Tips for NFL picks: Your home underdog strategy isn't the key to beating Vegas and more ATS splits

The Steelers will travel to Cleveland to face the Browns to open the season for a second straight year when Week 1 rolls around. In 2017, the Steelers went to Cleveland as 10-point favorites and were in fact leading by 11 points late in the fourth quarter, but a garbage-time TD by Corey Coleman and a successful two-point conversion saw the game end at 21-18, cashing tickets for anyone who played the Browns.

This year the same matchup opened at Steelers -7, but the money has come in on Cleveland, pushing the line down to Steelers -6 in most spots or even further, with the Westgate line sitting at -5 over the weekend. We've also seen people hammering the Giants as a home dog in their opener against the Jaguars after the line sat at Jags -4 or -3.5 for much of the offseason, and some of that interest in New York is likely tied to the strategy of backing underdogs at home if the spread is over three points.

The logic is easy to follow: Teams year in and year out play better at home than on the road, so it seems to make sense to lean toward an underdog to cover the spread if it is on its home turf. But does the data support that? It turns out, not at all.

Want more picks? At SportsLine, I've posted analysis of the Super Bowl betting lines and five win totals I like. Sign up for a subscription with promo code WHITE to get your first month for $1!

In this article, we'll look at those ATS splits as well as others on a macro level across the NFL over three time frames: the 2017 season, the past five seasons and the past 10 seasons (including playoff lines each year). All the data for this exercise comes from the indispensable TeamRankings.com, where you can get team-by-team data on all these splits.

ATS after a win/loss

After a winRecordBest teamWorst team
In 2017120-131-6Texans: 3-1Giants: 0-2
Since 2013619-630-39Vikings: 25-17Titans: 8-20-1
Since 20081,243-1,253-80Bengals: 46-31-3Raiders: 21-38-1
After a lossRecordBest teamWorst team
In 2017123-114-8Steelers/Pats: 3-0Browns: 3-12
Since 2013600-587-27Patriots: 14-3Dolphins: 13-25-1
Since 20081,194-1,180-58Patriots: 26-11Browns: 45-64-4

Last year, teams underperformed against the spread after winning their previous game by a fair amount. But while it looks like that trend is consistent over five- and 10-year margins, note that the underperformance in each of those splits is equal or close to the underperformance in 2017 alone. That means that before last year, teams were basically even against the spread after the win. Consider 2017 more an outlier than part of a new trend until we see more, but don't discount it entirely. 

Conversely, teams after a loss overperformed ATS last year, but aside from 2017, that trend is relatively even over a longer stretch. Note how well the marquee franchise of the past 20 years does after a loss ATS though, as this split has been highly profitable for Patriots bettors during the Tom Brady era. Go all the way back to 2003 (the first year tracked by TeamRankings.com) and the Patriots are still covering at a 74.5 percent clip after a loss, with only one other team barely clearing 60 percent (Steelers, 60.2).

One scenario that could theoretically come into play is that the increased exposure to sports gambling this year following the passage of new laws could cause the public bettor to have more of a say on how a line moves than in years past (and that could cause over- or underinflation in lines as public money rides hot and cold streaks), but that's not something we can predict at this stage. 

Strategy: Ignore whether a team won or lost its previous game when deciding what to bet in a given week, unless the Patriots are coming off a loss. Also worth noting: While a single win or loss isn't determinative on ATS performance the following week, keep an eye on teams that are on a long streak of ATS wins or losses. As you can see over at OddsShark, only one team finished the year with an ATS streak of more than three games with the same result (Texans, 0-5 ATS to close the year). As the lines move up or down to reflect a team's performance during one of these hot or cold streaks, there can be value in betting on regression.

ATS as home/away team

As home teamRecordBest teamWorst team
In 2017131-122-8Jets: 7-1Seahawks: 2-6
Since 2013638-639-35Patriots: 32-14-2Browns: 13-25-1
Since 20081,252-1,314-71Saints: 49-33-1Jaguars: 27-48-1
As away teamRecordBest teamWorst team
In 2017122-131-8Ravens: 5-1-1Broncos: 1-7
Since 2013639-638-35Chiefs: 27-16Titans: 16-25
Since 20081,314-1,252-71Chiefs: 48-35Titans: 35-45-2

What a fascinating trend in how lines have been set over the past one, five and 10 years. It appears teams were being given too much credit for home-field advantage 10 years ago, as the away team has had a 6.2-game advantage per year since 2008. But that moves to basically even over the past five years, and in 2017, home teams came out ahead (which plays a large part into the "since 2013" figure).

