The Muffed Punt: Looking back at our biggest NFL betting trends

It’s fitting that the NFL comes to a close around the holidays. Both are highly anticipated seasons and – poof – are over before you know it. And while the NFL regular season stretches from September to December (January in this case), it seems to finish quicker than a 16-year-old kid in the back seat of a Honda Prelude on prom night. I guess time does fly when you’re having fun.

And that’s what this weekly soap box has always been about: F-U-N. We’ve tried to dig up some interesting – and hopefully profitable – NFL trends and statistics while also entertaining football bettors like myself. We may not have pulled the bookies’ pockets inside out, but if we at least made you audibly laugh once or twice: mission accomplished.

So with the calendar turning to 2016 and the NFL schedule flipping to the postseason, now’s the time we look back and reflect on the past year. For football bettors, that means wagers won and lost, bad beats and stinky sweats, tough totals and torturous teasers.

And for “The Muffed Punt” it’s time to check in on how all those NFL betting angles panned out throughout the season. Did they come through for our loyal readers or fall victim to the dreaded “Covers Curse” people love to spin yarn about so much. Here goes…

Week 1: In the opening week of NFL action, we were treated to nine home underdogs. That had us digging up numbers on home pups in Week 1, which were 81-67-4 ATS (55%) over the past 30 seasons entering 2015 and 42-23-1 ATS (65%) in the 10 seasons with six or more Week 1 home teams getting the points.

What happened: Home underdogs had very little bit in season openers, going a combined 4-5 ATS in Week 1. Goo.

Week 2: A trend that’s been buzzing around the Covers office for some time is playing against defending Super Bowl champs in their first road game of the season. Heading into 2015, that situation led to a 9-21 ATS (15-15 SU) record for Super Bowl winners in their first game away from home since 1985 – a 70 percent go-against clip.

What happened: The Patriots beat the Bills 40-32 as 2-point road underdogs – the only time New England would get the points this season. 

Week 3: We had two doozies in Week 3, looking at the ATS success of double-digit favorites and the impact of the growing 2-point conversion rate on NFL total betting. Heading into Week 3, game with at least one 2-point conversion scored were 223-93-3 Over/Under going back to 2003 – a 70.5 percent Over rate.

What happened: Double-digit faves are 10-12 ATS on the season, entering Week 17, but have proved profitable for Under bettors. Games involving a spread of 10 or more points posting a collective 5-17 Over/Under mark – 77 percent Under winners. There are five Double-D favorites in Week 17: New England, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Carolina, and Denver.

As for games including a successful 2-point conversion, they are 26-14-1 O/U this season – 65 percent Overs. Teams going for the extra-extra points the most: Pittsburgh has tried for two 10 times (scoring seven), Green Bay tried six times (scoring four), and Tennessee tried five times (scoring three).

Week 4:
There were a number of 3-0 SU NFL teams playing (four to be exact) their fourth game at home – a situation that had provided a 35-17 ATS (67%) return going back to 1985.

What happened: The four 3-0 home teams playing in Week 4 went just 2-2 ATS. Yuck, like kissing your sister.

Week 5: Trigger-happy referees were the big story in Week 5, with more laundry on the ground through the first four weeks than a college dorm room. We dug into the NFL games with the most penalties to see how it impacted totals, discovering that games with 20 or more whistles finished 64-52-2 Over/Under (55% Over) and contests with 25 or more flags produced a 9-4 O/U count – 69 percent Overs – from 2007 to Week 4 of the 2015 season.

What happened: Games in which there have been 20 or more penalties called are 14-12-1 O/U (54% Overs) and the ones with 25-plus infractions are 2-4 O/U. The “Covers Curse” strikes again!

Week 6: Football bettors were presented with a rare beast in Week 6, a perfect 5-0 SU and ATS team: the Green Bay Packers. That had only happened 12 times in going back to the 1985 season. Those dozen teams posted a 10-2 SU and 9-3 ATS record in their sixth game.

