The 2021 NFL season is right around the corner, and we can’t wait. Preseason action is already underway, with the Steelers topping the Cowboys in the Hall of Fam Game on Thursday. With a new season on the horizon, it’s a good idea to take a look back at last season and some of the trends that developed. These stats and NFL betting trends can help inform our 2021 wagering and let us know what to look for.
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Underdogs came out on top
In the NFL more so than any other sport, every point matters on a point spread. Games are so tight that there’s often value on underdogs, and that was certainly the case in 2020. All the way from Week 1 through the Super Bowl, underdogs went an impressive 150-116-3 against the spread.
They only went 89-179-1 straight up, so there were a ton of games where a ‘dog covered but didn’t win outright. Against the spread, they cashed at a rate of 56.3 percent across a sample size of almost 270 games. Home underdogs often get a lot of the attention, but road underdogs were actually a little more profitable in 2020.
Totals were nearly even
This one is one of the most interesting NFL betting trends. Just about everyone knows that scoring was up dramatically in 2020, as offenses shattered records. As such, you might be inclined to think that overs had a great year. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, totals were practically dead even, and you would’ve lost money blindly betting either side. The over went 129-123-4, below the 52.38 percent threshold for profitability.
Clearly oddsmakers adjusted pretty quickly to the increase in scoring, and by the end may have even adjusted too much. It’ll be very interesting to see whether or not scoring regresses in 2021. There were several factors that led to the offensive boom in 2020, but one of them may have had to do with the lack of crowd noise allowing for easier communication for road offenses.
After all, road teams did finish above .500 for the first time in modern NFL history. Crowd noise is coming back, and it could have a significant impact on betting. If you think scoring might dip a bit in an NFL season less impacted by COVID-19, perhaps there will be some value on early-season unders before oddsmakers adjust.
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Big ‘dogs came through, too
Points are so valuable in the NFL because the competition is so tight, that underdogs can be cashing left and right despite never really coming close to winning a game. That fact is made abundantly clear when you look at how the biggest underdogs fared last season. Underdogs of 10 points or more went 18-13-1 against the spread, cashing at a rate of over 58 percent. But straight up? They went just 4-28.
It was exceedingly rare for a huge underdog to win outright, but they were more often than not the smart play on the spread. That’s something to keep in mind, and a good reminder that the number is everything when it comes to NFL betting. Just because a 10-3 team is playing a 4-9 squad doesn’t mean they’re going to beat them by multiple touchdowns. Double-digits is a lot in a league that emphasizes competitive balance.
Dolphins and Bills reigned supreme
To wrap up these NFL betting trends, it’s fascinating to look at which teams fared best against the spread in 2020. It’s probably pretty rare to see two teams from the same division top the list. But the Bills and Dolphins both went 11-5 against the spread, better than any other teams in the league. Both teams outperformed expectations, but oddsmakers probably won’t be caught sleeping this time around. It might pay off to watch the lines that get set on some of the teams that had great ATS seasons, and see if there’s some overcompensation.
The Ravens were the next-best at 10-5-1, with the Steelers and Packers right behind at 10-6. Dallas and Philadelphia had the worst ATS records at 5-11. It might surprise you to learn that the Chiefs were just 7-9 ATS while the Browns were only 6-10 ATS, since both teams had such successful regular seasons. They each won a lot of close games. It just goes to show that betting the ‘best’ teams every week isn’t going to be a great long-term strategy in the NFL.
Certain teams also had staggering totals splits. Washington and the Giants were both carried by their defenses, and the under went an eye-popping 23-7-2 in their 32 games. Both those teams made moves to upgrade their respective offenses this offseason, and again it’ll be interesting to see if there’s some overcompensation with their totals because of their low-scoring games last year.
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