Handicapping revenge in college football, NFL

By Steve Makinen  () 

In these days of saturated data and analytics, sports bettors are always looking for that extra edge to find a winner. The same can be said for the players, who often require that extra fuel to enhance their performance. In many cases, that extra motivation can come from revenge, as the chance to avenge a defeat or slight is profound for an athlete.

Bettors realize that just because a team lost in the previous game, it doesn’t make that team a surefire wager. Some teams are better than others at exacting revenge, and some types of games present more effective revenge opportunities than others. How does this apply to college and pro football?

To get a better handle on what is important in terms of revenge and the motivation it provides, I organized a database of all FBS and NFL games dating to the start of the 2015 season. I pulled out all games in which a team was facing an opponent to which it lost outright in the previous contest. I then grouped all the games by type of contest, line ranges, magnitude of defeat, home-road dichotomy and other factors. Here is a look at teams trending in different directions in revenge spots.

As you consider the various trends, analyze the merits of each team’s coaching situation and the quality of the program in recent years. In general, it could be assumed that the best coaches and teams make the adjustments necessary to overturn losses.

This database included all games from 2015 through last weekend

Best recent college football revenge team trends

Arkansas: Seven straight ATS revenge wins

Baylor: 8-2 ATS last 10 revenge surge

Boston College: On 16-4 ATS revenge run since 2017

Buffalo: 16-5 ATS in revenge spots since ’16

Central Michigan: 11-4-1 ATS revenge surge

California: 9-2 ATS in last 11 double-revenge spots

Charlotte: 14-3 ATS run in payback mode

Coastal Carolina: 2020 revenge tour at 4-0 SU and ATS, now 8-1 ATS last nine

Georgia Southern: 9-2 ATS payback run

LSU: On 10-3 SU and 9-2-2 ATS surge in revenge games

Middle Tennessee State: 8-1 ATS in last nine revenge contests

Navy: 9-2 ATS in last 11 revenge tries

Worst recent college football revenge team trends

Akron: 0-8 SU and 1-7 ATS slide in revenge

Arizona: 2-12 SU and 2-11-1 ATS in last 14 revenge tries

Colorado State: 12 straight revenge losses (3-9 ATS)

Georgia Tech: ATS win Saturday vs. Notre Dame halted 1-9-2 ATS revenge slide

Kansas: Ten straight outright revenge losses (1-7-2 ATS)

Marshall: Just one ATS win in last 12 revenge spots

Michigan State: 3-9 SU and 2-10 ATS last 12 revenge after Michigan win Saturday

New Mexico State: Nine straight failed revenge attempts (1-8 ATS)

North Texas: Eight straight ATS revenge losses

Texas Tech: 1-12 SU and 4-9 ATS in last 13 revenge tries

UTEP: 15 straight outright revenge losses (4-11 ATS)

Vanderbilt: 1-9 SU and 2-8 ATS in last 10 payback contests

Best recent pro football revenge team trends

Baltimore: 13-3 SU and 8-6-2 ATS last 16 revenge spots

Buffalo: 10-6 SU and 11-5 ATS in 16 revenge games since mid-’18

Kansas City: Seven straight outright and ATS wins in payback mode

New Orleans: 23-13-1 ATS revenge record since ’15

Pittsburgh: On 9-4 SU and 8-4-1 ATS surge with revenge motivation after Sunday win at Baltimore

Tampa Bay: 7-3-1 ATS in last 11 revenge tries

Worst recent pro football revenge team trends

Carolina: 3-13 SU and 5-10-1 ATS slide in revenge mode

Dallas: Lengthy 9-16 ATS revenge skid

Detroit: Win over Atlanta snapped 11-game revenge SU losing streak (4-7 ATS)

Houston: Six-game SU and ATS revenge losing streak, 1-9 ATS last 10

Jacksonville: Has gone 5-17 SU and 7-15 ATS in last 22 payback tries

L.A. Chargers: Eight straight outright (2-5-1 ATS) revenge attempt losses after Sunday defeat at Denver

N.Y. Giants: On skid of 17 straight outright revenge losses! (but won last four ATS)

