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As an NFL enthusiast, I have always believed Thanksgiving marks an important point in the season — the beginning of the stretch run. For some teams, it’s time to make a push for the playoffs, while for others, the goals become focused on next season or spoiling opponents’ shots at the postseason.
It’s no secret that certain franchises or coaches can consistently raise their games this time of year, while some struggle down the stretch. When you think of the league’s top teams over the last decade or so, it’s a good bet they played some of their best football during the season’s final month or so.
I have collected all the data for the current head coaches in the league in regard to their late-season or Post-Thanksgiving Day (PTD, which includes Thanksgiving games and beyond) histories. I’ve looked at their performance trends from a variety of angles, including overall, home/road, favorite/underdog and others. I also have detailed their total results.
After the series of charts illustrating the overall data, I’ve put together a list of 15 top PTD trends you’ll want to keep an eye on the rest of the way, along with some specific matchups in which they might apply in the coming weeks.
We all know, though, that what happens from here on out will be influenced by plenty of other factors. For instance, what kind of momentum has that team built in recent weeks? How does the schedule shape up for a particular team? Is a team playing theoretical “playoff games” already just trying to stay alive in the postseason hunt? Finally, what kind of weather is a team going to endure in its remaining games? As you can see, it’s not quite as cut and dried as simply looking at the turn of the calendar. Keep that in mind as you consider how much weight to give this PTD data when handicapping games the rest of the way.
One key note: These records and trends include only regular-season games.
Note: Current coaches not listed on the chart or below in trends are in their first seasons as head coach with their teams.
The following chart shows the overall records of the current coaches who have logged PTD games. The coaches are sorted in order of ATS % success.
With only five games under his belt, Miami’s Brian Flores still has a lot to prove in terms of his ability to lead his team in late-season games. But if the Dolphins can continue the trend they started a year ago, a postseason spot awaits. However, if you’re looking for coaches who have built great late-season resumes over longer periods, then Bruce Arians, Mike Zimmer, Mike McCarthy, Andy Reid and Bill Belichick might be more to your liking. All those coaches are in positions in which a late-season surge could land a playoff spot, although McCarthy and his Cowboys’ worthiness is certainly debatable.
The most discouraging entry on the chart has to be Jon Gruden, whose Raiders are also looking to remain in the postseason picture with a strong late-season run. With SU and ATS records of just 37.5%, he’ll need to turn things around in this year’s six PTD games to lock up a playoff spot. Raheem Morris of Atlanta and Romeo Crennel of Houston are interesting cases, as both were thrust into interim roles after head coach firings early this season, and neither appears to be in a position to improve greatly on their typical late-season struggles.
Similarly to the quarterback study I did a couple of weeks back, only nine of the 29 active coaches who have logged PTD games have sub-.500 ATS records. This can be explained by the thought that the coaches who struggle in late-season games typically can’t hang on to their jobs. Those who fare well do.
Overall Totals Results
Here is the data regarding totals for current active coaches in PTD games.
The totals data on the coaches who have gone Over the total at better than a 60% clip in their PTD games is interesting in that three of them — Mike Vrabel, Sean McVay and Flores — have seen their teams average better than 28 points per game in their late-season games. Hard to top that. Elsewhere, Belichick’s performance on totals is unusual in that his team has allowed just 17.5 points per game, second to Matt LaFleur’s 14.2 (in only five games) among the 29 included coaches, yet his teams have gone Over in 53.4% of the games.
LaFleur leads the list of coaches who have trended Under in PTD games, but he did so in just one season in Green Bay. The most definitive Under coach would be Crennel, whose teams have gone Under at a 76.7% rate while scoring a paltry 11.9 points per game. In fairness to Crennel, though, his teams in Cleveland and Kansas City didn’t have the quarterback star power that his Texans have with Deshaun Watson.
Home and Road Results
The home/road performance in PTD games shows some interesting dichotomy breakdowns.
The most interesting trend pattern in comparing the home and road PTD results chart involves Baltimore coach John Harbaugh. His teams have been spectacular for bettors when playing on the road in late-season games, going 20-9 ATS. However, at home it has been a struggle to cover the expectations of oddsmakers, going 14-24 ATS despite a gawdy 29-9 SU record. The Ravens have three games at home and three games on the road, including a big one in Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night.
