One isn’t just the loneliest number; it’s also the smallest sample size. But when it comes to Week 2 of the NFL betting season, maybe you should be paying closer attention to the events of Week 1.
Life is wonderful when you get a tasty NFL betting trend that’s got some heft to it. Remember how last week we told you that divisional road favorites were in a 3-10 ATS slump in their last 13 season openers? Guess what: On Sunday, the New England Patriots (–3.5 away) lost 33-20 to the Miami Dolphins, and the New Orleans Saints (–3 away) lost 37-34 in overtime to the Atlanta Falcons. Outstanding.
If only all NFL betting trends could hold up like that. After going 29-18-1 the past three years, the 'Over' was 6-8 after the completion of Sunday’s action. And the lone double-digit dogs in Week 1, the Jacksonville Jaguars (+10 away), found a way to lose 34-17 to the Philadelphia Eagles after taking an early 17-0 lead. As always, past performance does not necessarily indicate future results.
That doesn’t mean we should avoid football betting trends altogether. Some of them are relatively meaningless, but some of them reveal a consistent flaw in the betting patterns of the general public. Consider the classic rule of thumb that people overreact to Week 1 results when they bet on the NFL in Week 2 – let’s put that rule to the test by running some numbers. We want to find out how the teams who covered their season openers did the following week against teams who dropped the cash.
2013: 6-1 ATS
2012: 4-3-1 ATS
2011: 4-6 ATS
2010: 4-6 ATS
2009: 7-3 ATS
So much for overreaction. Over the past five years, teams who beat the football spreads in Week 1 were 25-19-1 ATS in Week 2 against teams who honked their openers. Only one of last year’s seven qualifying games went in the other direction: the Saints (–3 away) beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16-14 on a dramatic last-second field goal by Garrett Hartley.
As with just about any stats, we can reverse engineer a betting psychology that explains everything away. While we can expect the NFL betting public to overreact to extreme results – like the Chicago Bears and New York Jets each winning their 2012 openers by 20 points – we can also expect casual bettors to react slowly to less obvious situations from Week 1. In other words, handicappers who did their homework over the summer and got the jump on the public can expect some of that knowledge gap to remain for at least one more week.
So where can we best take advantage in Week 2? Teams who beat the spread in their 2014 debuts without winning straight up are most likely to fly under the radar. The Oakland Raiders are one of those teams; they lost 19-14 to the Jets as 6.5-point road dogs. Unfortunately for us, the Raiders play the Houston Texans (1-0 ATS) in Week 2. And on the other side of the coin, the Jets will square off against the Green Bay Packers (0-1 ATS). Phooey.
Well, here’s another candidate: the Cleveland Browns, who got paid as 5.5-road dogs versus the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 30-27 loss. The Browns will face the Saints on Sunday afternoon (1:00 p.m. ET, FOX), who as you may recall lost their season opener to the Falcons. Our NFL odds at press time has New Orleans favored by six points on the road. The very early consensus shows 66 percent of bettors on the Saints. We saw a few good things out of the Browns in their loss to Pittsburgh, and the Saints defense allowed 568 yards to Atlanta. These things happened for a reason. Maybe those reasons will carry over into Week 2 for our NFL picks.