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Handicapping NFL's Monday night slate

By Steve Makinen  () 

After detailing betting trends and systems to help bettors succeed with the Thursday and Sunday night games on the 2020 NFL schedule, the natural end to the series is the “Monday Night Football” games. These are some of the most wagered contests every week, as bettors try to play catch-up from the weekend’s games or hope to get a jump on the next week of wagering. With so much money being put into play on “MNF” games, it serves bettors’ interests to have all the ticket-cashing information they can at their fingertips. That always includes a look at the recent history of the games.

 

Unlike the Thursday and Sunday night games, in which home-field advantage has been prominent, road teams have proven the best option on Monday nights lately. Visitors boast a record of 46-32-3 ATS in the last 81 games, good for 59% at the betting window. Part of that includes an 8-2 ATS run (5-5 SU) in the final 10 non-neutral games in 2019 and a perfect 3-0 SU and ATS record by road favorites in games decided by 30.3 PPG in that stretch.

 

One of the foundational aspects I think most leads to road teams doing well on “MNF” lately is that they get an extra day of rest. Shorter rest on Thursdays tends to favor home teams. The Sunday night home teams fare well because they generally are high-quality teams. A lot can change between now and kickoff, but if we’re prepared with the background information we need and what types of teams or games fall into certain betting patterns, we should have enough to get a jump on the bookmakers for “MNF” games.

 

I put together a log of all the Monday night games since the start of the 2012 season. I chose 2012 because that was the first season in which Thursday night football became a season-long staple, so the entire weekend slate became formalized. The data sample contains 134 non-neutral “MNF” games. In terms of football data sample sizes, that is clearly big enough to draw conclusions. 

 

In the same format as I did for Thursday and Sunday night games, here are some of the top “Monday Night Football” betting trends and systems you’ll want to take into account as you analyze the 2020 lineup.

 

“Monday Night Football” betting systems

 

With a road ATS winning percentage of 59% since 2015, a strong base exists for zeroing in on high-profit plays. However, here are some more specific “MNF” angles you might want to consider in your wagering:

—   Home teams on Monday night are on a slide of 5-5 SU and 2-8 ATS (20%) in the 10 most recent games.

—   Since the start of the 2015 season, Unders have been the total of choice on “MNF” at 48-34-2 (58.5%).

— Home favorites of nine points or more are 10-4 SU but 0-13-1 ATS (0%) in Monday games over the last 14 matchups. All favorites of nine points or more are 17-6 SU but 4-18-1 ATS (18.2%) on “MNF” in that span.

— Also performing very poorly are “MNF” home favorites of 4.5 or fewer points, as they are on a brutal slide of 19-22 SU and 13-27-1 ATS (32.5%) since 2012.

— Home underdogs have not been great bets, either, going 2-10 SU and 3-9 ATS (25%) in their last 12 tries. Games with home underdogs (or pick-’em) have also trended decidedly Under on totals at 16-4-1 (80%) in the last 21 games.

— It seems the only line range that has produced profits with home teams on “MNF” is the -5 to -8.5 group, as those teams are 29-6 SU and 23-10-2 ATS (69.7%) since 2012.

— Late-season “MNF” home-field advantage has also mattered, as hosts in Weeks 13-16 are on a 9-5 SU and 10-4 ATS (71.4%) surge.

— The benchmark for home team scoring and success on “Monday Night Football” is 28 points. Teams that reach that mark are 37-4 SU and 28-9-2 ATS (75.7%) since 2012. Those that don’t reach 28 are 36-57 SU and 30-61-2 ATS (33%).

— The benchmark for road team success is a little lower at 24 points. Visitors scoring fewer points than that are 16-60 SU and 22-51-3 ATS (30.1%). Those scoring 24 or more are 45-13 SU and 48-9-1 ATS (84.2%).

— In “MNF” games pitting the AFC vs. NFC, home teams are 14-13 SU but 7-19-1 ATS (26.9%) in the last 27.

— In non-divisional conference matchups on “MNF,” hosts are just 9-21 ATS (30%) in the last 30.

— Home teams have enjoyed an advantage only in divisional “MNF” games of late, going 13-11 SU and 14-9-1 ATS (60.9%) in their last 24 tries. Under the total is also 13-3-1 (81.2%) in the last 17.

— Hosting has not cured offensive ills, so be wary of Monday home teams coming off games in which they scored 17 or fewer points. Those teams are on a 6-17 SU and ATS (26.1%) skid.

