NFL Betting Myths: Beware Dead-Numbered Road Underdogs

The internet is full of so-called must-play betting systems, angles, trends, and the like that bettors, touts, and pick-hockers swear up and down are diehard truths. Common myths in NFL betting include such beliefs as bad teams can’t be trusted against the spread, or backing double-digit favorites is fool’s gold, or always take the points with winning teams.

Whenever we come across one of these “truths,” we take it upon ourselves to crunch the numbers and confirm or deny their validity. As you can guess, the large majority are often outed as offering no betting edge at all. We explore them further to uncover any situations where it may have fooled believers. Whether any edge discovered offers an advantage long term is debatable. Here’s two NFL angles we came across recently:

Claim: “Most of the professional gamblers I know make a killing betting road underdogs with a line between 3.5 and 6.5 points.”

Truth: Not at all, but division matchups offer a small edge

Since 1989, this play is 851-808-16 ATS (51.3 percent), ultimately a losing wager thanks to the book’s 10-percent vigorish. It’s hit as high as 61 percent in some seasons (1997, 1999, 2009), but has also slumped to as low as 35 percent in others (2013). Don’t let the dead number sway you.

Where this angle is a plus-EV bet is a matchup between division rivals. Home-field advantage is lessened in this situation due to increased familiarity and a variety of other factors. Over the last 30 years, non-division matchups see home teams win by 3.1 points per game, as opposed to 2.3 for division meetings. Road underdogs in this spot are 365-310-6 ATS (54.1 percent). It’s proven most lucrative in NFC and AFC East and West divisions.

This bet is most profitable when the road underdog lost the last meeting outright, going 217-157-6 ATS (58.0 percent) overall. It does not matter if the prior matchup was played the previous season or not. Advanced lines show this angle triggering twice in Week 2 of the 2018 NFL season: Giants (+6) at Cowboys and Panthers (+4) at Falcons.

Claim: “Teams with a better rushing attack, defense, and turnover margin are almost always a solid play (ATS)”

Truth: Only if a near pick ’em in the betting market

This belief holds a very small advantage if the game is literally a toss-up in the betting market. We queried all contests since 1989 in which a team owned a greater rushing yards per attempt average, better turnover ratio, and allowed fewer points than its opponent headed into a contest. When the line rest within 2 points (-1.5 to 1.5), the team with the advantage in all three categories went 114-90 SU and 115-87-2 ATS (56.9 percent). It covers a 0.1 average line by 1.6 points per game under these conditions.