As the playoff picture comes a bit more into focus, it’s worth looking at the first nine games of each of these teams and seeing the different paths they took to the top. In particular, we know these teams are good. But which one is the better bet against the spread?
We can first look at how oddsmakers expected these teams to do by looking at the lines for each of their games. Below, we have plotted the line of the game by week (a negative line implies they were expected to win) for both Dallas (in blue) and New England (in red).
One thing that sticks out us is that the Patriots (7-2 SU and ATS) were not favored as much as they have been during the first four weeks when compared to the rest of the season. That, of course, makes sense, as they were without star quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games due to suspension. As soon as Brady returned, they would be favored by more.
Also interesting is that after Brady returned, the lines for the Patriots have slowly moved back towards zero, with the exception of last week’s game against Seattle (coming off a bye week).
Meanwhile, for the Cowboys, there doesn’t seem to be a huge trend for their lines in any direction, rather it is scattered all over the place.
Of course, lines only tell one side of the story. What is more important is how they have done in the games themselves.
The main thing we noticed here is the Cowboys have been trending upwards, winning by more and more (until last week at least). Meanwhile, the Patriots have been a bit more scattered. But looking at margin in the game isn’t the most informative thing to look at. The most impressive thing is ATS success, of course. So below, we have plotted how the Cowboys and Patriots have done ATS over the course of the season.
This is basically just a combination of the two graphs above, and it shows how dominant both New England and Dallas have been so far this season. They are a combined 15-3 ATS, and there is no doubt that they have been two of the best bets in 2016. However, a secondary thing that stands out to me is how consistent Dallas has been.
Compared to New England, which has had three games that look somewhat like outliers, Dallas has remained fairly consistent. Looking at the variance of ATS performance, Dallas has a standard deviation of 7.2 in ATS margin, while New England has one of 14.1 – nearly twice as large. Even more promising for Dallas is that after the first four weeks (or, since Brady has returned), it has performed better than New England ATS in every week.
There is no doubt that the Patriots are always a good bet. Just last year, we looked at ATS record by coach and found that betting on Bill Belichick has been one of the best strategies out there (“In Bill we trust” may also apply to gambling).
But for this year at least, it appears that America’s Team should be America’s bet most Sundays. Not only have the Cowboys been beating the spread by more than the Patriots have, but they’re also more consistent. As Patriots fans (we go to Harvard, remember?), it pains us to say this, but the Cowboys are shaping up to be the better bet ATS.
Harrison Chase is the Co-President of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, a student-run organization at Harvard College dedicated to the quantitative analysis of sports strategy and management.