Belichick’s teams have been very reliable at home in late-season games over the years, notching a 41-24 ATS record, as did McCarthy’s Packers teams, 20-13 ATS.
I already detailed Harbaugh’s home struggles, but it should also be pointed out that Gruden’s teams have gone just 14-22 ATS as late-season hosts. We’ll see if that changes in 2020 in his new home in Las Vegas, as the Raiders host the Colts, Chargers and Dolphins in a three-game December homestand. Of note as well, though the sample sizes are smaller, the teams of Vrabel (1-5 ATS) and Morris (1-6 ATS) have struggled in defending the home turf during the stretch run.
Three coaches have achieved at least 75% ATS road success in PTD games, although none has coached more than eight games. Still, the early success of Matt Patricia, Sean McDermott and Vrabel is noteworthy as each team finds itself in the playoff hunt heading into the stretch drive of 2020. Besides those three and Harbaugh, note Arians, whose 13-6 ATS record could prove to be the difference in his team capturing the NFC South or even greater heights. His Bucs have just two road games left, at Atlanta and Detroit, two franchises that have struggled at home recently in late-season games.
Gruden’s teams have proven to be play-against options at home and on the road in PTD games, as noted by the 13-23 ATS away mark. Adam Gase, Doug Marrone and Crennel also have been reliable fade options. Those three command some of the worst teams in the AFC, and if one thing would suggest fundamentally sound, it would be a strategy of fading the league’s worst teams on the road in late-season games.
15 Other Top Coaching Trends in Various Post-Thanksgiving Day Situations
Mike Vrabel is 4-0 SU and ATS (100%) as road favorite in PTD games.
Average score was Team 31.3, Opponent 13
Analysis: While four games isn’t a huge sample, the decisive nature of the average scores in this trend make it noteworthy. The Titans under Vrabel have simply taken care of business in the road-chalk role in late-season games. Make note of this trend for potential opportunities at Jacksonville in Week 14 and Houston in Week 17.
Andy Reid is 17-13 SU and 22-8 ATS (73.3%) as road underdog in PTD games.
Average score was Team 21.3, Opponent 22.3
Analysis: This is an interesting trend for the Chiefs as the only opportunity to take advantage of it, if there is one, would be this weekend at Tampa Bay. Reid’s teams have always been competitive this time of year, regardless of their perceived status. Keep an eye on that Dec. 20 game at New Orleans as well.
Sean Payton is 20-7 SU and 19-8 ATS (70.4%) after a loss in PTD games.
Average score was Team 28.9, Opponent 19.4
Analysis: One reason the Saints have been a consistent playoff team in recent years is that they’ve been able to shake off late-season losses and not allow them to turn into streaks. New Orleans has a three-game road swing starting this weekend followed by a home game against the Chiefs. Minus Drew Brees, it’s tough to see the Saints sweeping through those games unscathed.
Mike Zimmer is 16-4 SU and 13-6 ATS (68.4%) as favorite in PTD games.
Average score was Team 26.4, Opponent 15.9
Analysis: This is another trend that shows a fairly decisive score. Zimmer’s teams have been very strong down the stretch defensively when favored, holding opponents to 15.9 points per game. This year’s Vikings defense is maligned and might have to continue this trend in a different fashion. Nevertheless, Minnesota figures to be favored in at least its final three home games as it pushes for a playoff spot.
Pete Carroll is 17-8 SU and 16-8 ATS (66.7%) in non-divisional conference PTD games.
Average score was Team 23.8, Opponent 17.8
Analysis: The Seahawks face three NFC East opponents in the next four weeks. If this Carroll trend holds, you can expect his team to win two of them. Combine this with the fact that Seattle has been unusually strong at Philadelphia in his tenure and you have the makings for a wager on Monday night.
Andy Reid is 40-18 SU and 37-20 ATS (64.9%) vs. divisional PTD opponents.