What happened: Green Bay beat San Diego 27-20 but failed to cover as a 10.5-point home favorite. Curse eh? Maybe we need to get a voodoo priest up in here…

Week 7: We looked at the true impact of home-field advantage on the NFL spreads, with home favorites posting a 26-34-1 ATS record (43%) at the time, including a 6-12-1 ATS skid the two weeks prior.

What happened: This one stayed pretty true to form, with home favorites currently just 69-84-6 ATS (45%). That means you could have blindly bet against home chalk each and every week and be in the black this NFL season.

Week 8:
With more teams going for 2-point conversions and the new extra point rules making the job of NFL kicker about as dangerous as fishing for Alaskan snow crabs, so-called “dead numbers” were starting to surface more, making bookmakers nervous. Often times, books will move a spread right over these numbers, like taking a line from -4 straight to -6, making them vulnerable to a middle if the game lands on five.

What happened: With nearly an entire season behind us, dead numbers didn’t rise from the grave at biblical proportions. Finishes of 5-point differences on the scoreboard showed up 3.33 percent of the time, while eight (3.33%) and nine (1.25%) point discrepancies remained as dormant as ever.

Week 9: There was an increase in upsets – at least what we would qualify as upsets (underdog of +6 or more winning outright) – at this point in the NFL season, and those pups of 6-plus points were 21-16-1 ATS (55%) heading into Week 9. However, road underdogs of +6 or higher were the real breadwinners, at 18-12-1 ATS (60%).

What happened: As of Week 17, road underdogs of six or more points are 36-27-2 ATS (57%) while games involving road dogs of 6-plus have finished 27-38 O/U – 58 percent Under. There are six road teams getting six or more points from the bookmakers in Week 17.

Week 10
: We used our awesome BetGraph tool to see which teams covered the spread for the longest percentage of those games, and which ones made you sweat out your wagers. As of Week 9, the Panthers spent the most amount of game time actually covering the spread, exceeding the oddsmakers’ expectations 62 percent of the time.

What happened: Carolina continued to cover in the second half of the season but as spreads got larger, due to its push for an undefeated season, the amount of game time the Panthers were actually covering in dipped. From Week 9 to Week 16, Carolina has covered the spread in almost 55 percent of total time on the field.

Week 11: Divisional battles can return interesting results and one trend we discovered was how well underdogs were doing against the spread in AFC South play. At the time, the AFC South team getting the points was 4-1 ATS against a divisional foe.

What happened: The AFC South, which has two divisional showdowns on the Week 17 slate, has produced a 7-3 ATS mark for divisional underdogs this season. As for Sunday, Tennessee is at Indianapolis (that line is off the board) and Jacksonville is a 6-point pup at Houston.

Week 12: With the season hitting the home stretch, we shared that often times the best season-ending bets are often bad teams, and that most of the time the good bets go sour in the final two months of the schedule.

What happened:
Well, the most profitable bets since Week 12 haven’t been the most obvious of sources but only one has a losing record. The Jets (4-0-1 ATS), Redskins (4-1 ATS), and Vikings (4-1 ATS) are all above .500 but the Chargers – at 4-11 SU – have covered in four of their last five games heading into Week 17, getting 10 points in Denver Sunday.

Week 13: December was tagged as the “month good bets go to die”, looking at the best ATS teams from the past and how their profits dried up in the final month of the schedule. The Top 19 bets, going back to 1985, through the first three months of the season were covering at an 85 percent rate from September-November, but posted a 53 percent ATS success rate in December. That put the spotlight on Minnesota, Cincinnati and Carolina.

What happened: The Vikings and Bengals kept the cash coming in December, each taking a 3-1 ATS mark this month into the season finale. The Panthers, on the other hand, are just 1-3 ATS in December and giving 10.5 points to Tampa Bay at home in Week 17.

