Thursday night football and the first official NFL game that matters resulted in an impressive win by the Buffalo Bills to start the season. Many narratives and trends were shared across betting websites leading up to that game, stuff like:
- Before Thursday, Sean McVay never had a losing record as the Rams head coach,
- The Rams were 5-0 against the spread in five previous Week 1 games, and
- The reigning Super Bowl champs were 14-7-1 ATS in Week 1 since 2000
None of those trends helped bettors. McVay officially has a losing record as the Rams head coach, the Rams are no longer undefeated ATS in week 1, and the reigning Super Bowl champion failed to get an ATS cover in their first regular season game the following season. And that’s the thing about trends: if you look hard enough, you can find information out there that supports your biases. This is called confirmation bias, a term we talk about often in the sports betting industry, where one searches for affirmative information to support their established belief systems. Try to play contrarian with your own brain; it’ll help more than it’ll hurt.
On the other hand, some Week 1 trends hold merit. Let’s take a look.
Super Bowl losers are 4-18 ATS (18% cover rate) since 2000
This trend tells a brief story of human nature. Team A makes it to the big dance, with a shot at the Lombardi trophy, but they fall short. When the next season begins, evidently there’s some mental rust and other kinks to work through– that makes sense. For some squads, this would only be more motivation to come out on fire the following year. For the Bengals, that might be the case. After all, they take on the tenacious personality of their leader, Joe Burrow. We saw upticks on their offense and defense last season; it’s to be determined if it’s sustainable.
What usually happens in Week 1 – and we think it’s happening again this year – is the Super Bowl loser tends to get overrated. This Sunday Cincinnati is 6.5-point favorites at home against their divisional rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh is coming off a year where they somehow made the playoffs, only to be decidedly eliminated in the Wild Card round by Kansas City. It was also the final year of Ben Roethlisberger’s long career as the Steelers’ quarterback. This season, Mike Tomlin’s team ushers in a new era. Mitch Trubisky looks to resurrect his career as Pittsburgh’s quarterback in a blue-collar city that feels right for the North Carolina grad, and their defense is as formidable and dangerous as it’s ever been.
Mike Tomlin is also 14-6 ATS (70%) against divisional opponents on the road. Of course, most of those games were in Pittsburgh’s glory years, but something tells me the Steelers will come out swinging like they did last year in Week 1. Don’t be surprised if this is a much closer game than the sportsbooks think.
Road underdogs that did not make the playoffs the previous year are 73-46-4 ATS in Week 1 (59% cover rate) – teams that qualify: Giants, Jaguars, Browns
Now we go from the overrated to the underrated. Firstly, this trend is more legitimate than most purely because of the sample size; that’s 123 games! It’s also just sound logic. Think about it: teams that didn’t make last year’s playoffs probably don’t come with a ton of value out of the gate, even if the franchise made considerable changes in the offseason. Few franchises have gone through more change than the Giants, Jaguars, and Browns over the last year. The dog’s reduced value is even more apparent as the away team. Home-field advantage has been valued between 1.5 and 2 points the last few seasons. This weekend there’s not as much disparity, but most of that is probably because of the road dog’s opponents. In Week 1,
- The Giants are 5.5-point underdogs at Tennessee
- The Jaguars are 2.5-point underdogs at Washington
- The Browns are now “even” with Carolina. The line was +1 for most of the week.
Let’s take a look at the next data point, which is a different but just as formidable red-flag.
This is the first time since 1978 that 10 out of 16 games feature a home underdog
This is absolutely something to remember. Would you be surprised if 5 out of the 10 home underdogs covered this week? I wouldn’t. While home field advantage is a variable data point, we think it matters in Week 1 more than the other 17 games. At the start of any new season, every NFL team starts with the same record, 0-0. Every team’s perspective is that they have a chance at a title this season and a win in their first contest. Fans come in droves, excited about their teams potentiality, and players are understandably hyper-motivated to start off their year on a high note in front of their fans. Take note of how home underdogs play this weekend, and don’t forget it when we’re in the same situation next year.
Last year, home dogs went 5-2 ATS.
Since 2005, divisional underdogs are 58-36-2 ATS (62% cover rate)
The same logic applies here. Not only is this a significant sample size (96 games over the last 17 years) at a significant hit rate, but we all know that divisional games come with a different feel. These teams genuinely hate each other. In Week 1, these are the games that apply:
- Saints vs. Falcons (+5.5)
- Steelers (+6.5) vs. Bengals
- Patriots (+3.5) vs. Dolphins
- Colts vs. Texans (+7)
- Packers vs. Vikings (+1.5)
- Raiders (+3.5) vs. Chargers
Last season, divisional underdogs (the Texans +3 and Dolphins +3.5) covered and won their contests straight up. Don’t be shocked if the dogs are-a-barkin’ again!
Prepare for overreactions in Week 2: Since 2003, teams that lose straight up in Week 1 are 85-66-3 ATS in Week 2 (56% cover rate)
That statement says it all. As we approach Week 1 and we hope to win many wagers, it’ll be difficult to avoid making immediate conclusions about what we just saw. Again, play contrarian with yourself. A lot of extenuating factors go into Week 1 that are truly exceptional, and it’s best to not overreact after a one-game sample size.
Last night’s result is a great example. The Bills looked sensational, and I think there’s plenty that we can take from that and trust. The Rams? Not so much. But it would be easy to posit that the Super Bowl champs need help on their offensive line (they allowed seven sacks) or to declare how weak their wide-receiving corps looked (the Rams didn’t even reach 200 yards through the air). It’s sharper and more informed to believe that Sean McVay and a buttoned-up roster will figure it out and become an elite contender again this season. There’s plenty of verifiable data over long periods of time to support that claim.
Week 1 is bound to be wild (isn’t it always?). Sit back, take it in, and try to remember how little 60 minutes of football really tells us. It’s a long season!