Betting NFL in 2019: The bookmaker’s season review

Saturday, 25 January 2020 15:26 EST

One game left to play for the 2019 season means that football bettors, too, are about to head into the offseason – unless you’re foolhardy enough to try betting XFL games in week 1. We’ve got nearly five months before CFL football kicks off and college football betting doesn’t begin in earnest for another seven.

So after investing the mental energy into Super Bowl betting, proposition bets and crossover bets, the proper NFL bettor will get to work taking stock of the 2019 regular season so as to glean information for 2020 bets – first odds on the “To Win Super Bowl LV” prop will be released within an hour of the game’s final gun everywhere, you know. And after all, like the modern NFL itself, NFL betting is a 12-month sport.

Top of the ATS table: Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints

For a few minutes when the playoffs started, Ravens-Saints was a vogue pick: The Ravens at 14-2 SU looked unstoppable until we remembered the lack of “skill players” beyond Lamar Jackson; the Saints had come o-so-close the last two years and seemed solid until Drew Brees continued discernably aging badly.

Both were one-and-dones in the postseason, but won lotsa money for bettors through 2019, as both went an identical 11-5 ATS and, interestingly, 7-1 ATS in road games. Also notable was the Saints’ run of 11-3 ATS after an 0-2 start. Baltimore was even hotter before running into the upset-minded Tennessee Titans, going 9-1 ATS to close the regular season after a nearly unfathomable 2-4 start.

Once Super Bowl LIV concludes, however, the Kansas City Chiefs or San Francisco 49ers will top the overall ATS table. With an ATS win, the Chiefs would close the season at 13-6 ATS (and on a 7-0-1 run) while the 49ers would finish at 12-6-1 ATS. Bettors would do well to note that, despite high preseason expectations and increasingly steep point spreads, five of the league’s top seven teams made the playoffs – and the formerly NFC champion Los Angeles Rams somehow still went a solid 10-5-1 ATS.

Outliers of 2019: NFC South overs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers generally

Fairly early on in the season, the futility of attempting to bet NFC South interdivisional games became pretty evident to NFLbets. From the Saints going 5-0 SU/ATS with Teddy Bridgewater at QB to the Panthers closing 1-8 SU (2-7-1 ATS) after starting 4-2 SU/ATS, these teams were on the whole unpredictable as well – except for overs.

Indeed, if one included the Tampa Bay Overs as a team, they’d’ve won the ATS table at 12-4; and overs in Carolina Panthers games were 11-5. In NFC South interdivisional games, the over was 8-4 and, bizarrely, home teams were a woeful 2-10 ATS! Weirdest of all has got to be that Tampa Bay home record of 0-6-2 ATS. Nobody goes winless ATS at home. The goddamn Chargers, who played 2019 without either a proper homebase or starting quarterback, went 1-6-1 in Los Angeles. WTF?

In contrast, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills

Most will consider the Buffalo Bills one of the pleasant surprises of the 2019 season, though the stretch run exposed them as a marginal playoff team that was a few players short. At 10-6 SU (9-6-1 ATS), sports media tried hard to find ways the Bills might break the New England Patriots’ stranglehold on the AFC East – but no dice. Buffalo’s 9-3 SU (7-4-1 ATS) was chased by a stumbling 1-3 SU (2-2 ATS) finish and a second-half collapse against the Houston Texans in the playoffs.

Between a stout defense ranking no. 6 overall in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric and what figured as the 31st-most difficult schedule, at least one Buffalo Bills bet could be counted on to cash in 2019: The under. The Buffalo Unders went a very nice 13-4 including the wildcard game – and two of those overs came in the Bills’ games against the Miami Dolphins, for some insane reason.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, despite a highly forgettable 8-8 SU (9-7 ATS) season, likewise did well in hitting unders for NFL bettors: Unders in Steelers games also went 12-4, including 8-1 in the second half of the seaosn. NFLbets’ way-too-early prediction on the 2020 reckons the Steelers and well-aged Ben Roethlisberger will be hitting lots of unders again, especially in the early going when the lines are likely to be unjustifiably juiced.

Hints for next season

Anyone can observe that, wow, crazy, neither conference champion fared extremely well in 2019, with the Rams beaten (and beaten out) by two teams in their own division and the Patriots limping into a wildcard game against the far readier Titans. But we’re talking betting here, and the Patriots and Rams’ difficulties pale in comparison to some other of those who exceeded expectations in 2018.

To wit, here’s the top of the table for 2019, representing all teams with 10 or more ATS wins:

Chicago Bears: 12-5
New England Patriots: 12-7
“Los Angeles” Chargers: 11-7
Cleveland Browns: 10-6
New Orleans Saints: 10-8

You see what we’re getting at here. Teams who consistently surprised bookmakers and/or fans in 2018 may have benefitted from easier schedules (as with the Bears and Patriots), floor-level expectations (Browns) or a perfect storm of veterans avoiding injury, impact rookies and peaking all-stars (Saints) and thus gain six months’ worth of hype, particularly among casual NFL bettors. Remember the great odds the Bears and Browns were getting this preseason? They finished 5-11 ATS and 4-11-1 ATS, respectively.

Meanwhile, tops on the table for 2019 going into Super Bowl LIV are:

Kansas City Chiefs: 12-6
San Francisco 49ers: 11-6-1
New Orleans Saints: 11-6
Baltimore Ravens: 11-6
Los Angeles Rams: 10-5-1
Green Bay Packers: 10-7

Now don’t get us wrong: We’re not saying the collapses of the Chiefs, Ravens and 49ers are imminent, but even this far out we’d be very suspect of betting many 49ers, Rams and Packers games ATS in 2020…

–written by Os Davis

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