Betting Double-Digit Favorites in the NFL

We’re already in Week 6 of the NFL season believe it or not. Last week, we saw an incredibly tight card with 11 of 14 games closing with a three-point spread or less and none getting higher than eight points. This week, we’ve flipped the script and will likely finish with five games closing at double-digit favorites.

With this in mind, what do we do with these big favorites? There’s a common misconception among sports bettors that betting double digit favorites, especially in the NFL, is a losing proposition. After all, we’re always told to avoid the big favorites the public loves, right? Some may want to call these lines trap games (which don’t exist, I’ll dive into that in a future post), but what does history actually tell us?

Since the 1989 season (as far back as I can go), favorites of ten points or more are 418-430-16 against the spread; which gives us a 49.3% win rate. For those rookies out there, we need at least a 52.38% win rate to break even with the customary -110 odds on spreads. Knowing this, we should avoid these big favorites, right?

Not so fast, Morty. That’s almost 30 years of data, and things have changed quite a bit in both the NFL and sports betting. By running the numbers on just the past ten years, the results improve and we get: 167-149-3 (52.8%). By flat betting one unit on every double-digit favorite since 2007, you would have won a whopping 3.10 units! Not exactly a desirable return on investment (0.09% ROI for my fellow nerds). The trend is improving though, so bear with me.

Let’s narrow our search more by just looking at the past five years. But before I do, realize that this isn’t just an arbitrary search just to prove a point – scoring in the league has noticeably increased since the 2012 season. From 1989-2011 (remember, our ATS line history started in 1989), the league average score for each team was 20.7 points per game. Since 2012, the league average is 22.7 points per game according to Pro Football Reference. That’s a full two points for each team, which may not seem like much but is almost a 10% increase. And remember, two teams play in each game, so scoring is actually up four points total per game.

When a good team is playing a bad team, thus creating a large point spread, the good team is likely to score most if not all of these additional points. This would make it reasonable to think that double-digit favorites cover more often with the surge of offense in the NFL.

Is this hypothesis* correct? After crunching the numbers, double digit favorites are an astounding 69-51-1 against the spread. That’s a 57.5% win rate if you blindly bet these big spreads. Conclusion: Past results over the past five years support our hypothesis of double-digit favorites covering at a higher rate!

*Never thought I’d use that word again after high school.

But wait, there’s more! Large favorites are almost always one of the league's top teams, and top teams rarely lose two games in a row. If a big favorite lost their previous game, the trend increases even more to 30-15-1 (66.7%) against the spread. In other words (well, words instead of numbers), double-digit favorites coming off a loss have covered two-thirds of the time the last five seasons - that’s pretty incredible. On the flip side though, if the big favorite won the week before, they are just 36-34-1 against the spread.

So, what can we make all of this? First off, I am not one to blindly follow trends. Information like this is worthless in my opinion unless there is a valid reason to explain it. As I noted above though, the recent increase in scoring the past five years can definitely help explain why this has been a successful strategy. The big question is – have the books caught up?

It appears the answer is no, as double-digit favorites are still hitting at a high clip since the start of the 2016 season: 13-5-1 overall and 7-3-1 following a loss. Knowing this, there’s a good chance we can have a winning Sunday backing double-digit favorites. Glancing at the board, the five potential double-digit favorites are the Houston Texans (-10), Atlanta Falcons (-13), New England Patriots (-10), Washington Redskins (-11), and Denver Broncos (-11.5) according to Pinnacle. Of those five, the Texans, Falcons and Redskins all lost last week to match the highest yielding system we discussed above.

Recent history tells us these three teams have a high chance of covering, but like the stock market, past performance does not guarantee future results. I still advise everyone to do their own research on these sides, but it’s definitely a great place to start. As promising as this trend may be, it will turn sour at some point. As the saying goes, the house always wins.

If you don’t already, be sure to follow me on Twitter! I’ll be posting free football picks there each weekend, and will also be starting my NBA Pick of the Day in a couple weeks. My MLB Pick of the Day finished the season 51-35 (59.3%, 15.8% ROI), and I hope to do even better on the hardwood. Lastly, subscribe to my blog if you’d like to receive new articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox!

Thanks for reading and good luck!

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