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Underdogs and Road Teams Enjoying Unprecedented Success This Season

Patrick Mahomes reacts to a Week 6 upset loss to Texans.

Betting on the underdog in sports is not a new concept but the success rate at which the underdog is covering the spread in the NFL this season is pretty amazing. After six weeks of play, we have seen underdogs cover at an incredible 60 percent rate league-wide – that’s a record.

While the dogs may not keep barking like this all season, that 60 percent cover rate would smash the previous season-long record of 56.5 percent that was achieved in 2002.

It’s not just the underdog that’s smashing league-wide betting trends, though. Road teams are covering at a staggering 62.33 percent rate this season! The next highest rate we have on record was back in 2008, when the road team covered at a 54.4 percent clip for the season. That’s a difference of nearly 10 percentage points.

There is obviously some correlation between underdogs and road teams, with home field being worth about 2.5 points to the spread (generally speaking), but is it time to start using that perceived home-field advantage against the books? Or is it time to hop back on the home teams with a regression to the mean surely just around the corner? 

Remarkably, this is only the third-highest ATS win rate for underdogs after six weeks, with dogs achieving a 63.3 percent cover rate after six weeks in 2012 and a shocking 69.2 percent cover rate in 1999 – both regressed to the mean.

With help from the Odds Shark database, I was able to break down spread records every year dating back to 2001 to show you how league-wide trends have balanced out over the entire season.

League-wide betting Records by Season since 2001
SeasonUnderdogs (ATS)Road Teams (ATS)OVER/UNDER
201954-36-2 (60.00%)56-34-2 (62.22%)43-49
2018132-110-11 (54.5%)127-118-11 (51.8%)120-134-2
2017110-132-9 (45.5%)119-128-9 (48.5%)118-133-5
2016120-124-9 (49.2%)123-124-9 (49.8%)133-119-4
2015131-112-11 (53.9%)132-113-11 (53.9%)120-130-6
2014129-123-4 (51.2%)129-123-4 (51.1%)119-135-2
2013115-131-6 (46.7%)118-132-6 (47.2%)143-120-2
2012132-118-6 (52.8%)131-119-6 (52.4%)123-127-6
2011124-120-11 (50.8%)121-124-11 (49.4%)128-124-4
2010131-119-3 (52.4%)126-127-3 (49.8%)139-112-5
2009127-119-8 (51.6%)133-115-8 (53.6%)117-133-6
2008125-122-6 (50.6%)136-114-6 (54.4%)123-123-10
2007118-130-7 (47.6%)121-128-7 (48.6%)136-115-5
2006139-108-5 (56.3%)128-123-5 (51.0%)124-124-8
2005105-143-7 (42.3%)124-125-7 (49.8%)123-131-2
2004126-122-7 (53.2%)133-116-7 (53.4%)126-128-2
2003119-124-11 (49.0%)118-127-11 (48.2%)118-133-5
2002139-107-7 (56.5%)126-123-7 (50.6%)128-124-4
2001117-115-14 (50.4%)114-120-14 (48.7%)119-126-3

Why are Road Teams Performing so Well?

One of my theories is that officiating has become more neutral over time. Of course, there’s the pass interference replay review that was implemented this season. Both offensive and defensive PI calls are now reviewable, whether they were called on the field or not. Whether a play is upheld or reversed is another story but with technology improvements and improved television coverage, it’s a lot tougher giving leeway to the home team.

The goal for the NFL has been to become as precise as possible. As a result, this has virtually eliminated any perceived edge either team may have had as calls have veered toward objectiveness and accuracy.

What about the use of analytics? Baseball and basketball take the cake when it comes to embracing advanced metrics, but NFL teams have made changes to adapt through the use of analytical data in recent years. Enter Warren Sharp, who has personally laid out exactly what works best in regard to personnel usage for each team. Or products like Next Gen Stats, an advanced player-tracking data service, which captures real-time data for speed and acceleration for every player on every part of the field.

Which teams are taking advantage of these metrics that are available? It’s a bit of a secret, but through performance and progress, you can guess which teams – ahem, Bill Belichick and Kyle Shanahan – have installed a data team to find any edge they could use to create a winning season. But the point is that there is more information now than ever to help teams plug leaks in their offense or adapt and strengthen their defense.

How to Bet Going Forward

So the dogs and road teams are having a year so far. You could ride the trend of betting both the road and the underdog teams until the market starts to adjust, but proceed with caution. Evaluate each matchup, compare quarterbacks, coaching, etc., to decipher which is the best bet to make. One thing is certain, if things continue down this path, you can probably expect a market correction next season.