N.Y. Jets: On current 6-14-1 ATS revenge slide

Philadelphia: 2-12-1 SU and 4-11 ATS in last 15 revenge contests

Uncovering revenge betting systems

In quickly going through the team logs, revenge seemed to be a better motivator for against-the-spread success in college football than it did in the pros. When I tabulated the combined records of all teams in both levels, here is what I came up with, proving my instincts were accurate:

College football teams in revenge spots since 2015: 1,362-2,174 SU and 1,735-1,727-74 ATS (50.1%)

Pro football teams in revenge spots since 2015: 649-793-6 SU and 663-734-51 ATS (47.5%)

At this point, we have a winning strategy for NFL wagering: Simply fade teams playing in revenge spots, but nothing more than a flip-a-coin probability in college. But let’s dig down to find more definitive betting nuggets.

By location

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing at home: 797-942 SU and 834-874 ATS (48.8%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing at neutral fields: 63-114 SU and 81-93 ATS (46.6%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing on the road: 502-1,118 SU and 820-760 ATS (51.9%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing at home: 379-363 SU and 328-390 ATS (45.7%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing at neutral fields: 10-14 SU and 12-13 ATS (48%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing on the road: 260-416 SU and 323-331 ATS (49.4%)

You can see from these records that the best location to play on a team seeking revenge, ironically, is when it is on the road. The best situation to fade revenge teams is when they are playing at home.

By line range

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing as favorites of 20 points or more: 78-3 SU and 42-38 ATS (52.5%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing as favorites of -10 to -19.5: 246-47 SU and 152-132 ATS (53.5%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing as single-digit favorites: 513-298 SU and 385-411 ATS (48.4%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing as single-digit underdogs: 421-704 SU and 562-530 ATS (51.5%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing as underdogs of + 10 to + 19.5: 125-656 SU and 361-407 ATS (47%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing as underdogs of 20 points or more: 26-482 SU and 263-240 ATS (52.3%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing as favorites of more than a touchdown (>=-7.5): 73-18 SU and 39-51 ATS (43.3%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing as favorites of -1 to -7: 306-208 SU and 223-268 ATS (45.4%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing as underdogs of + 0 to + 7: 227-414 SU and 308-313 ATS (49.6%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing as underdogs of more than a touchdown (>=+ 7.5): 32-144 SU and 82-93 ATS (46.9%)

The line-range data is somewhat helpful in refining systems for picking out revenge teams to wager on and fade. In college, we can see that bigger favorites are better revenge teams than smaller favorites and underdogs. In the pros, it’s crazy to lay points with teams seeking revenge. We’ll explore this further in combination systems.

In postseason games

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing in bowl games: 44-63 SU and 53-54 ATS (49.5%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing in playoff games: 16-39 SU and 19-35 ATS (35.2%)

Clearly, avenging a loss in the NFL playoffs is not a great situation for teams. Fading them has been a highly profitable strategy.

By type of game

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing in conference games: 1,082-1,667 SU and 1,368-1,327 ATS (50.8%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing in non-conference games: 280-507 SU and 367-400 ATS (47.8%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing in divisional games: 206-310 SU and 253-253 ATS (50%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing in non-divisional conference games: 293-282 SU and 270-285 ATS (48.6%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) playing versus the opposite conference: 150-201 SU and 140-196 ATS (41.7%)

From this data, you can easily conclude that an obvious revenge advantage comes with familiarity of opponent. College teams in conference revenge games have been most successful, as have teams in divisional revenge spots in the pros. It would seem that fading teams seeking revenge in non-conference action on both levels should become an adopted strategy.

By amount of defeat

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss of 40 points or more: 44-184 SU and 110-117 ATS (48.5%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss by 20-39 points: 348-707 SU and 525-512 ATS (50.6%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss by 9-19 points: 372-592 SU and 448-486 ATS (48.0%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss by one possession (<=8 points): 598-691 SU and 652-612 ATS (51.6%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss of 30 points or more: 28-55 SU and 41-39 ATS (51.3%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss by 15-29 points: 145-210 SU and 153-190 ATS (44.6%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss by 9-14 points: 117-151 SU and 119-143 ATS (45.4%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss by one possession (<=8 points): 359-376 SU and 350-362 ATS (49.2%)

The degree of defeat a team is avenging has some significance, as it seems for both college and pro football that close losses become more of a motivating factor for revenge. Blowout losses in pro football also seem to contribute to motivation.