Average score was Team 24.6, Opponent 18.1
Analysis: The most efficient way to ensure winning division titles regularly is by beating your divisional opponents late in the season. Reid’s teams have been very good at that. With this trend in mind, you would have to figure that the Broncos in Week 13 and Chargers in Week 17 have little chance of disrupting the Chiefs’ run at the top spot in the AFC playoffs.
John Harbaugh is 26-5 SU but 11-20 ATS (35.5%) as home favorite in PTD games.
Average score was Team 25.0, Opponent 15.7
Analysis: I wrote quite a bit earlier about Harbaugh’s strange home/road dichotomy in late-season games. This takes it a step further, as the Ravens seem to win most often as road favorites but give no consideration to their point-spread backers while doing it. There’s a pretty good chance this trend continues in 2020, as Baltimore figures to be laying huge numbers in its final three home games against Dallas, Jacksonville and the Giants.
Mike Tomlin is 12-13 SU and 8-17 ATS (32%) in non-divisional conference PTD games.
Average score was Team 22.3, Opponent 20.1
Analysis: For all the noteworthy trends illustrating Tomlin’s success in late-season games, there has been a weak spot, which could prove to be important as the Steelers look to wrap up the AFC North and the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. They face two playoff-hopeful AFC counterparts in Buffalo and Indianapolis in the coming weeks.
Jon Gruden is 3-9 SU and 2-10 ATS (16.7%) in non-Sunday PTD games.
Average score was Team 17.3, Opponent 23.9
Analysis: The non-Sunday games on the NFL schedule usually come with the brightest lights, as they are the only game in town. Historically, Gruden’s teams haven’t performed well in such circumstances late in the season. The Raiders host a key Thursday night game against the Chargers on Dec. 17.
Raheem Morris is 0-5 SU and ATS (0%) as home underdog in PTD games.
Average score was Team 14.2, Opponent 28.6
Analysis: Morris was thrust into the Falcons’ interim coaching job and left to pick up the pieces of an ugly start. He has done a pretty good job of that, but the schedule gets brutal down the stretch. The Falcons will be home dogs at least twice the rest of the way.
Ron Rivera is 9-1 Over the total (90%) in non-divisional conference PTD games.
Average score was Team 25.7, Opponent 26.4
Analysis: This trend is unique in that it will be a real challenge for Rivera to get his Washington Football Team to score anywhere near the level his Panthers teams did in PTD games. Now that doesn’t specifically mean they won’t go Over if they don’t.
Doug Pederson is 9-2 Over the total (81.8%) in road PTD games.
Average score was Team 27.8, Opponent 25.5
Analysis: Pederson’s teams have put up some lofty numbers in road PTD games over the last few years, averaging 27.8 points per game. With games at Green Bay and Arizona (plus Dallas) remaining, the Eagles will need to remain sharp on that side of the ball to compete.
Andy Reid is 14-6 Under the total (70%) as favorite of more than seven points in PTD games.
Average score was Team 24.2, Opponent 14.3
Analysis: An overlooked reason that Kansas City made such a huge surge at the end of last season was its defensive performance. It continued a trend of Reid’s teams shutting down overmatched opponents in PTD games. The Chiefs figure to be heavy favorites in their three remaining home games.
Mike Tomlin is 16-5 Under the total (76.2%) as favorite of more than seven points in PTD games.
Average score was Team 24.1, Opponent 11.9
Analysis: Very similar to the aforementioned trend with Reid, Tomlin’s teams have been even more dominant over weak opponents late in the season, holding them to 11.9 points per game in this line-range PTD situation. Pittsburgh has a home date with Washington and a trip to Cincinnati as potential opportunities to back this heavily favored trend.
Romeo Crennel is 8-0 Under the total (100%) as favorite in PTD games.
Average score was Team 14.1, Opponent 14.1
Analysis: You don’t find too many trends that show average scores of a combined 28.2 points per game any longer in the NFL. That level of production takes games under totals by about three touchdowns these days. Crennel’s offenses in late-season games have been so bad that they’ve scored just 14.1 points per game in PTD games when they’ve been favored to win. However, I see only one legitimate spot where this figures to apply in Houston’s remaining games, in Week 16 at home against the Bengals.