Week 14: Instead of looking at full-game ATS results, we did some digging into the best and worst first and second half bets. One glaring trend that surfaced was how good the NFC East was against the first-half spread – save for the Eagles. As of Week 13, Dallas, Washington and the N.Y. Giants were a combined 23-13 ATS versus first-half lines – 64 percent. Philadelphia, on the other hand, was a dismal 3-9 ATS in the opening two quarters.

What happened: Those three profitable first-half NFC East bets are now a collective 28-16-1 ATS versus first-half spreads – still 64 percent. And what do you know: Philadelphia still stinks in the opening 30 minutes, at 4-11 ATS versus first-half lines.

Week 15: The final weeks of the NFL season are known for their big spreads, when playoff-bound teams take on an opponent that’s out of the postseason picture. We looked at teams getting 14 or more points, with those big pups posting a 25-13 ATS mark in December (66%) since 2005. They were hitting at 73 percent with an 11-4-1 ATS record between 2012 and 2014. We did, however, also note that NFL underdogs of two touchdowns or more were 0-3 ATS in 2015.

What happened: One trend paid off, the other didn’t. Seattle and New England were both giving 14.5 points in Week 15 and both favorites easily covered those mountains of chalk. That improved favorites of 14 or more points to 5-0 ATS on the season.

Week 16: The weather forecast was calling for rain across the board, with nine NFL games expected to see some wet and wild weather in Week 16. We looked into how poor conditions impact the total and discovered that there is a slight lean toward the Under for games in rain or snow, and this season had produced a 6-9-1 O/U tally in such games – 60 percent Unders.

What happened: Mother Nature made me look like an ass, and only two of those nine venues actually got rained on: Buffalo and Seattle. However, while we didn’t have a buffet of soggy selections to bet from, those two games did stay Under the total with only 22 points scored in Buffalo and 40 on the scoreboard in Seattle. This weekend, it looks like Buffalo and Cleveland could see some of the white stuff, and Miami and San Francisco could get rained on.

(Before we go forward, I just wanted to thank our talented and patient stats wizards who helped me cook up these unique trends. Without you this column would just be a bunch of dick and fart jokes loosely connected to football. So, thank you Pete, Mike, Ray, Satish, Ryan and anyone else that crunched the numbers for each Sunday. Appreciate it very much.)

Pants-pooping Trend of the Week

The Packers got jacked up by the Cardinals last Sunday, losing 38-8 for one of the most embarrassing losses in the franchise’s recent history. As prideful as Green Bay is, it hasn’t been great at picking itself off the mat following a knockout blow or 10 or more points.

Since 2008, when Aaron Rodgers took over under center, the Packers are 6-6 SU but just 4-7-1 ATS (36%) in games following a loss of 10 or more points. The Cheeseheads have also gone 7-5 O/U in those contests. Green Bay is a 3-point home favorite hosting Minnesota Sunday night – a NFC North divisional championship game.

Primetime profits

All season, we’ve been tracking the results of NFL primetime games. And with no Thursday nighter or Monday nighter, Sunday Night Football between the Vikings and Packers is the lone night game on the Week 17 sked.

Heading into that NFC North matchup, 2015 NFL primetime games have produced a 29-19-3 ATS record for betting underdogs (60%) and a 21-29-1 Over/Under count (58% Unders). Minnesota is getting a field goal at Lambeau Field Sunday night with the total set at 45.5 points.

The Madden Project

My son has been begging us for Xbox Live since the summer, and we constantly shut him down each time the topic came up. However, we caved at Christmas and now he’s testing his Madden might against people all over the globe. I’m just glad he has people to share his “Madden Speak” with it. It was getting tough to feign excitement over his 29th Draft Champions haul in the past three days. Just pick a damn team and play’em.

