There is little doubt that the NFL is where the sportsbooks see the most action and also make the most loot. The NFL possesses betting friendly attributes that are unlike any of the other major sports. First off, there are relatively few teams to keep track of in comparison to college football or college basketball. And second, these teams play only once a week which makes staying on top of the results much easier than it is in the daily leagues such as the NBA, NHL, and MLB.
These dynamics, along with the sheer excitement of watching and wagering on football, brings more square action to the table than any of the other sports. Almost every Tom, Dick and Harry in America is an NFL expert in their own mind and that is precisely what the oddsmakers prey upon.
Understanding who bets the games is just as important as understanding which teams are playing the games. The market at times will dictate price, which in the betting world means the oddsmakers cater to the public rather than reality.
Knowing the market inside and out is the basis of our NFL handicapping model. That is, our approach to NFL handicapping is of the contrarian or value seeking variety. We will at times place a higher premium on public sentiment than on the fundamentals. This strategy dictates playing dogs and/or lesser competent teams, or teams the public wants nothing to do with. Or better yet, fading the teams the oddsmakers want you to bet on.
Along these same lines, we carry a similar notion that the first week of the NFL season presents one of the ripest opportunities for the astute gambler. This conflicts with conventional wisdom and/or handicapping lore, as most would say it is better to watch a few games and assess each team before jumping in with both feet. That’s all fine and dandy, but there are some interesting trends to exploit in Week 1 and we’d be remiss to ignore them. Let us quickly explain.
Gone are the days of dynasties, where the same core players stay intact and dominate the league year after year. Free agency and player movements can completely transform teams from one season to the next. In today’s parity-driven NFL, poor teams typically don’t stay poor for all that long and excellent teams must constantly reinvent themselves to stay on top.
The temptation might be to assume prior year results are the best indicator of who is going to cover in Week 1. To Joe Public, playoff teams from the prior season, home teams, favorites, and so one, look even more enticing than usual since there is no current season performance to judge them against. But the question begs: are the oddsmakers setting a trap?
To find the answer, we culled five years worth of Week 1 NFL data. As always, all of our analysis is done from an ATS perspective. The purpose here is to share the most important angles we unearthed and try to explain the logic behind them. So strap on your helmet, throw on your shoulder pads, and follow our lead as we expose some rare holes in the oddsmakers’ line of defense.
Home vs. Away Teams
Over the past five seasons, NFL home teams in Week 1 are just 31-42-7 ATS (42 percent). This of course implies that roadies are a 58 percent winning proposition during this time. The public at large has a tendency to overvalue home teams and this is especially true in Week 1 when there is no current season data to make predictions from. Consequently, the oddsmakers almost surely shade the home teams, by and large making road teams the choice for the value player.
Conclusion: Look long and hard at road teams first when handicapping the opening week.
Favorites are just 31-42-7 ATS (42 percent) in the opening week over the past five NFL seasons (Coincidentally, home teams hold the same ATS record as noted above). This means that underdogs bark at a 58 percent clip. Mid-range favorites performed the worst among our specified price ranges. In particular, favorites priced