Strategy: Obviously, more should go into which side of a line you take than who's home or away, but as I discussed in an earlier article, not every team's home-field advantage is created equal. Also note how well the Chiefs have played on the road over the past five years; Andy Reid's team isn't one to take lightly on the road, so keep that in mind when trying to figure out what the line should be when the Chiefs are the away team, as they are against the Chargers in Week 1.

Think you're a football expert? It's time to prove it. Compete against friends, family and co-workers or put your football knowledge to the test against the NFL Today cast. Play 2018 Football Pick 'Em now!

ATS as favorite/underdog

As favoriteRecordBest teamWorst team
In 2017133-123-8Colts: 2-0Giants: 0-3
Since 2013649-644-35Packers: 34-21-2Bears: 5-14-1
Since 20081,288-1,303-72Packers: 73-48-3Browns: 11-20-3
As underdogRecordBest teamWorst team
In 2017123-133-8CAR/PHI: 6-2Browns: 4-12
Since 2013644-649-35Vikings: 28-14Titans: 17-32-1
Since 20081,303-1,288-72Patriots: 13-6-2Titans: 36-51-1

This trend plays close to even long-term, with the favorites overperforming slightly in 2017. 

Strategy: The Packers have historically been a great team ATS as the favorite, with 18 games of their 25-game advantage since 2008 coming at home. The Titans have been a team worth fading whenever they're an underdog, but with a new coaching staff in place this year, it remains to be seen whether that trend holds.

ATS as home favorite/away underdog

As home favoriteRecordBest teamWorst team
In 201782-74-4Bills: 4-0-1Giants: 0-2
Since 2013423-425-23Patriots: 29-14-2Bears: 4-12-1
Since 2008835-877-46Packers: 44-26-3Browns: 9-19-2
As away dogRecordBest teamWorst team
In 201774-82-4Steelers: 1-0Broncos: 0-4
Since 2013425-423-23Chargers: 21-11-2Broncos: 5-9
Since 2008877-835-46Patriots: 11-6-2Seahawks: 20-27-2

Like most trends, this one plays close to even over a long timeframe, but like we saw for home teams and favorites as their own splits, home favorites overperformed in 2017 relative to their five- and 10-year trends.

Strategy: I was a bit surprised to see the Bears with a poor record as home favorites over the past five years, as anecdotally they have a solid home-field advantage at Soldier Field. This is probably a team that was overdue for a coaching change. Also note how bad the Broncos and Seahawks have done as away underdogs, as they're two teams who are considered to have strong home-field advantages. This could be a case of bettors overestimating the quality of the team as they get away from their home field.

ATS as home underdog/away favorite

As home dogRecordBest teamWorst team
In 201747-47-4Bears: 4-0-1Packers: 0-4
Since 2013211-211-12Patriots: 2-0Packers: 1-6-1
Since 2008413-434-25Patriots: 2-0Eagles: 5-11
As away favoriteRecordBest teamWorst team
In 201747-47-4Ravens: 2-0Redskins: 0-2
Since 2013211-211-1249ers: 8-3-1Browns: 0-1-1
Since 2008434-413-25Colts: 20-9-2Lions: 7-13-3

Here's the stat we teased in the intro. People sometimes forget that home-field advantage is already baked into the line for each game, and it has actually been accounted for perfectly over the past five years.

Home underdogs have a .500 record against the spread not just last year, but over the past five years combined. And the 10-year record actually favors road favorites, though at such a small percentage that you can consider it even as well. Note that leaning toward a team just because they're a home underdog isn't backed up by the numbers, nor is there value in taking the other side of that equation.

Strategy: There isn't much of a sample size on the team level to play any team as anything near a locked-in trend, but if the books are making the Packers dogs even in Green Bay, there's probably a good reason for it.

Our Latest Stories