NFL Betting: Trends Lead 'Under' For Wild Cards
by Robert Ferringo - 01/02/2009
Go against the public. It's as basic of a gambling tenet as, "don't chase" and "never bet on an Art Shell team laying points". Playoff football betting offers a litany of situations in which playing contrary to what the general perception is can be a profitable scenario. And one of the most obvious and most fundamental of those situations is to expect an "under"whelming performance in the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs.
This week I spent time researching how teams have fared against the total in the opening weekend of the NFL postseason. I definitely had an idea in mind when I went digging, and that was that I figured I would find an inordinate number of games staying 'under' the total during the Wild Card round. My reasoning was based in the fact that playoff football is a completely different beast than wagering in the regular season. The pressure, the intensity, the focus, and the fact that teams generally aren't still playing in January unless they have a badass defense and a solid running game all conspire against high scoring performances.
Sure enough, that was the case. Since the beginning of the 1999 postseason - which was arbitrarily chosen; I figured it was almost a completely different game further back than that - teams are just 13-23 against the total in the Wild Card Round. That means that blindly betting 'under' in the opening round of the playoffs would have yielded a 63.9 percent success rate. Over the last four years that figure has held pretty true, as 11 of the last 16 first round games (68.8 percent) have stayed 'under' the total.
Further, blindly betting on the 'under' would have turned you a profit in five of the past nine seasons. In three of the other four years you would have went 2-2 and paid the juice while in 2003 'under' bettors would have taken a 1-3 hit.
Again, this all makes perfect sense. Teams in the playoffs don't want to make mistakes. The statistic about teams winning the turnover battle winning over 90 percent of playoff games has been beaten into the heads of football folks the world over. Everyone plays a little tighter and defenses play a little sharper this time of year. Throw in some weather issues and a few other intangible factors and you can see why these games are lower scoring. But what really makes this situation work is the fact that the public overestimates playoff teams. They know that these clubs are the best of the best, so they inflate their abilities, particularly on offense. Books shade against that fact and voila, we have the perfect storm for 'under' madness.
So blindly betting 'under' in the first round of the postseason has shown solid profits. However, I wanted to narrow our field down a little more and I discovered some certain filters and situations that have been even more reliable.
First, the most profitable system I was able to discover was to play the 'under' in any game where two nondivisional foes are meeting for the first time that season. That situation popped up every year since 1999 and the 'under' experienced an incredible 93.3-percent success rate (14-1)! Again, these teams aren't as familiar with one another and thus they play things even tighter to the vest.
Second, take the 'over' in nondivisional games where teams were playing for the second time that year. Over the last six years that situation has hit 'over' on eight of 10 occurrences. But be very wary of that situation: going back the full nine years only yields an 8-5 'over' mark. Further, four of those eight games that went over saw the same two teams play on back-to-back weeks. That's an extremely rare situations, but one in which the 'over' is the right play.
Third, if divisional opponents meet in the opening round then the 'over' is the way to go. This situation is 4-2 for the 'over' in the last eight years and most of them were comfortably over the total. In this situation, the familiarity of the two teams definitely helps to ease some of the nerves and uncertainty. Since familiar foes are a bit more relaxed - and since coaches have plenty of film to find weaknesses - then there tends to be more offense displayed.