The top three teams to cover the point spread in the 2015-16 NFL regular season last year were the Minnesota Vikings (13-3 ATS), Cincinnati Bengals (12-3-1 ATS), and Carolina Panthers (11-5). Will these teams be a cash cow for investors in the 2016-17 NFL campaign? Don’t bet on it.
Expect last season's best ATS to be overvalued by the market all season, and at best break even against the number. It's pretty much the modus operandi of the modern-day NFL betting market. Let's take a look at how the Vikings, Bengals, and Panthers stayed under the radar last year, as well as attempt to forecast who will be the NFL's primary source of income for bettors this upcoming season.
Minnesota Vikings (11-6 SU, 14-3 ATS)
Minnesota's stellar defense and clock-chewing run and the short-passing game kept the score tight in just about every contest last year, allowing them to test the number nearly every time out. Going 11-5 SU, they sailed over oddsmakers' 8-win futures mark offered prior to the start of the season. Including the playoffs, they continually performed above the betting market's expectations, covering in 14 games overall against a 0.3 overall line. Head coach Mike Zimmer's squad trailed by more than a field goal at half time in just four games last season. The three games it failed to cover were when trailing by a touchdown or more headed into the locker room. Game management was key to the Vikes' success.
Cincinnati Bengals (12-5 SU, 13-3-1 ATS)
The Bengals entered last season with the public dogging their 0-7 playoff record under head coach Marvin Lewis. Not including last year's 18-16 defeat to the Steelers, they had lost their prior six postseason games by an average of two touchdowns. These beatings linger in the public's minds the entire offseason and likely carry over into next year when sizing up the team. They kicked off last year winning their first seven games by 9.4 points, covering a -2.1 average spread by a touchdown overall. Books adjusted some in the second half the year, with Cincy kicking off a -4.8 favorite on average. Despite going 5-5 SU (including playoffs), it still posted a winning ATS record (7-3)—even with quarterback Andy Dalton missing the team's last four games.
Carolina Panthers (17-2 SU, 13-6 ATS)
The NFL's reigning Most Valuable Player, Cam Newton, has pretty much made Bank of America Stadium his den and protects it as such. When the market expects the Panthers to win in Charlotte, they do so, handily. They are 21-1 SU and 16-6 ATS in their last 22 games as home chalk dating back to 2012. Newton fought through the entire 2014-15 season hobbled by a bad ankle and other injuries. Healthy, he lifted Carolina to new heights last year, going 17-2 SU and 13-6 ATS on their way to a Super Bowl 50 defeat. The market failed to catch up most of the year.
Future Win-Total Market as Predictor?
Attempting to predict which NFL teams will win the ATS war prior to the season is like throwing darts. Every new year is its own beast; fresh data, luck, injuries, scheduling, etc. all factor into the lines and team performance when the campaign gets rolling. The teams that make bettors rich are the ones that stay undervalued throughout much of the year, and pull out victories not intended. So we figured a good place to start to attempt to pin down this difficult task is with the win-total futures market.
We looked at the top-three ATS-winning teams for each season going back the last 15 years. If teams were tied for the final spot, we tossed them in there as well. All in all, 59 squads beat the number 10 times or more going back to 2001. Although it's obvious in the grand scheme of things, the overwhelming majority of these teams won a lot of games straight up, and most did so well above oddsmakers expectations prior to the year. Below you'll find a table listing every team, their regular-season ATS record, average line, SU record, and futures win-total prior to the start of the year since 2001.
Value is probably sapped out of the Bengals and Vikings, too, with win totals of 9.5 and 9 respectively. Only 17 teams listed at 9 wins or more (29 percent) in the futures market have notched 10 ATS wins or bettor the following season. In advanced lines, Cincy is favored in in 11 of 15 games (week 17 lines are not available) with a –3.0 average line, while Minny is chalk in 12 games overall with a -2.0 spread. Several games sit at -2.5 or -3 points for the latter, which will likely move in the team's favor when Sunday money starts pouring in.The big stat to note here is that top ATS winning teams win 11.1 games SU on average during this span, and better their total-wins futures by 3.3 contests. Most of these teams are expected to be middling at best with a 7.8 average win-totals mark but find ways to pick up victories throughout the course of the year, and at valuable prices. Only nine of 59 teams kicked off with a double-digit future win-total, which is expected with the market high on these teams right out of the gate. This probably doesn't bode well for Carolina, who's 10.5 wins is one of the highest on the board. Advanced NFL lines have the Panthers favored in every game but one (on the road in Seattle), and the number is -3.5 or more in 11 of them. The hook can be a big difference maker here.
The win-total market suggests betting against the Panthers, Bengals, and Vikes topping the ATS prize this season. The sweet spot is finding those 7-to-8.5 win-total teams that grind out a couple of extra victories on the year (Ravens, Texans, Raiders, Giants, Jets, Bears, Jaguars, Rams, Falcons, Lions, Dolphins, Eagles, Chargers, Buccaneers, and Redskins). They make up over half (30) of the list. The hard part is predicting which one will prevail. Nearly half of NFL teams fall under this threshold, but the win-total market does show bettors it is valuable to avoid high-and-low expectation teams from cashing tickets on a regular basis.