Are You Byeing This?
by Robert Ferringo - 10/23/2006
(This is an excerpt of an article that appears in the current addition of Every Edge Magazine)
One time, while playing Pac-Man in some musty, back-alley biker bar in the hills of West Virginia, I heard a man say that, "luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." The man was just reciting what he had read on the bathroom stall, but was also quoting Seneca, a Roman philosopher who was a huge fan of Stoicism and the no-huddle offense.
Seneca was Nero's tutor. That means he had some inkling as to the pathology of a Madman. However, he never experienced the type of insanity that grips the heart of a man who wagered his oldest son's college tuition on a team quarterbacked by Aaron Brooks or Drew Bledsoe. He couldn't possibly imagine the depths of shame and pain that accompanies such a sadistic play.
Seneca still makes an interesting point, though. And if we deconstruct his claim through the lens of gambling, I believe we'd discover some salient points. So, for exercise we're going to analyze the word that caught my eye when considering week seven of this National Football League: preparation.
Preparation is "the work or planning involved in making something or somebody ready." In this case, that "something" is a football team full of godless killing machines. And what they are getting "ready" for is to cast a pall of death and destruction in some major American city on The Lord's Day. This weekly pregame organization is ritualized and is at the very heart of the NFL Machine.
So wouldn't it stand to reason that if you gave a group more time to prepare they would be even more brutal and ruthless when it came time to employ their skill? And by extension, wouldn't a team that's better equipped for Domination be a more profitable venture for gamblers?
Yes. And no.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue instituted a bye into the league's schedule in 1990, extending the season to 17 weeks. Since then gamblers have been suckered into believing that betting on a team coming off an extra week of rest yields positive dividends. However, the numbers show that Back From Bye Week betting is even more detrimental to your health than bacon double cheeseburgers or the sun.
Since 1990, teams with a week of rest are 336-278 straight up. That includes the postseason and translates to a .612 winning percentage. Clearly, there is some advantage to having time off though there are other confounding factors. Yet, those same teams are just 308-299-7 (50.7 percent) against the spread.
Those are Red Cross Numbers because they are non-profit. And if we narrow down our sample size to just regular season contests since 1995 you'll notice that the numbers get worse. Disregarding pushes, teams during this span are just 171-178 ATS (48.9 percent).
The respite also seems to have an impact on totals. From 1995 to the present, teams are 163-187 against the total after a week off. That's a 46.6-percent clip.
Furthermore, in regular season games played in this millennia teams with rest are only 95-104 ATS (47.7 percent). Favorites during that span have been about as successful as Delta Airlines - barely above water at 59-56 (51.3 percent). Finally, even underdogs have been flea-invested after lying around, posting an itchy 36-48 ATS mark (42.8 percent).
So how can this be? I thought that it was intuitively correct that extra preparation time would lead to more luck in the formula: luck = preparation + opportunity. If you increase the preparation the luck increases, right? It's a mathematical certainty. So does this mean we've found a tear in the space-time continuum?
Not so much.
If Gambler's University (copyright pending) existed this would have been covered in Line Making 101. The oddsmakers know that that the general public wants to play the team coming off the bye so they shade the lines heavily against them. As a result, the numbers on those games become more watered down than Saturday Night Live.
Furthermore, people don't take into account that a week off can actually be harmful to a team. It can kill a club's momentum, like the wave or a holding penalty. Most organizations give their players three or four days off during that first week, which knocks them out of rhythm and throws off their timing.
Also, that free time outside of their cages gives these ruthless sociopaths occasion to roam free among the rest of Decent Society. That's asking for trouble. And by trouble I mean a cocaine-fueled orgy or general alcohol-infused mayhem. Just ask Daunte Culpepper or Fred Smoot. Injuries and arrests are not only possible, they're pretty probable if these players go unchecked for too long.
As for the on-field production, the results speak for themselves: only two of the last six years have seen an overall winning record for teams playing after a week of rest. In 2003 those clubs went 16-15-1 and last year they went 19-12-1. However, given that 2005 was a statistical anomaly on several levels (74 percent of NFL favorites won, 58 percent covered, and gas reached $3 per gallon) you have take that season with a grain of salt.
So far 18 teams have already gone through their bye week this year. Those clubs are 9-9 ATS upon their return. Naturally, those numbers include last week's 4-2 showing by rested units. (They just have to make me look like a damn fool!) The key issue here is whether or not the historical trends which suck the value out of these teams will continue, or if the oddsmakers are now overcorrecting to make amends for their past leanings.
Most likely, both intuitively and statistically speaking, it will likely be the former. And for those of you that aren't fluent in Ferringo that means I think you're better off going against the rested players - especially underdogs - and playing under in games featuring resuscitated teams. If you had been doing this over the past 15 years you'd be in the black but I still wouldn't consider it a flat system like "bet on home underdogs" or "never start a land war in Asia".
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.