Divisional losses could be the ‘Midas Touch’ for NFL bettors

A couple years back there was an eyebrow-raising study done by the Highway Loss Data Institute that showed a correlation between NFL games and the number of automobile accidents in those cities where pro football sets up shop.

In the study, the HLDI showed that accidents went up on NFL game days in those host cities – which isn’t surprising if you’ve followed the online antics of NFL tailgaters in recent years (we’re looking at you Buffalo. Have you no shame?).

Boozed-up masses, tired from all-day cheering and often lengthy commutes, climb into their iron death machines along with tens of thousands of other well-oiled fans, and the results are easier to predict than a Michael Bay movie (car chase, explosion, slow motion spinning shot, boobs, explosion, explosion, borderline racist stereotype, explosion – SCENE!).

But the hook in all of this data was that the outcome of the game played into the rate of fender benders. On days in which the home team won, accidents climbed 3.2 percent higher than on day’s without a game. And when the home team lost, accidents rates shockingly jumped 9.4 percent higher than non-home game days.

The moral of the story is: Never underestimate the power of a loss.

But some losses sting more than others. Dropping a game to a non-conference power house on the road can feel like a mosquito bite – hardly an itch. Losing a game to a divisional rival, however, sits pretty high on the Schmidt Scale (used to rank how painful a sting is), somewhere between Tarantula hawk (4.0) and Bullet Ant (+4.0).

The power of a loss to a divisional opponent has been very potent indeed, and has helped football bettors cash in big time over the past two seasons. Going back to 2015, NFL teams coming off a loss to a divisional opponent are 70-47-1 ATS (67-51 SU) in the following game – covering the spread 60 percent of the time – including a 25-13 ATS mark (24-14 SU) so far this season, which is cashing tickets at a 66 percent clip.

That’s a massive contrast to teams coming off a divisional win, which have gone 56-57-3 ATS since 2015, with a 17-18-1 ATS record this year. And going back to 2000, teams off a loss to a divisional rival are a collective 733-681-34 ATS (52%) while teams off a divisional victory are 692-713-43 ATS (49%).

Six teams qualify for this trend in Week 10, with Tampa Bay (+1 vs. Chicago), Pittsburgh (-2.5 vs. Dallas), N.Y. Jets (-1 vs. Los Angeles), Denver (+3 at New Orleans), Minnesota (+2.5 at Washington), and Philadelphia (+2 vs. Atlanta) all coming off divisional losses the previous week.

Super Bowl secret formula

Football fans are always on the lookout for a telling stat or accomplishment throughout the season that could hint at possible Super Bowl glory. And, according to my pal and fellow Cowboys fan, K.D. Drummond at Cowboys Wire, the secret to Super Bowl success – at least from a NFC standpoint – is Toxic Differential.

This stat is the sum of turnover differential (giveaways/takeaways) and big play differential (for/against pass plays of 25-plus yards and runs of 10-plus yards), pulled from the big football brain of former Ravens head coach Brian Billick who preached about “Toxic Events” during his days on the sideline.

The last four teams to finish first in Toxic Differential for their respective seasons were the 2015 Carolina Panthers (54), 2014 Seattle Seahawks (76), 2013 Seattle Seahawks (66), and 2012 San Francisco 49ers (72) – all of which won the NFC Championship and played in the Super Bowl.

The 2016 Dallas Cowboys are currently the No. 1 team in Toxic Differential heading into Week 10, boasting a count of 25 (4 turnover differential + 21 big play differential). The Cowboys are also 3/1 co-favorites to win the NFC Championship (opening at 7/1) and priced at 8/1 to win Super Bowl LI (opening at 14/1).

Behind the Cowboys in Toxic Differential are Atlanta (20), New England (17), Denver (13), Buffalo (10) and Baltimore (10).

Shop until you drop

Holiday shopping has morphed into a bit of a game for me in recent years: Me versus Xmas. I’m constantly trying to get the best deal I can – and you need to when you have three kids to buy for.

That’s why I had my alarm set bright and early Friday to score some discounted PAW Patrol action figures and playsets for my 3-year-old daughter.