— Even worse, “MNF” home teams that allowed 27 points or more in their previous games have also struggled, going 10-20 SU and 6-24 ATS (20%) in their last 30 tries.

— The higher the total, the more the reason to play the road team, as they are on an incredible 11-6 SU and 15-2 ATS (88.2%) run in games with totals higher than 50.

 

Let’s look at the games scheduled for Monday night this season. I’ve included the matchups, each team’s recent “MNF” trend, current game lines as compared with my own power rating lines plus my instant reaction to the contest.

 

2020 NFL “Monday Night Football” schedule

 

Week 1 early game: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants 

“MNF” team trends: Pittsburgh nine straight “MNF” wins (6-3 ATS), N.Y. Giants 1-3 SU but 3-1 ATS last four

Line: Pittsburgh -3.5

Power rating line: Pittsburgh -2.5

Instant reaction: In the opening week doubleheader on MNF, the first game pits non-conference foes Pittsburgh & New York. Just based upon the trend that home teams in Monday night AFC vs. NFC games cover point spreads at just 26.9% lately, you would have to give the Steelers the edge. Pittsburgh has been extremely good under HC Mike Tomlin on MNF, winning nine straight games. With home dogs also struggling, there’s little evidence to back New York here.

 

Week 1 late game: Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos 

“MNF” team trends: Tennessee 4-0 Over streak, Denver 0-4 SU and ATS last four, 1-6-2 ATS last nine

Line: Denver -3

Power rating line: Tennessee -1.5

Instant reaction: The line for this game in Week 1 is somewhat unusual considering that the Titans were in the AFC title game last year and bring back most of their key pieces. The bookmakers have established the Broncos as three-point home favorites. My line shows Tennessee as 1.5-point chalk, representing the biggest difference of the “MNF” season between my power rating lines and the actuals. I am obviously a lot higher on Mike Vrabel’s team than others are. With the Broncos on a 0-4 SU and ATS slide on Monday nights, I see no other way to go here than backing the road dogs.

 

Week 2: New Orleans Saints at Las Vegas Raiders 

“MNF” team trends: New Orleans 1-3 ATS last four on road, Raiders four straight Unders

Line: New Orleans -4

Power rating line: New Orleans -4.5

Instant reaction: The Raiders open the season at Carolina, meaning this Week 2 “MNF” tilt against New Orleans will mark the first game for the franchise in Las Vegas and the first regular-season contest at brand-new Allegiant Stadium. In normal, non-pandemic conditions, that would be a major deal and would feature a raucous atmosphere. Without fans, much of that advantage for coach Jon Gruden’s team is gone. New Orleans has been a much better team on the road on “MNF” lately, but considering how poorly home underdogs have played on “MNF” and how little home field has meant on Monday nights in non-conference tilts, my early lean would be with the Saints.

 

Week 3: Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens

“MNF” team trends: Kansas City 4-1 SU and 5-0 ATS surge, Baltimore 6-2 SU and ATS last eight

Line: Baltimore -1

Power rating line: Baltimore -1.5

Instant reaction: The Week 3 “MNF” tilt is the crown jewel on ESPN’s 2020 schedule, matching the expected top two teams in the AFC. They have met in each of the last two seasons in K.C., with the Chiefs winning by three and five points. This will be the first time the Chiefs will be in Baltimore with QB Patrick Mahomes. Both franchises have been good on “MNF” lately, and the Ravens are listed as the smallest of favorites. That in itself would lend to investing in the defending Super Bowl champs, as road dogs of 4.5 or fewer are on a 22-19 SU and 27-13-1 ATS surge. Great matchup either way.

 

Week 4: Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers

“MNF” team trends: Atlanta five straight wins (0-2 ATS last two), Green Bay 0-3 ATS home skid

Line: Green Bay -4

Power rating line: Green Bay -7

Instant reaction: Green Bay has lost its last three games against the spread at home on “MNF” and is listed as just a four-point favorite. My power rating numbers indicate that the point spread should be closer to seven, meaning the Packers could fit into that small line-range window in which “MNF” home teams have been profitable. Home teams have also won six straight games in this head-to-head series. All of that combined with the fact that Green Bay heads into its bye week after this game and faces a very tough four-week stretch afterward makes this an important game for coach Matt LaFleur’s team. I’ll side with the hosts.

