BETTING ON BAD TEAMS CAN BE TANKLESS

During the next two months, NFL bettors must figure out how to handle games involving very bad teams that benefit from losing rather than winning.

Franchises with the worst records get the highest draft picks the next spring, which they can use to select potential superstar college talent or trade to other teams to stockpile contributors. So being the No. 32 competitor in a 32-team league is much better than being No. 26 or No. 22 in terms of building for the future.

Four teams are “battling” to be the worst — Cincinnati (0-7), Miami (0-6), Washington (1-6) and Atlanta (1-6). Washington’s win came at Miami, so the quartet is 1-24 when not playing each other.

Markets have been slow to “catch down.” In the last six weeks, that group is 5-16 against the spread, excluding the Washington-Miami matchup.

Washington is in action Thursday night, visiting the Minnesota Vikings (FOX/NFL Network, 8:20 p.m. ET). The likely closing point spread around Minnesota -15.5 or -16 hints at what will cause recurring headaches for handicappers. Lay a very high number, or back a terrible team?

Washington is bad. But it doesn’t need to lose by three touchdowns to stay in the backward race. Similar story this weekend for two others at slightly lower numbers. Miami is 14.5 at Pittsburgh. Cincinnati is 13 in Los Angeles against the Rams. Only Atlanta continues to get (inexplicable) market respect as a short home underdog to Seattle.

Will the dregs be blowout fodder the rest of the season? Or will they show enough initiative to at least sneak below the number in garbage time? Let’s look at recent form for hints.

Washington, when not playing Miami, has scored 0, 7 and 3 points the last month. Its last five losses overall have been by 9, 26, 21, 16 and 10 points. The nine was in a virtual mud-wrestling match with San Francisco on Sunday, meaning it might have been a bigger loss in normal conditions. No evidence yet that Washington can be trusted. Maybe that changes Thursday.

Miami has definitely picked up its intensity since veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Josh Rosen. Veterans want to get their numbers! Miami rallied to cover in a

17-16 loss to Washington, then hung very tough at Buffalo last week. Miami should be considered for value bets as long as Fitzpatrick is healthy and the spreads are high.

Cincinnati has been outgained 460-291,

497-250, 514-370, 326-175, 416-306 and 572-316 since its stunningly close season-opening loss at Seattle. Wait until the defense competes before investing. Veteran QB Andy Dalton could provide back-door value at high spreads.

Atlanta opponents are averaging 35 points per game the last five weeks, all non-covers. Same warning about the defense. Not smart to back Atlanta until its point spreads reflect the new reality. Down the road, either Matt Ryan or Matt Schaub could provide value at higher spreads.

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