I was mentally and physically prepared to stiff arm any grand dads and soccer moms should they stand in the way of my thrifty Christmas morning bliss of watching my little girl’s face as she opened her favorite toys. But, luckily for me and gift givers everywhere, I was the only one there when the store doors cracked at 8 a.m.

Shopping for the best deal is something all football bettors can relate to, especially if you’ve ever had a half-point hook win or lose you a wager. Those slim victories and defeats stick with us, but how often do they actually happen in the run of an NFL season?

Sizing up pointspreads from 2010 to 2016, there have been 22 games in which the favorite covered the opening spread but not the closing spread, and 13 games in which the fave failed to cover the opening spread but managed to cover the closing spread.

The average opening spread in those games was -4.84 while the average closing spread was -5.57 – a difference of just -0.73 or essentially that notorious half-point hook.

As for totals, there have been 21 games since 2010 in which the final score played Over the opening number but Under the closing number, and 30 games in which the final score stayed Under the opening number but played Over the closing number.

The average opening total in those contests was 45.83 points while the average closing total came in at 43.11 – a significant difference of 2.72 points or a field goal.

Right there, you can see that if you’re like me – a competitive shopper with possible bottled-up rage issues – totals are the way to go if you looking to score the best value in line movement, whether buying up the opening number or waiting until the last minute to get your wager down.

Pats off a pause

The New England Patriots gave bookmakers a break in Week 9, with both sides enjoying a bye after the betting public has relentlessly wagered on New England since the return of Tom Brady, celebrating a 4-0 SU and ATS windfall in that span.

The Pats are back on the field hosting the Seahawks in a Super Bowl XLIX rematch, giving 7.5 points to Seattle. Going back to 2000, New England is 8-7-1 ATS (12-4 SU) off the bye but just 2-4-1 ATS (5-2 SU) off the hiatus since 2009. 

As for the Seahawks, they thrive in a rare role as underdogs with a 10-2-1 ATS record (7-6 SU) when getting the points since 2012. Seattle hasn’t been this big a pup since getting 7.5 points from rival San Francisco in Week 7 of the 2012 season – a game in which the Seahawks lost 13-6 but just covered thanks to that half-point hook.

Runnin’ with the night

As we have tracked the past couple weeks, NFL teams that exceed the season average in rushing yards in a game are covering the spread at a pretty impressive rate.

So far this season, teams that have topped the league mean in ground gains are 61-34-3 ATS (64%), including a 7-3 ATS record last week. And they’ve gone 14-5 ATS (74% winners) the last two weeks.

Now, it’s impossible to know if a NFL team will surpass the league average in rushing yards – which is 107.5 yards per game heading into Week 10 – before they hit the field, but you can handicap the run offense versus the run defense.

I’ve done just that in my weekly pick’em pool, picking the team I think will win the rushing battle for every game on the board, and it’s led me to a 16-10 ATS count the past two weeks – 61.5 percent.

And for those of you who think this is just a short-term trend: from 2011 to 2015, teams that topped the season average in rushing yards in a game were 711-391-34 ATS in those contests, a long-term 64.5 percent ATS winner.

Biggest move…

Seattle at New England. While this isn’t actually the biggest move on the board as of Friday, it very well could be by the time this game kicks off Sunday night. According to Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology, this game opened Patriots -6.5 and immediately jump to -7.5.

“It didn’t stay around 6.5 for very long, like a couple bets, and we went to 7.5 pretty quickly,” says Simbal. “This line isn’t going to go down. It’s much more likely to go to Patriots -8 before it goes the other way.”

Sharps like…

Chicago and Atlanta. The Bears opened pick’em in Tampa Bay and wiseguys jumped on Chicago. The Falcons also opened at a pick in Philadelphia, and smart money has made their opinion very clear.

“They took Bears pick, then we moved to Chicago -1 and they took the Bears’ moneyline, so we jumped to -2,” says Simbal. “For the Falcons, we actually moved to Eagles -1 briefly right away, then took a lot of sharp action on the Falcons. We never even went back to pick, just right to Atlanta -1.”