Here are this week’s Madden 16 sims:

N.Y. Jets at Buffalo: 28-27/21-10/14-28 – Bills win 21.3-21
Seattle at Arizona: 23-10/10-13/35-31 – Seahawks win 22.7-18
Minnesota at Green Bay: 21-26/33-45/24-21 – Packers win 30.7-26

Last week: 1-2 ATS
Madden 16 season: 25-26-1 ATS (49%)

Sharps like…

Kansas City. The wiseguys like the Chiefs as home favorites hosting the Raiders. Kansas City opened at a touchdown and that sharp action has hung a half-point hook on this game, with KC going for the AFC West crown. Crazy to think the Chiefs were 60/1 to win the division after starting the year 1-5 SU.

Biggest line move…

Seattle at Arizona. The Cardinals opened at -3.5 and were bet up as high as a touchdown before buyback came in on the Seahawks and trimmed the line to -6.5 as of Thursday afternoon. According to CG Technology in Las Vegas, this move is based on the assumption that Seattle will rest players – with little riding on its postseason position – and that Arizona will go all out, trying to lockup home field for the playoffs.

“There was a sharp lean early in the week, on Arizona -3.5,” says Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology sportsbooks. “They had that idea before anyone else did, and got that number before it went up.”

Biggest sweat…

Oakland at Kansas City. “I think everyone is going to have Kansas City in this one,” says Simbal. “They’re going for the division at home. I think the Raiders could have a letdown after a big divisional win at home last week.”

Banker game…

Cleveland at Pittsburgh. The Steelers are still holding out hope for the postseason (need a Jets loss) after blowing a huge opportunity as 11-point favorites against Baltimore, losing 20-17. And with Browns QB Johnny Manziel out due to a concussion, the public will pound Pittsburgh, which has already jumped from -10 to -11.

“Everyone will be like, ‘They can’t lose two games as double-digit favorites, right?’,” says Simbal. “And with Manziel out, the public will be drawn to the Steelers even more. This one will be on every parlay come Sunday.”

Daily fantasy Player of the Week

It’s been a rough year for daily fantasy: for me and the industry. Bright spots have been few and far between when it comes to my weekly DFS submission. But, like most things in life, it’s not how you start but how you finish. So let’s close out the regular season with a bang.

DFS Player of the Week: Owen Daniels, TE Denver Broncos

I’m going back to the beginning. Daniels was my first DFS PoY selection of the season back in Week 1 (and what I thought was going to be the sleeper fantasy TE of the season). It didn’t pan out that way, but Daniels has improved on that terrible 1.5-point Week 1 performance. Last week, he led Denver with 70 yards on five catches and I can see more of that against the Chargers Sunday. 

Injury to note

B.J. Raji, NT Green Bay Packers (concussion)

Raji left last week’s disaster of a game against Arizona with a concussion and hasn’t practiced this week, still waiting to pass tests. The Packers nose tackle is a huge cog in that defense and plays an even bigger role with Adrian Peterson on the other side of the line. Keep an eye on his status the closer the Sunday nighter gets.

We know how to pick’em

Each week, we take the game with the pick’em spread (or closest to it), put away the spread sheets and computer models, and turn it over to each team’s cheerleaders, wagering on which squad is the hottest. The Lions-Bears game is actually a pick’em, but neither team has cheerleaders (what is wrong with these franchises?!), so instead of cheerleaders we’ll grade these teams on their QB’s wives: Mrs. Matt Stafford, Kelly Hall vs. Mrs. Jay Cutler, Kristin Cavallari.

Sunday’s menu

It’s 2016, time to clean out the deep freeze and sort out the edible food from the frozen woolly mammoth meat buried under all that ice. And what’s this? Garlic bread! That would go nice with some tasty pasta, like this…

Song for Sunday

So much to choose from. The Final Countdown by Europe? Nah, too predictable. What about The End by the Doors? A little somber for Week 17. Turn The Page by Bob Seger would be pretty awesome, what with the postseason coming…

Ah, got it! This is just right…

Follow Covers Features Editor Jason Logan on Twitter @CoversJLo. Check out JLo’s Covers archive for his latest features and columns, including his NFL’s biggest betting mismatches Week 17.

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