NFL Totals Betting Trends: Excellent System for Pro Football Betting Profits
“Time is a flat circle.”
That’s a quote from Rust Cohle, a nihilistic cop in the HBO drama “True Detective”. The line breathes life into Friedrich Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence, a concept that can be loosely defined by the idea that all existence and energy have been, are, and will continue to occur an infinite number of times across all time and space. Over and over.
Nietzsche was a big fan of perspectivism and play-action passing. And his ideas about the circular nature of life echo what we see in the naturally occurring world. We see it in the seasons. In the life cycle. In television sitcom structure. Everything runs in a circle. What was once old becomes new again. Boom and bust. And boom again. And so it goes.
The NFL and NFL betting are no exception. And the 2021-22 season saw some classic, old-school approaches to the sport make a comeback and force their way into the modern game.
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Offensively, pounding the ball in the running game came back en vogue, with seven teams attempting at least 496 rushes on the season. Defensively, more deep safety approaches – Cover-2 and Cover-3 – came back into play, with eight teams allowing six or fewer passes of 40 or more yards. These were just a couple of the various strategies that had the dust blown off them to be implemented into professional game plans.
The results were significant. The NFL saw the largest single-season scoring drop in nearly 50 years. There were 3.6 fewer points per game in 2021 compared to 2020, with an average of 46.0 points per game last year compared to 49.6 per game in 2020. The last time there was a drop of that magnitude was 4.0 fewer points per game between the 1976-1977 seasons.
Scoring didn’t just drop because teams decided to run the ball more. The transfer of power at the quarterback position, from the aging veteran stalwarts of the 2000’s to the next generation signal callers, also had a dramatic impact on offensive precision. A dearth of high-level offensive lines was another factor.
It should also be noted that while last year’s overall scoring averages were down from 2020, they were still in line with the norms of the last decade. Between 2010-2019, the NFL saw an average of 45.1 points per game. And a coherent, plausible argument could be made that last year’s drop was a natural regression after the bizarre scoring spike we witnessed during the surreal, freakish circus of the COVID-marred 2020 campaign.
But last year’s scoring reduction also occurred despite an extreme increase in two-point conversion attempts and fourth down attempts, measures that analytics apostles calculated would increase scoring.
It didn’t. And the downward scoring trend had a noteworthy impact on NFL totals betting last season.
Wagering on the ‘under’ went 146-124-2 last season during regular season games, a whopping 54.1 percent success rate for ‘under’ bettors. That was a seismic shift compared to the previous three years when betting the ‘under’ was only slightly better than a 50-50 proposition.
Over a four-week stretch from Week 10 to Week 13, the ‘under’ went on a tear, going 37-21 (63.7%). In 15 of the 18 weeks of the regular season, blindly betting the ‘under’ went at least .500, and in 12 of 18 weeks taking the ‘under’ on every game would’ve yielded a profit.
Further, only eight of 32 teams finished with a winning record (9-8 or better) against the total last year. In 2019 (skipping 2020 as a statistical anomaly), there were 14 teams that were in the black on the ‘over’. In 2015, a season with a similar average points per game (46.0 to 45.6, respectively), there were 13 teams that finished above .500 against the total.
One of the reasons that the sportsbooks were so slow to react to the depressed offensive output is that they understand public betting strategy. With the proliferation of legal, state-sanctioned betting sites, there has literally never been more bettors in this country. Most of them are well-intentioned square bettors. And oddsmakers know that common square bettors want to bet the ‘over’ in NFL games because A) they overestimate the skill of the players and B) they wager on what they want to see happen rather than that they think will happen.
This is especially true in primetime games. One sportsbook director that I spoke with off the record confirmed that last year’s totals market was a net positive for the sportsbooks because most of the action came in on the ‘over’. He also said that after a shaky start to the season (the ‘over’ went 8-1 in the Thursday night, Sunday night and Monday night games in Weeks 1-3), the ‘under’ went 26-19 in marquee games the rest of the way. That was a big-time boost to the sportsbooks’ bottom lines.
As a result, I don’t expect the numbers to come down on totals early in the season. And I don’t think that anyone can speak with any clarity about whether we can expect to see more touchdowns next year or less.
These things are cyclical. Scoring and offense go up. Then the totals get raised. That’s followed by scoring and offense going down. So the totals go down. And around and around we go.
