The NFL fascinates me. I feel like I have my handicapping methods for college football locked down – but with the NFL, not so much. It’s a tough one to nail. NFL football is one of the most popular sports worldwide, absolutely the most popular in the United States, and definitely the most popular for placing bets. This makes it much tougher for bettors because you can count on the sportsbooks having only the sharpest lines each and every game, every week.
There’s a reason why it’s so rare to see the Nevada books lose over an entire month. In fact, the last time it happened was July 2013. The Nevada books were down $548,000 because Phil Mickelson (25/1) won the British Open, LeBron James and the Heat came back to beat the Spurs in Game 6 of the NBA Finals (in-game wagering cost them), and MLB bettors had themselves a month.
Where you don’t see the books losing? On the NFL. They may have a losing day, but the books tend to make bank.
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That leaves bettors looking for any little bit of an edge. Is there one to be found betting on or against the hook in the NFL?
With the help of the Odds Shark data team, I looked at the lines from the last five NFL seasons, considering 3.5- and 7.5-point spreads and pondering whether it is good to bet on the underdog with that half-point hook? I also examined the outcomes of 2.5- and 6.5-point spreads. Of the four lines, is one costing bettors more than the other? Let’s take a look.
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In the last five seasons, there have been 102 games with a spread of 3.5 points. The home team was the favorite in 64 of those games, while the visitors were favored 38 times. The results?
The home favorite covered the spread at a rate just slightly above 50 percent (34-30) while the road favorite covered dead even at 19-19. However, looking at just wins and losses, that’s where things got interesting. The home favorite won the game 67 percent of the time (43-21). The road favorite went just 20-17-1 straight up (52.6 percent).
Examining the numbers as a whole, the favorite went 53-49 ATS (51.2 percent) but won the game 61.7 percent of the time (63-38-1). That’s the overall picture.
Considering individual seasons, though, some had more distinct trends than others. For example, in 2016, the home favorite went 5-12 ATS but in 2019 went 7-2 ATS. In fact, in 2016, the home favorite was 2-11 ATS through December 18 games before going 3-1 to close out the regular season. You could have just been blind betting against the home favorite and printing money if you noticed this “trend” early on.
In the last five seasons, 43 games had a 7.5-point spread – the home team was favored 36 times and the road team seven times.
The home favorite covered just 44 percent of the time while the road favorite covered at a rate of 42.8 percent. Like the 3.5-point favorites, the teams favored by 7.5 points may not have covered but they did win at a high rate.
Collectively, the home favorites won 80 percent of the time, with a resounding 29-7 record. The away favorites, albeit in a much smaller sample size, won 57 percent of the time (4-3). Combine the two and the 7.5-point favorite won at a 76.7 percent clip.
The 2018 season is a good one to look at. The home favorite went 4-5 ATS but a perfect 9-0 SU. A similar disparity was evident in 2016. The home favorite went 7-11 ATS but 13-5 SU. There were four weeks in the 2016 campaign that featured two games with 7.5-point spreads – if you had parlayed the home favorites to just win, you would have won three of the four parlays. However, I don’t recommend parlays, much less in the NFL. When you add more variables, it’s harder to win.
The Overall Picture
Combining the data from 3.5- and 7.5-point spreads, you get a 72-73 ATS record for the favorites. Looking at SU wins and losses, though, the favorites won 66 percent of the time (96-48-1). Moneylines for 3.5-point spreads are in the range of -190, while those for 7.5-point spreads are higher in the -300 range. Betting spreads, though, are the typical -110 offer, so you can see why the books continue to win. It’s cheaper to bet a spread.
What about the 2.5- and 6.5-point lines? Would you be just as profitable fading the spread and taking a moneyline instead?
The 2.5-Point Spread
In the last five seasons, there have been 119 games with a 2.5-point spread, split nearly evenly in terms of home vs road favorites. The conclusion I can draw from these lines: Stay away!
The home favorite went 29-32 ATS and 31-30 SU. The away fave was 27-31 ATS and 25-33 SU. Collectively, the 2.5-point favorite covered just 47 percent of the time with a 56-63 record and posted an identical win/loss record. I don’t like coin-flip bets and I would say wagering on a 2.5-point spread is pretty close to a coin flip.
The 6.5-Point Spread
In the last five seasons, there have been 104 games with a 6.5-point spread, with the home team the favorite 78 times. The numbers were similar to the hook lines, with ATS records nearly evenly split at 50-54 ATS, but the win/loss records … well, those were pretty shocking.
The home favorite went 34-44 ATS in the last five seasons but won 67.9 percent of the time (53-25). The away favorite, even more eye-popping, went 16-10 ATS but won at a 92 percent clip (24-2)!
Looking at this overall, the 6.5-point favorite in the last five seasons is 50-54 ATS and 77-27 SU. Breaking down the numbers in individual seasons revealed a similar story – ATS even, wins high.
How to Use This Information
If you want to use this, start tracking the spreads weekly for every game. Choose the exact day and time you will track these lines and stick to it throughout the season. For example, I would probably avoid Sportsbook lines, which are released Monday night, and closing lines, as those are typically bet down or bet up.
Be wary, however. As with everything else, this is not a be-all and end-all but it could be a good additional tool. Also note that what works one season may not work the next. The books adapt and are always 10 steps ahead. There’s a reason they don’t lose. Just remember, if you ever think you’ve found an edge in betting, chances are the books have found it long before you.
Here are the stats for easier reading: