Best Bets NFL

The NFL’s Best Big Money Betting Spots

The NFL is regarded as one of the most difficult sports leagues in the world to handicap and with good reason. Each week, there are numerous examples of bets that look like absolute locks, but for whatever reason, they fall flat and suck money out of bettors’ bankrolls in the process.

Early in my career covering the sports betting landscape, it became incredibly clear that there’s no such thing as a lock — especially when it comes to the NFL. If you dig deep enough, however, there are a handful of spots in the NFL that have been extremely reliable over the years.

Thankfully, I have access to decades worth of data and uncovered some extremely profitable betting situations that can hopefully give us a bit of a head start in the 2020 NFL season.

Will some of them fall flat? Yes. Will some be sustained? Absolutely. Will the betting nerds of the internet say this article is worthless because trends offer no predictive value? Now that right there is a lock!

Whether you buy into trends or not, these are spots that continue to pay out, so let’s dive in and explore if there’s logic to back these up:

The Bet: The Super Bowl Loser in Week 1

The record: 4-16 ATS (20%) since 2000

Call it a Super Bowl hangover if you’d like, but this awful record for Super Bowl losers in Week 1 of the following season is likely the result of them simply being overvalued based on their previous year’s result. There’s a lot of turnover in the NFL from season to season and many early-season spreads are taking last year’s data into account.

This is typically a premier matchup for the Sportsbook week of the season with the Super Bowl loser paired up with a decent opponent, and in these 20 games, the Super Bowl loser was only an underdog four times.

So, yeah, you get the point, the Super Bowl runner-up is often overrated early in the season based on their reputation from the year before.

When to bet it: In Week 1 of this season … or to be more specific, you can fade the 49ers as a touchdown favorite at home vs the Cardinals.

The Bet: Double-Digit Underdogs in Week 1

The record: 16-7 ATS (69.6%) over the last 25 seasons

This is a bit similar to the Super Bowl loser trend above where it appears big favorites are being overvalued based on what we saw in the previous season and narratives that were created during the offseason.

Being a favorite of 10 or more doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for error and there’s a lot of unknowns entering the first week of any season. Coaching changes might have dramatically improved or worsened a team, some squads might be rustier than others, some rookies or lesser-known players might make an immediate impact, etc. And that right there is the tricky part of betting in Week 1 of a season.

We always see a handful of teams take a big step forward, while others regress. As a result, many bettors get burned based on going all-in on handicapping using data from the previous season. Each week of the season will present betting options that look like sure things, but this 25-year trend proves that those sure things should probably be avoided in Week 1.

Expanding this a bit more, underdogs of 8 points or more are 38-15 ATS (71.7%) in Week 1 over the past 25 seasons, including 14-4 ATS in the last 10 seasons.

When to bet it: The Kansas City Chiefs opened as a 10-point favorite in the season opener vs the Texans. How convenient. I think I’ll plug my nose and place a bet on Houston.

The Bet: Saints in Week 1 and 2

The record: 2-15 ATS (11.7%) in the last 17

Some teams are slow starters and need a few weeks to get going and the Saints are at the top of the list of early-season underperformers.

In 2019, they won a Monday night slugfest vs Houston 30-28 in Week 1, failing to cover the 6.5-point spread, then got destroyed 27-9 vs the Rams in Week 2. They then went on to cover the spread in seven of their next eight games.

In 2018, we saw them choke in Week 1 and lose to the Bucs as a 10-point favorite at home. The following week, in another home game, they barely snuck by the Hue Jackson- and Tyrod Taylor-led Browns, winning by three as a 9.5-point favorite. They then went on to cover the spread in nine straight games after the rough start.

In 2017, we saw them fail to cover in the first two weeks, then go on to cover the spread in six of their next seven games. In 2016, they split the first two, then covered five of their next six. In 2015, they didn’t cover in their first two games, then covered in four of their next five.

The bottom line is that Sean Payton has done a poor job getting off to a good start and Drew Brees also hasn’t been sharp early in the season, proven by his career September QB rating of 94.7, which is his lowest of any month.

When to bet it: The Saints will host the new-look Buccaneers in Week 1, then travel to Las Vegas for Monday Night Football to take on the Raiders in the first-ever game at Allegiant Stadium.

