The first three weeks of the 2019 NFL regular season have been a boon for contrarian bettors and underdog backers. A total of 47 games have been played and dogs have gone 27-20-1 against the spread (57.4%). A $100 bettor taking every dog thus far would be enjoying a profit of just over $500.
This early-season dog edge isn’t a fluke. Since 2003, dogs have now gone 376-318 ATS (54.7%) in Weeks 1 through 3, according to Bet Labs Sports. A $100 bettor would be up $4,265 over this time period.
Many new bettors might be thinking “Wow, I’ll just continue to hammer dogs and become a millionaire by the end of the season!” However, just as in life, all good things must come to an end. Early in the season, dogs have a distinct edge because they’re still healthy, motivated and most importantly, there isn’t much film to break down and go off of. This provides an element of surprise that levels the playing field and benefits the team getting points.
Unfortunately, as the season progresses the dog edge fades. The good teams start to hit their stride and now have a bigger sample size of film to analyze and game-plan against, which disproportionately benefits the “better” team with the superior players and coaching staffs. We see a distinct turning point when dogs stop barking and favorites start improving — Week 4.
In Weeks 1 through 3, dogs are 54.7% ATS since 2003. But from Week 4 through Week 17, they drop to 49.5% ATS. A $100 bettor would be down nearly $9,000 backing every dog over this time span.
In turn, favorites go from 45.8% ATS (-70.16 units) in Weeks 1 through 3 to 50.5% ATS (-25.76 units) in Weeks 4 through 17. Favorites are still a losing bet overall, but the cover rate jumps nearly 5% and you cut your units lost by nearly a third.
The key isn’t to play every single favorite the rest of the way, but instead isolate specific situations where betting favorites is profitable. Here are five spots to keep an eye out for.
Thursday Night Favorites: One of the best spots to back a favorite is on Thursday Night Football. The short week and one-off scenario provides a massive advantage to the better team.
Since 2003, favorites have gone 108-74 ATS (59.3%) on TNF. If they’re also at home, they improve to 61% ATS.
Favorites with High Totals: When betting favorites, you always want to lean on games with high totals. The higher the total, the more expected points scored, the easier it becomes for the favorite to cover the number. Since 2003, favorites are
51.8% ATS ( 12.64 units) when the total is 47.5 or higher. They are 49.2% ATS (-120.22 units) when the total is 47 or lower.
Road Favorites: We see a huge distinction between favorites at home versus on the road. Home favorites are grossly overvalued and have gone just 48.8% ATS (-121.10 units) since 2003. On the flip side, road favorites have covered at a 51% clip and won 0.74 units. The units won aren’t very impressive. You are pretty much break-even. But compared to home favorites it’s a vast improvement. Short to moderate road favorites (-3 to -6) are 53%
ATS ( 23.27 units). The sweet spot is non-division road favorites with high totals (47.5 or higher).
These teams have gone 56.1% ATS ( 17.76 units) since 2003. Road favorites that lost their last game going against teams that won their last game have also crushed it: 58.4% ATS, 15.47 units.
Favorites off a Bye: One of the most profitable and most consistent spots to back a favorite is coming off a bye. The extra time to rest, rejuvenate, rehab injuries and game-plan provides a massive advantage for the “better” team. Since 2003, favorites off a bye have gone 59.6% ATS winning 39.66 units. The first bye weeks start in Week 4, so from Week 5 on we should have at least one match a week through Week 12.
Bet Favorites Early: Timing is everything when it comes to placing your bet. It’s not just about picking the right side, but also getting the right number and beating the closing line. One simple adage bettors should remember is the phrase
“favorites early, dogs late.” In other words, if you’re looking to bet a favorite, it’s usually better to bet them quickly as soon as the line opens. Why? Because more often than not the public will back the favorite and push the number up (think -6.5 to -7). On the flip side, if you like a dog, it’s usually best to wait until later because you’ll likely get a better number in the form of an extra half point or two (think 6.5 to 7).
Bonus Trivia: Which team has the highest cover rate as favorites since 2003? You guessed it, the Brady and Belichick New England Patriots. The Pats have gone 120-81 ATS (59.7%) as favorites with 35.92 units won.