Worst NFL Teams Against the Spread
by Trevor Whenham - 9/10/2009
If you are like most typical NFL bettors then you probably don't really care how a team performs on the field. It's at the betting window (real or virtual) that really counts. Teams can have a pretty lousy season in terms of wins but be heroes against the spread. Others can be good, but not as good as people expected, and not good enough to cover spreads consistently. Where money can really be made is when a team gets better or worse and the public doesn't immediately notice it happening. That means that the lines don't move like they should, and there is value to be had. Value is in short supply in NFL betting, so you have to take it when you can get it. Here's a look at the five worst ATS teams in the NFL last season to see if any of them could be improved and provide value for astute bettors:
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Cleveland Browns - The fifth worst ATS team last year was actually pretty good in comparison to their record. They were 6-9-1 ATS but just 4-12 straight up. That means that though they were bad they weren't as bad as people expected them to be. I'm a little bit surprised by that given that they were a huge surprise team of the previous season and came into last season with more hype and more exposure than they had had in a long time. I would have thought that the public would overbet them, but they were actually profitable through their first 12 games.
It's hard to know for sure how they will be treated this year, but I don't expect them to be popular among bettors. The whole strangeness around choosing a starting quarterback hasn't built confidence. New coach Eric Mangini has overhauled the team, but he has done so without a clear plan. The team should face some big spreads this year. I just don't know if they are good enough to cover them.
Minnesota Vikings - The Vikings were 6-10 ATS last year despite being 10-6 straight up. They came into the season with huge expectations - as a legitimate Super Bowl contender - and they never lived up to those expectations. They got off to a terrible start, but then were able to turn things around later on and actually started covering some spreads. This year, well, you know the story. Brett Favre brings with him more media attention than any player in the league. He's talking Super Bowl, and people will be believing it. That means high expectations. Call me a pessimist, but I'm not convinced that a team led by a 39 year old QB who doesn't play well with others and is physically questionable can live up to those expectations.
St. Louis Rams - Despite winning just two games last year the Rams were 6-10 ATS. That means that they weren't nearly as bad as people thought they were. This year they have done little to change their fate - their lineup isn't dramatically better, their quarterback enters the season with injury questions, and there isn't a lot of reason to be optimistic. New coach Steve Spagnuolo has brought a better feeling to the club, but it's hard to see that that will translate to wins - people still see this team as clearly the worst in their division and perhaps the worst in NFC. That means that expectations will be low, and there is again a chance that they will cover more than they did last year. They very likely won't be profitable, though, and they are a good bet to land on this list again next year.
Denver Broncos - Last year the Broncos had a proven coach, a Pro Bowl quarterback, and a happy star wide receiver and they were the second worst team in the league ATS at 4-11-1. This year they have none of those things, so it's hard to be optimistic. As strange as it sounds, though, I think that the departure of Jay Cutler is actually a good thing for this team - ATS, that is. The story has been covered to death, and people are clearly of the opinion that the team severely downgraded by losing Cutler for Orton. If Orton can be even somewhat competent than he'll be better than people think he will be, and that could mean value - even early on. From a practical perspective it wouldn't hurt, either, if the team did sign Brandon Marshall to a new deal. From a moral perspective that would be disgusting, but it certainly wouldn't hurt to have one of the best receivers in the league playing at full intensity.
Jacksonville Jaguars - It's not hard to see what happened to the Jaguars. They entered the season with very high expectations - I am embarrassed to admit that they were my Super Bowl pick - and through a combination of injuries and underperformance they didn't come anywhere close to those expectations. That's how a team goes 4-12 ATS. My sense now, though, is that people have totally written off this team. That means that they have the chance to be better than expectations and cover more than their share of spreads. I think they'll improve by more than enough to get off this list this year and instead some other team with high hopes will disappoint and wind up here. If I had to choose I'd pick Chicago.
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