NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Betting Trends
by Trevor Whenham - 1/14/2011
Last week we looked back at the recent history of the Wild Card round -- the last four years -- to see what trends emerged. It was very informative -- a profitable exercise. For example, we learned that home field advantage hadn’t been much of an advantage from a betting perspective,, so it didn’t need to be given a lot of credit. Road teams were 3-1 ATS last weekend. We also learned that the favorites hadn’t been any kinder to bettors than underdogs despite the fact that the public loves the favorites so much. The favorites were just 1-3 ATS last weekend.
Interesting stuff. Interesting enough that it is certainly worth looking at what the last four years have produced in the divisional rounds.
Being a favorite is not a good thing - Favorites are supposed to be favored because they are the better team. In this round, though, the favorites have not acted like it. In the last four years the betting favorites are a very ugly 5-11 ATS. That number is made to look considerably better by last year when the favorites were 3-1 ATS. That means that in the three years before that they were 2-10 ATS.
I’m obviously not suggesting that you should bet blindly against the favorites -- that wouldn’t have worked out well last year at all, and every year is different. What we have seen in the past, though, is a clear indication that you don’t want to give the favorites more credit than they deserve.
Games aren’t necessarily close - Just like last week we have seen in this round that the team that covers the NFL point spread often does so by a very wide margin. Ten of the last 16 divisional round games have seen a team cover the spread by double digits. What does that matter? Well, it should affect how you think about the lines.
We hear all the time how strong the lines are in the playoffs because books spend a lot of time setting good ones and there is a whole lot of money bet on the lines to correct any errors that might be on them. These lines are as tight as any can be. While that is probably true it’s important to remember that lines are not meant to be a predictor of what the final score will be. They are meant to be the point at which one team’s likelihood of covering the spread is the same as the others.
If a game has a small spread and you think that it isn’t going to be close at all then you aren’t necessarily wrong just because the line doesn’t agree with you.
Lean to the ‘under’ - In the last four years 10 of the 16 games have gone ‘under’ the total, including six of the last eight games. There has not been a year in the last four in which betting the ‘over ‘on every game would be profitable.
There are probably two factors that significantly contribute to that trend. First, teams are tightening up because of the caliber of their opponents -- they are either playing a strong divisional winner or a team that just won a playoff game -- and the magnitude of the games. Second, the public is getting more excited about the games and betting more as a result. Since they love the over blindly in many cases the lines could be a bit higher than they normally be in this round.
Home may be where the heart is, but it’s not where the profit is - Like being a favorite, being the home team has not been a good thing recently. Home teams in the last four years are just 5-11 ATS, and 2-10 ATS, excluding last year. It’s hard to ignore that these teams are coming off of a bye week, and in many cases weren’t playing a really meaningful game in their last week or two of regular season action.
It only makes sense that trying to get back to game speed off of a layoff like that when your opponent is fresh and confident could make it harder to cover spreads than it would normally be.
Divisional contests - Since there are two matchups featuring divisional rivals this year -- both of which should be spectacular, hard fought games -- it makes sense to look back at what has happened in games like this recently.
The sample size is small -- there were just two games featuring divisional rivals in the last four years, and both featured the Giants. In 2008-09 the Giants and the Eagles split their season series straight up and ATS. The Giants hosted the playoff game, and lost and failed to cover. The previous year the Cowboys had beaten the Giants twice during the season, but the Giants won and covered in Dallas in the playoffs on the way to their Super Bowl win.
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