 

Week 5: Los Angeles Chargers at New Orleans Saints

“MNF” team trends: L.A. Chargers five straight losses (1-3-1 ATS), New Orleans 6-1 Over last seven at home scoring 33 PPG

Line: New Orleans -9.5

Power rating line: New Orleans -9

Instant reaction: This will be a tough one. I have strong contradictory trend information siding with each team. Coach Sean Payton’s Saints have been tough to beat at home on “MNF” and have been quite explosive, scoring 33 PPG in their last seven. At the same time, the Chargers have lost five straight on Monday nights. However, right now the hosts are listed as 9.5-point favorites, and I simply cannot ignore the fact that “MNF” home favorites of nine or more are 0-13-1 ATS in their last 14 tries. Hosts in non-conference “MNF” matchups have also struggled. I like the Chargers more than most of my colleagues do at this point and clearly see some value with them here.

 

Week 6: Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys 

“MNF” team trends: Arizona 5-0 Under run, Dallas 4-1 SU and ATS last five

Line: Dallas -7.5

Power rating line: Dallas -8

Instant reaction: The Cardinals and Cowboys make their only “MNF” appearances of 2020. Dallas was 4-1 SU and ATS in its last five Monday night games under Jason Garrett, but this will be the first of its kind under new coach Mike McCarthy. With the line at Dallas -7.5, the hosts sit as official firsts of 2020 in that window of success for “MNF” home teams, with a trend of 29-6 SU and 23-10-2 ATS in the line range of -5 to -8.5. The Cardinals haven’t played under the Monday night lights since 2017.

 

Week 7: Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams 

“MNF” team trends: Chicago 7-3 SU and 8-2 ATS last 10, L.A. Rams 0-3 ATS skid at home

Line: L.A. Rams -3.5

Power rating line: L.A. Rams -3

Instant reaction: Playing on Monday nights has been quite rewarding for Chicago lately, as the Bears have cashed tickets in eight of their last 10 such contests. But it won’t be easy traveling to the West Coast. Chicago was held to seven points last year in Los Angeles. My power rating line and the actual line are very similar, meaning I would probably wait to see if better advantages are available come game time. If any game stands out thus far as one to wait for the status of both teams, this would be it.

 

Week 8: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants

“MNF” team trends: Tampa Bay only one road “MNF” game last eight years (1-0), N.Y. Giants lost last two SU and ATS at home by 16.5 PPG

Line: Tampa Bay -3.5

Power rating line: Tampa Bay -4.5

Instant reaction: Tampa Bay has lofty expectations after adding QB Tom Brady. The Bucs are a popular sleeper pick for their division and even the NFC. This will be just their second road “MNF” contest in 12 years and their first against someone other than Carolina in 16 seasons. By this time in the season, fans may be getting a bit tired of the Bucs, as this will be their third of five prime-time contests in a seven-week span — new territory for the franchise, indeed. The Giants have been blown out in back-to-back home “MNF” contests and figure to be sizable home dogs. For me it’s Tampa or bust.

 

Week 9: New England Patriots at New York Jets

“MNF” team trends: New England won 33-0 at N.Y. Jets on “MNF” in 2019, Jets six straight home losses (2-4 ATS) scoring 10.3 PPG

Line: New England -4

Power rating line: New England -2

Instant reaction: This is a rematch of an ugly 33-0 “MNF” decision a year ago. Of course, things will look much different for New England minus QB Tom Brady. But Bill Belichick’s team has won its last four trips to New York, holding the Jets to fewer than 12 PPG, so the Patriots still figure to have a good shot. The Jets have lost six straight “MNF” games at home, scoring just 10.3 PPG. In their two home “MNF” contests a season ago, they were outscored 56-3. It’s tough to see the Jets putting up the 28 points it has usually taken for home teams to win on “MNF,” but I’m willing to wait until game week to see how QB Sam Darnold and the rest of the offense stacks up.

 

Week 10: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears 

“MNF” team trends: Minnesota six straight ATS road losses scoring 12.8 PPG, Chicago 4-0-1 Under run at home

Line: Chicago -1

Power rating line: Chicago -2

Instant reaction: This marks the first divisional “MNF” contest of the season, and that is important, since home teams have enjoyed rare advantages in divisional “MNF” games of late, going 13-11 SU and 14-9-1 ATS in their last 24 tries. These have been low-scoring tilts, too, with Unders on a 13-3 run. All of this benefits the Bears, who would probably prefer a defensive-oriented game. Minnesota’s recent “MNF” road trips have been ugly, with six straight losses while scoring a pitiful 12.8 PPG. Edge to Chicago.

