results. And saying to just always pick teams that open the season awfully against the spread falls under the category of a system--and you know how we feel about those.

Nevertheless, there seems to a be a little upside to betting teams that open badly ATS. It makes sense. Teams are never as bad as they appear at their worse. The book will invariably begin shading the number in favor of the teams with waning betting support. If you work within this framework and are able to execute some well-placed wagers, it’s something to keep in mind.

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