Last year, savvy bettors were able to clean up on sloppy play and ugly offense. But what is in store for 2022? Will scoring continue to trend downward? Will we be forced to hold our noses and bet the ‘under’ again, or will the books overadjust with lower totals? Will the pendulum swing back the other way toward more scoring and higher totals?
What if I said it didn’t matter? What if I told you that I have a totals system that is spread-dependent, not totals dependent? Or if I mentioned that this system has hit at 65% over the last five years? This system takes advantage of inflated totals, rides the back of the league’s current throwback style, and is simple and focused enough to keep us from trying to blindly bet every single total every week with the hope of grinding out a nominal profit.
Here you go:
2022 NFL TOTALS BETTING SYSTEM: BET ‘UNDER’ IN ANY GAME FEATURING AN UNDERDOG OF 9.5 OR GREATER
For more than a decade, this trend has been one of the best moneymakers in NFL betting. It has hit at a 62.2% clip over the last three seasons. And over the last 11 years – 426 trials – this one has cashed at a remarkable 58.9% rate.
Check it out:
Last Year: 30-23 LY (56.6%)
Last 3 Years: 84-51 L3Y (62.2%)
Last 5 Years: 135-86 L5Y (61.0%)
Last 7 Years: 167-103 L7Y (61.8%)
Last 11 Years: 249-177 L11Y (58.9%)
The beauty of this system is its simplicity. Generally, there are only 2-3 of these situations per week. And, frankly, you don’t need to do any extra handicapping on this one. You simply scout out the biggest underdogs on the board and bet on the ‘under’. Nothing to it.
And, intuitively, this system feels right. A team that is a double-digit underdog is usually in that position because of its base ineptitude. That usually manifests itself on the offensive end through things like poor quarterback play or poor red zone execution. Also, teams that are massive favorites may not show up to kickoff with peak motivation, leading to an underwhelming effort. Or it may go the other way, and the massive favorite may just physically stomp the opposition into the ground and coast in the second half or in garbage time.
Week 7 of the 2021 season was a great encapsulation of this system. It went 3-0 that week. The Rams were 17-point favorites over the visiting Lions, with a total of 50.5. Los Angeles didn’t come to play and was actually losing 19-17 heading into the fourth quarter. They won 28-17.
Next, Arizona was a 20-point home favorite over the hapless Texans, with a total of 47.0. The Cardinals were down 2-0 at the end of the first quarter. But Houston was so horrendous that they ended up losing 31-5. Finally, Tampa Bay was a 12-point home favorite over punchless Chicago with a total of 46.5. The Bucs went ahead 21-0 in the fourth quarter and took a 35-3 halftime lead. Tampa cruised to a 38-3 victory.
OPTIONAL TOTALS FILTER: IN THE FIRST 13 WEEKS OF THE SEASON
There are some other filters that I could give you to really hone down this system and bump it up to nearly 70% winners over the last decade. Home underdogs vs. road underdogs. Divisional vs. non-divisional. Spreads higher than 13.5 or games with more than 70% of the betting action on one side. Some of those filters can really juice this system even more.
But I can’t give up all my secrets! So instead, we will stick with a basic filter that turns this from a rock solid 61-62% system to a sensational 65-68% moneymaker. Take a look:
Last Year: 23-10 (69.7%)
Last 3 Years: 63-30 (67.7%)
Last 5 Years: 93-51 (64.6%)
Last 7 Years: 114-61 (65.1%)
Last 11 Years: 164-111 (59.6%)
Again, this makes sense on a very basic level. The sportsbooks adjust. The wheel continues to spin. Early in the season, teams may be double-digit favorites in games in which they don’t deserve to be. Every season we get generous spreads laid out on teams that people think are among the best in the league, only for those teams to underwhelm as the campaign drags on.
Heading into Week 3 of last season, the Denver Broncos were 2-0 with a pair of convincing double-digit victories. They were installed as 10.5-point favorites against the Jets with a total of 42.0. They won handily, 26-0, and the game went ‘under’ comfortably. But Denver went 4-10 straight up the rest of the season and was a double-digit underdog (twice) more than they were a double-digit favorite (once) the rest of the way.
But remember: time is a flat circle. There was a time when this betting system wasn’t the blind winner that it is now. Between 2012-2014, this system went just 59-56 overall and only 33-41 in the first 13 weeks of the season. Will this be the year the system regresses? Who is to say? But when a betting system hits nearly 60% over 400 trials, you’d better believe that I am going to ride it until the wheels come off.
Carpe diem. Good luck.
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