By amount of time since last matchup

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss in same season: 9-15 SU and 11-13 ATS (45.8%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss the previous season: 1,031-1,653 SU and 1,321-1,303 ATS (50.3%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss two or three years earlier: 167-250 SU and 214-201 ATS (51.6%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss four or more years prior: 155-256 SU and 189-210 ATS (47.4%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss in same season: 107-163 SU and 137-128 ATS (51.7%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss the previous season: 234-269 SU and 239-253 ATS (48.6%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a loss two or more years earlier: 308-361 SU and 287-353 ATS (44.8%)

It seems that the more recent the loss to an opponent, the more a team can capitalize on the revenge motivation. This is important to think about when you analyze the regularity at which teams play one another. In college and pro football, the most intense rivalries are played every year.

By location of previous loss

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a home loss: 511-981 SU and 756-697 ATS (52%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a road/neutral loss: 851-1,193 SU and 979-1,030 ATS (48.7%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a home loss: 249-348 SU and 293-289 ATS (50.3%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) for a road/neutral loss: 400-445 SU and 370-445 ATS (45.4%)

This home-road loss data is a stark divide and something we will definitely consider further in our combination system development. Teams at both levels seem far more motivated by revenge from losing a home game.

What about double revenge?

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) for at least two straight losses to an opponent: 629-1,285 SU and 949-927 ATS (50.6%)

College football teams in revenge (since 2015) for just a single loss to an opponent: 733-889 SU and 786-800 ATS (49.6%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) for at least two straight losses to an opponent: 346-441 SU and 361-406 ATS (47.1%)

Pro football teams in revenge (since 2015) for just a single loss to an opponent: 303-352 SU and 302-328 ATS (47.9%)

The double revenge data isn’t all that telling. In college, teams having lost at least two straight games to an opponent cover point spreads at about a 1.0% greater clip than those that lost just once. In the pros, multiple losses are actually a hindering factor by 0.8%.

Summary and combination systems

So far we have determined that revenge is essentially a 50-50 motivating factor in college football for covering the point spread in the next contest against an opponent. In the pros, revenge-motivated teams cover only 47.5% of games. We also know that teams playing on the road avenging a home loss are far more successful than the opposite on both levels. In addition, revenge seems to be a greater motivating factor in games against conference or divisional rivals. Adding some of the other line-range, location and other data I uncovered, I came up with these more definitive refined betting systems:

For college football, teams playing on the road in conference games avenging a home loss are 371-764 SU and 581-526-28 ATS (52.5%) since 2015. When avenging a one-possession loss, the record improves to 239-210-12 ATS (53.2%). Finally, if we add a double-digit-favorite line qualifier to the equation, these revenge-minded teams improve to 31-13-1 ATS (70.4%)! That is a real find. In other words, quality teams avenging a home loss are a solid wager. Not a stretch of the imagination.

Teams qualifying for the 53.2% angle this week include Arizona State, Washington and Tennessee, among others. However, none is a large enough favorite to qualify for the 70.4% angle. Keep your eyes open for teams that fill that bill in the coming weeks.

For pro football, teams playing at home in non-divisional games avenging a road loss are 243-202-1 SU but 186-235-25 ATS (44.2%) since 2015. When that loss was by more than a possession (>=9 points), the record drops to 79-121-15 ATS (39.5%). If the loss was at least the second straight to that opponent, the revenge-minded team’s record drops to 42-68-6 ATS (38.2%) over the last 5+  seasons.

Indianapolis is the only team in Week 9 avenging a road loss to a non-divisional opponent, Baltimore. However, that game followed a Colts win in the head-to-head series and was decided by seven points. Therefore, the Colts would be considered only in the 44.2% combined angle.

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