The Bet: The Seahawks in Night Games

The record: 26-9-3 ATS (74.2%) since 2007

Almost the entirety of this amazing run in prime time has been on Pete Carroll’s watch while Russell Wilson has been under center for a large chunk of these games. We can’t properly measure motivation, but it’s entirely possible that these are the types of games that the longtime head coach/QB combo “get up” for. The fact that the Seahawks have been one of the most consistent teams during this decade also helps.

As for Wilson “getting up” for playing under the bright lights in prime time, consider that his career QB rating at night is 5.9 points higher than in his typical late-afternoon starts. He also has a better completion percentage, a better touchdown-to-interception ratio and, most importantly, a better win percentage (78% vs 63%) at night vs the late afternoon.

Here’s a breakdown of Seattle in night games in a few specific situations:

- Night games at home: 16-5-2 ATS since November 2007

- Night games as an underdog: 12-4 ATS since December 2006

- Night games in December: 11-2 ATS since December 2011

- Night games vs teams with winning records: 13-6 ATS since December 2006

When to bet it: Week 2 hosting the Patriots, Week 5 hosting the Vikings, Week 11 hosting the Cardinals and Week 12 at the Eagles.

The Bet: Patriots in Buffalo

The record: 19-8-3 ATS (70.3%) since 1991

What an embarrassment for Bills Mafia. Some might argue that this trend doesn’t matter because it extends to well before the Brady-Belichick era, but it’s actually a better number if you shrink it down to start in 2000 when Belichick became the Patriots’ head coach, as they’ve gone 14-5-1 (73.6%) ATS in this span. And, yes, I realize the 2020 Patriots are a much different-looking team, so settle down. 

So, what gives? Is this simply due to the Patriots’ historic domination of the league and the Bills’ constant turnover at head coach and QB making them one of the league’s most elite dumpster fires? Mostly, yes.

Specific to the Belichick era, the Patriots have a ridiculous 12 double-digit victories in Buffalo, but they’ve only been a double-digit favorite in three of the 20 games. They’ve been routinely undervalued and their league-best 61 percent ATS covering percentage over the last 10 years is proof of that. But, here’s the thing, they have a winning ATS record across dozens of different spots, which is nuts considering they’re the most elite dynasty in football history.

When to bet it: Sunday, October 1 (Week 8).

The Bet: Home Teams on Thursday Nights

The record: 91-68-7 (57.2%) over the last 15 seasons

This was an especially big moneymaker during the 2018 season when the home team went 10-3-2 ATS on Thursday nights. I think it’s incredibly obvious why the home team has such an advantage on Thursday nights, as the road team is traveling on a short week, putting them in an uncomfortable position with less time to prepare while recovering from the previous week in a hotel. Let’s also keep in mind that the inconvenience of being on the road could be magnified in 2020 due to all the COVID-19 protocols.

While 57.2 percent might not constitute a “big money bet” to some, ask anyone who knows anything about betting and they’ll tell you this win percentage in a sample size of 166 games is pretty damn good. When in doubt on Thursday nights, take the home team.

When to bet it: I shouldn’t have to tell you this.

The Bet: Cowboys UNDERs on the Road

The record: 27-13 (67.5%) to the UNDER since September 20, 2015

At first look, this seems more coincidental than anything, but Dallas has performed much differently offensively on the road the past five seasons. In four of the five years, there’s a pretty big disparity in their home/away scoring averages:

- 2019: 10 fewer points averaged in road games

- 2018: 7 fewer points averaged in road games

- 2016: 5.8 fewer points averaged in road games

- 2015: 3.9 fewer points averaged in road games

We also have a similar pattern on defense with the team performing much better on that side of the ball outside of Dallas in three of the last five seasons:

- 2017: 6.0 fewer points allowed on the road

- 2016: 2.8 fewer points allowed on the road

- 2015: 10.0 fewer points allowed on the road

Going back to when this trend begins on September 20, 2015, we’ve seen Cowboys home games have an average combined score of 47.28, while the average combined score in their road games drops significantly to 39.58.

Is the transition from the turf at Jerry’s World to other playing surfaces the difference-maker here? It seems to be an obvious reason, but maybe their offensive preparation for road games isn’t on par with their prep for home games.