 

Week 11: Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

“MNF” team trends: L.A. Rams two straight road Unders, Tampa Bay 2-1 ATS last three at home

Line: Tampa Bay -4.5

Power rating line: Tampa Bay -5

Instant reaction: The Buccaneers wrap up their parade of five prime-time games in seven weeks. These teams played one of the more entertaining contests of last season when the Bucs went into Los Angeles and won 55-40, the teams combining for 44 fourth-quarter points. That win came with QB Jameis Winston under center, as he threw four TD passes against just one interception. Imagine what new QB Tom Brady could do. Before that game, the Rams had won and covered five straight games in head-to-head play. I don’t have a strong opinion on this game, though with the Bucs as 4.5-point favorites and pushing higher than that on my power ratings, I would lean in that direction.

 

Week 12: Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles 

“MNF” team trends: Seattle 3-0 SU and ATS run, Philadelphia 6-1-1 Under last eight 

Line: Philadelphia -2.5

Power rating line: Philadelphia -3

Instant reaction: If there’s a Monday night game this season that provides bettors with a huge head-to-head series advantage, this is it, as coach Pete Carroll’s Seahawks have owned the Eagles of late. Seattle’s winning streak stands at six games, both SU and ATS, including a pair of 17-9 decisions in Philly last year. The last five games of the series have also gone Under the total as the “Legion of Boom” defense has held the Eagles to 11.4 PPG. Seattle has won three straight “MNF” games and is set up as an attractive underdog in this spot.

 

Week 13: Buffalo Bills at San Francisco 49ers 

“MNF” team trends: Buffalo three straight losses (0-1-2 ATS), San Francisco 8-3 ATS since 2012

Line: San Francisco -6

Power rating line: San Francisco -8

Instant reaction: An intriguing matchup of returning playoff teams from opposite conferences wraps up the Week 13 slate. The line sits at San Francisco -6, though the bookmakers seem to judge the Bills a little more highly than I do. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this line cross the touchdown-favorite threshold by kickoff. The 49ers have been a pretty good “MNF” team lately, while the Bills have lost three straight. This is also one of the longest trips a team can make, as Orchard Park, N.Y., and Santa Clara, Calif., are separated by 2,700 miles. Let’s side with the host 49ers.

 

Week 14: Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns 

“MNF” team trends: Baltimore 4-2 SU and 5-1 ATS last six on road, Cleveland lost 33-27 as five-point home favorite to Baltimore in ’15

Line: Baltimore -6

Power rating line: Baltimore -5.5

Instant reaction: This is the first of three divisional “MNF” contests to wrap up ESPN’s 2020 slate. These teams will have faced each other in Baltimore to open the regular season, and before that road teams were on a 16-5 ATS run in the series. Coach John Harbaugh’s team has had little trouble in Cleveland, going 10-2 SU and ATS in its last 12 trips. Despite the divisional stakes, this game has letdown potential for the Ravens, as they will have faced Dallas and Pittsburgh before this and take on four teams that combined to win 18 games last year starting with this contest. I’ll hold off on playing this one. 

 

Week 15: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals

“MNF” team trends: Pittsburgh 6-0 SU and 4-2 ATS last six “MNF” on road, Cincinnati 4-0-1 Under run scoring 13.2 PPG

Line: Pittsburgh -6.5

Power rating line: Pittsburgh -3

Instant reaction: I have remarked on several VSiN shows about how tough a spot it will be for the Bengals when they travel to Pittsburgh for their Nov. 15 contest. The rematch of that game will come on a Monday night five weeks later as the Steelers will look to extend a six-game road “MNF” winning streak. As I analyze the chances for rookie QB Joe Burrow and Cincinnati, I can’t help but be drawn to the fact that the Bengals haven’t put up more than 21 points against Pittsburgh since 2009, a span of 22 games. Since an earlier trend said “MNF” home teams need to score 28 points to win, I think there’s only one way to go in this game.

 

Week 16: Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots

“MNF” team trends: Buffalo 0-2 SU but 0-0-2 ATS last two on road, including 20-13 loss at New England in ’15, New England 3-0 SU and 2-0-1 ATS home since ’12

Line: New England -4.5

Power rating line: New England -4.5

Instant reaction: The final “MNF” game on the 2020 slate is one ESPN probably believes will be highly impactful in the AFC East. New England has been the Evil Empire for two decades in the division, but with QB Tom Brady having departed for Tampa Bay, many experts think the Bills are the team to challenge their rule. I don’t exactly share that opinion, as I think the Bills’ offensive shortcomings will leave them still chasing the Patriots in 2020. They haven’t scored more than 20 points in Foxboro in seven years. I’d be willing to lay the points this early, as “MNF” home-field advantage has actually mattered in divisional games and in late-season contests.

 

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