NFL Handicapping: Bye Weeks
by Trevor Whenham - 10/20/2009
A funny thing happened in Week 5 of the 2009 NFL season - teams coming off of their bye weeks had a field day. All four teams coming back to work after a brief vacation won, and three of them covered the spread. The less far-sighted among us might embrace that as a trend and start to bet team coming off a bye with reckless abandon.
Carolina beat the Redskins, but couldn't quite cover, winning by a field goal when the spread was five. Arizona beat Houston by a touchdown when they only needed to win by 5.5. The Eagles and the Falcons particularly benefited from the rest - they absolutely annihilated the Bucs and Niners respectively. If only handicapping the NFL were always that easy. Week six wasn't as convincing - bye teams were 2-2 ATS thanks to flat performances by the Bears and the Chargers, but teams coming off bye weeks are still a solid 5-3 ATS this season. Since we are stuck with bye weeks for most of the next two months, now would be a good time to look at some trends and themes around bye weeks and betting in the last few years:
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2008 - Actually, blindly betting teams coming off a bye last year would have been a pretty good idea as it turns out. Teams coming off a bye were 20-12 ATS last season. Four games were played between two bye teams, so if you take those out then bye teams playing non-bye teams were an impressive 16-8 ATS. It's not hard to make money betting when you are right two-thirds of the time. It also was a reasonably stable way to grow your bankroll - there were several break-even weekends (excluding the juice), but none that were flat-out losers. That seems pretty promising. But can it continue for another year?
2007 - Maybe handicapping the NFL is that easy after all. Teams coming off of a bye week were 19-12-1 ATS. That's a 61.3 percent winning clip - more than enough to make a healthy profit. There was one losing week this year - 2-4 ATS in week nine - but the season also ended off with a perfect 4-0 ATS week in week 11. Impressive, but it seems too good to last, doesn't it? We'd better check out one more year just to be sure.
2006 - Okay, this is becoming more and more convincing the more we look at it. In 2006, teams went 19-12-1 ATS in their first game after a bye week. Two games that season involved two teams coming off the bye, so excluding those the ATS record was an impressive 17-10-1 - a juicy 63 percent winning rate. That means that for each of the last three years you could have made a very healthy profit just by blindly betting on these teams.
So, does that mean that we should blindly bet a fortune on the teams coming off of bye weeks this week and then bathe in the mountains of cash we make? Of course not. Besides, cash is dirty, so it wouldn't be much of a bath.
I certainly wouldn't recommend this as a blind betting system despite how well it has worked in the past. I don't think that a system exists that should be bet blindly. This situation does have its uses, though. You can use the bye weeks to help you pick out teams that are worth more of a look - you may want to look more closely at teams coming off a bye then you would otherwise look at them.
You may also use this as a sort of a tiebreaker - to help you decide which team to favor when a decision is otherwise close. This by itself isn't an answer to all of your NFL handicapping prayers, but it can be a valuable tool to help lead you to success.
Coming off a bye week won't suddenly make a bad team good - the Rams aren't likely to beat the Saints in Week 10 no matter how much rest they get - but it can clearly make a decent team a little bit better, and it seems in recent years to have more of an impact on the outcome of games than the public is giving it credit for. The public doesn't underrestimate the impact of well-publicized things very often, so this is interesting if only for that.
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