Biggest sweat…

Seattle at New England. As mentioned above, this is all Patriots money and will continue to be all Patriots money with the tourists rolling into Sin City this weekend.

“Right now, it’s shaping up so that we are going to need the Seahawks,” says Simbal. “We already have 10 times more money bet on New England.”

Banker game…

That pesky Seattle-New England game is giving bookmakers the willies heading into the weekend and is serving as the closer for a number of parlays this Sunday.

“Unfortunately for us, the schedule has the three most public games going into each other,” says Simbal. “People are betting against the 49ers (+14 at Arizona) and money has come in on the Cowboys (opened -3 at Pittsburgh, down to -2.5), then that rolls right into the New England game. If Arizona and Dallas cover, we’re going to need Seattle in that Sunday night game for big, big, big.”

Injury to watch

Marcus Sherels, PR Minnesota Vikings

Special teams is an oft-undervalued component, especially when you have a return man as capable as Sherels and an offense struggling as badly as the Vikings.

Sherels, who is nursing an ankle injury, already has two punt return touchdowns and ranks fourth among qualified returners with an average of 13.7 yards. Without him, Minnesota has used WR Stefon Diggs as a punt returner and he’s managed just an average of eight yards per return.

The Vikings need all the help they can get when it comes to starting field position, for which they ranked second in the NFL before Sherels went down (24.51). They’ve scored a grand total of just 36 points during their three-game losing skid and take on a Washington squad that allows only 7.4 yards per punt return this season – 10th lowest in the NFL.

We know how to pick’em

The Rams make a cross-country trip to East Rutherford to play the Jets in an early 1 p.m. ET kickoff – something this team didn’t have to deal with back in St. Louis. But despite that unique challenge, L.A. has drawn early action, slimming this spread from Jets -2.5 to -1.

As we do in this spot each week, we take the game with the pick’em spread – or closest thing to it – and turn to those who make our Sunday’s cheery and bright, win or lose: the cheerleaders. Bet on which team you think has the hotter squad.

Sunday’s menu

My daughter turns three this weekend, so to quote our loyal Stonecutter brother, No. 1, “In honor of this momentous occasion… we’re having ribs!”

Easy (money) like Sunday morning

I’ve given good reasons to follow my weekly pick every Sunday, only to have those theories blow up in my face to the tune of a 2-7 record – following last week’s losing wager on the Over in Pittsburgh-Baltimore.

So, here’s what I’m going to do:

1. Suggest you follow my Covers counterparts Joe Fortenbaugh (25-15 ATS in college) and Andrew Caley (15-11-1 ATS in NFL underdogs), who are a combined 61 percent heading into this weekend. You aren’t going to get recipes for delicious Sunday meals in their columns, but you can easily afford to buy takeout if you follow them.

2. Flip a coin

Yeah, the hell with it. I’m going to pick a game at random… dah, dah, dah, dah… Bears at Bucs, there. And now, I’m going to flip a f#cking coin (an extremely filthy Canadian nickel I just found on my desk. What – or who – did this thing go through? Yuck).

Heads Bears. Tails Bucs.

Tails it is!

Pick: Tampa Bay +2.5

Song for Sunday

As you may have guessed from the use of an especially-dirty Canadian nickel in my pick above, I’m from Canada. And while the NFL season is just rolling into the second half of the schedule, our Canadian Football League kicks off its postseason this weekend.

I’ve noted this incredibly insane betting trend a few times on Twitter during the course of the CFL schedule, but it’s worth a hard mentioned here: Visiting teams finished 51-30 ATS (43-37-1 SU) in the regular season – covering almost 63 percent of the time.

That means that if you wagered $100 on every CFL road team during the regular season, given the standard -110 juice, you’d be up $1,909.09. Now, convert those Canadian dollars into U.S. funds, and you’re looking at $1,413.04 USD.

So with those veracious visitors up north in mind, here’s more Canadian content – no matter which flavor of football you’re betting this Sunday…

Follow Covers’ Senior Managing Editor Jason Logan on Twitter @CoversJLo. Check out JLo’s Covers archive for his latest features and columns.


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