With NFL betting becoming a billion-dollar industry and now being more mainstream than it ever was before, it has become essential for bookmakers and handicappers to produce enticing and interesting point spreads in order to secure betting interest and enough profits at the same time. It is important to remember that a point spread is not a prediction on a game per se, but rather a number that tries to balance the number of bets eventually made on each side.
The best example of this happened during Week 6 of the 2013 NFL season, when the Denver Broncos opened as 28-point favorites at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Even as the line adjusted itself and finished at 26.5 (just missing out on becoming the largest point spread ever), it was a reflection on how the public perception of both teams ultimately is what drives Vegas to make such decisions. The Jaguars put up a fight and covered handily, but still the game was reported as a low-betting affair, as most people were wary of laying that many points or to trust such a bad team as Jacksonville.
The final goal of Vegas and point spread is to even things out, making bad teams enticing while making profits from the public´s perception of good teams. In the end, things ten to even out over the long run, as we will examine today after researching each team´s record against the spread starting from the year 2010.
This list is based on all reported point spreads before kickoff, and covers only the regular season up to the sixth week of action from 2013.
|Green Bay Packers||10-6||9-7||15-1-0||11-5-0||11-5-0||9-7-0||3-2-0||2-3-0||39-14||31-22|
|Kansas City Chiefs||10-6||9-7||7-9-0||9-7-0||2-14-0||5-11-0||6-0-0||5-1-0||25-29||28-26|
|New England Patriots||14-2||10-5-1||13-3-0||9-7-0||12-4-0||9-7-0||5-1-0||3-3-0||44-10||31-22-1|
|New Orleans Saints||11-5||6-10||13-3-0||12-4-0||7-9-0||8-8-0||5-1-0||4-2-0||36-18||30-24|
|New York Giants||10-6||7-9||9-7-0||8-7-1||9-7-0||7-8-1||0-6-0||1-5-0||28-26||23-29-2|
|New York Jets||11-5||9-7||8-8-0||6-9-1||6-10-0||7-9-0||3-3-0||4-2-0||28-25||26-26-1|
|San Diego Chargers||9-7||8-7-1||8-8-0||6-10-0||7-9-0||7-9-0||3-3-0||4-1-1||27-27||25-27-2|
|San Francisco 49ers||6-10||7-9||13-3-0||11-4-1||11-4-1||9-7-0||4-2-0||4-2-0||34-20||31-22-1|
|St. Louis Rams||7-9||10-6||2-14-0||3-12-0||7-8-1||11-5-0||3-3-0||2-4-0||19-34-1||26-28|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||10-6||9-5-2||4-12-0||4-12-0||7-9-0||9-5-2||0-5-0||1-4-0||21-32||23-26-4|
As we can see, the effects of good point spreads helps the books at making money off dominant teams, as 9 of the 11 squads who have won at least 30 games since the start of 2010 have been significantly worse against the spread. This, of course, is not a reflection on those teams, but rather that their success sometimes plays against them at the moment the bets are placed on said squads. The New England Patriots have been the best team, by far, in terms of winning record, as they are only squad that has topped 40 victories since 2010. However, their total against the spread falls all the way to 31 covers (which is still pretty good).
The Patriots are no stranger to this situation, as even when they went on that spectacular 16-0 run in 2007, their ATS total was “only” 10-6, a clear sign that Vegas always knows how to adjust and read the public trends.
On the other hand, even the worse teams are given a chance to succeed via the point spread. The team with fewer covers in the span analyzed today have been the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, and Dallas Cowboys, with 22 apiece, even as Dallas has been the best team ATS in 2013 with a stellar 5-1 mark. Still, the absolute worst teams since 2010, those who haven´t won a total of 20 games since (Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Jaguars, and St. Louis Rams), have seen a boost at the betting window, as evidenced by their combined 123-138-8 mark against the spread, which is significantly higher than their combined straight-up record of 86-182-1. The difference in winning percentage stands at an ATS number of .471 versus a paltry .320 SU mark.
Further testament of Vegas adjustments to bad teams is better exemplified by the winless 2008 Lions, who managed to somehow end the season with a 7-9 record against the spread.
Finally, the early results of 2013 show that a lot of things are still to be adjusted. The Kansas City Chiefs are one of 2 undefeated teams, but their 5-1 ATS record shows that the betting public is still bearish on the team. On the other hand, the 6-0 Broncos have only covered three times, as Vegas quickly caught on the hype. This contrasts with a preseason favorite like the Texans, who have been favored in most of their games only to be 0-6 ATS.
In the end, it is clear that the people who set the lines and work the numbers certainly know what they are doing, making betting against the spread a daunting task for anybody. Having a good strategy and following the lines and trends is usually the best way of having a chance to profit, though remember that, as the adage holds, the house always wins.