Either way, keep an eye on their road totals during the season and even take a hard look at their team total. Every matchup is different, and we have no clue if this pattern will continue under Mike McCarthy, but if their O/U number for road games is on par with their averages in home games, I’d strongly lean toward this trend continuing.

When to bet it: When the Cowboys play games that aren’t home games.

The Bet: Chiefs in Divisional Road Games

The record: 17-3 ATS (85%) since December 2013

It’s no coincidence that this record coincides with the first season of Andy Reid’s tenure as head coach of the Chiefs. He has a reputation as an incredible game planner and good coaches tend to know teams within their division quite well.

The interesting thing about these games is that the three ATS losses all came vs the Raiders, while KC is a perfect 13-0 ATS in its last 13 games as a visitor vs Denver and San Diego/Los Angeles.

One concern this season is that the defending Super Bowl champs and Super Bowl 55 favorites could face higher-than-normal spreads, at least early in the season.

When to bet it: Week 2 at the Chargers, Week 7 at the Broncos, Week 11 at the Raiders.

The Bet: Favorites on Thanksgiving

The record: 31-13 ATS (70.4% since 2005)

Short on time or recovering from a Black Friday fist fight at Walmart and no time to handicap the NFL Thanksgiving games? Just take the favorites then and you’re likely to walk away with a profit as favorites are on an absolute tear on Thanksgiving at 31-13 ATS since 2005. And this trend isn’t just restricted to the 2000s. Favorites covering on Thanksgiving is a long-standing tradition as they’ve gone 54-31 ATS (63.5%) since 1984.

You’d think home teams would have a significant edge here, as laid out in the TNF trend above, but home teams were favored in just over half of the games since 2005 and only went 18-24 ATS.

Also, these games are synonymous with ass kickings, similar to the ones we see at Walmart on Black Friday, as 33 of 54 games since 2000 were decided by double digits.

When to bet it: This season’s Thanksgiving games feature the Texans in Detroit, the Cowboys hosting Washington and the Ravens visiting Pittsburgh.

The Bet: Steelers as a double-digit favorite

The Record: 9-24 ATS (27.2%) since December 2001

Pittsburgh has been playing down to weaker competition for almost two decades and has been especially bad in this spot recently, going 0-6 ATS as a favorite of 10 or more points since the start of the 2017 season. Most notably, they’ve been atrocious as a double-digit road favorite in this span, going 1-10 ATS.

Mike Tomlin took over as Steelers head coach in 2007 so most of this inefficiency as a big favorite is on his watch. They’ve still been an outright Sportsbook in most of these games, going 23-5 under Tomlin, but they clearly underestimate weaker opponents, making them a fantastic fade as a big favorite.

The Steelers won’t have as many opportunities as a double-digit favorite this season, especially now that the Browns are more competitive — Pittsburgh has been a double-digit favorite eight times vs Cleveland in Tomlin’s tenure as head coach — but they could find themselves as a big favorite in back-to-back weeks, hosting the Bengals in Week 10 followed by a visit to Jacksonville in Week 11.

Other Big Money Betting Spots

Here’s another chunk of reliable betting spots over the years:

- Patriots: 39-19 ATS at home over their last 58 games

- Patriots: 18-7-1 ATS after a loss since October 13, 2013

- Patriots: 16-1 ATS in their last 17 1st Quarters at home

- Bears: 5-16 ATS in their last 21 1st Quarters on the road

- Bears: UNDER in 16 of their last 20 1st Quarters

- Cowboys: UNDER in 17 of their last 19 1st Quarters on the road

- Raiders: 6-24 SU in last 30 games with 1 p.m. ET start time

- Colts: 1-10-1 ATS in their last 12 Week 1 games

- Browns: 2-20 SU in their last 22 in Pittsburgh

- Lions vs Vikings: UNDER in 17 of last 23 matchups

- Seahawks: 14-4 ATS in their last 18 vs 49ers

- Texans: 8-23-1 ATS in night games since 2009

- Washington: 6-17 ATS in night games since 2013

- Broncos: 75-22-2 SU at home in September since 1970

- Titans: 9-25-1 ATS in their last 35 divisional road games

For more info like this each week during the NFL season, follow me on Twitter. Good luck this season, and as always, KEEP CHASING THAT PAPER!

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