NFL Betting Advice: Whether to Bet on Good or Bad Teams (By the Numbers)

By Scott, NFL Handicapper,

We we will hear a lot of different ideas thrown around when discussing NFL wagering. One of the topics you will hear most is the idea of betting on good/bad teams. The general thing we will hear is how bad teams are where the value is. Conversely, the good teams often times have the betting value sucked out of them. The reasoning is that fewer people bet on bad teams, forcing the bookie to make the spread extra-tasty, while no such allowances are given to the good teams, since everyone bets them regardless.

We took another look at the numbers to see if there is any credence to this notion of good teams and bad teams. We did it a few different ways. We took all the teams that finished below or over the winning percentage of .500 from 2008 to 2010, then saw how they did the following seasons. In addition we took teams who were above or under .500 for the decade of 2000-2009 to see how well they covered spreads in the the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Of all the teams from 2008-2010 who finished at .500 or better, the following season they were a combined 353-354-14 ATS, an almost-eerie case of breaking completely-even. In the first 6 weeks of the seasons following a .500 or better season, these teams were 129-139-5 ATS, also pretty darned close to 50%. The first 6 weeks would be a time where the teams success from the previous season would be fresher in peoples minds.

Compare that to teams who finished below .500. Of all the teams who finished below .500 from 2008-2010, they were a combined 313-293-27 ATS in the following season. In the first 6 weeks of a season following a sub-.500 mark, these teams were a combined 115-108-11 ATS.

Using this as a measuring stick, we see that the value has only been ever so slightly better on sub-.500 teams. Obviously, there are a million different ways to try to break it down. The limitations of this particular analysis are in fact numerous. While it shows that over the past several years there has been virtually no difference in betting on teams that are either over or under .500, this is only on way to look at it.


First of all, not all teams are considered bad after one or even two sub-.500 seasons. The same can be said for teams fortunate enough to finish over .500. In 2008, Tennessee finished above .500 and they werent in any way cemented in good team status.

So lets take teams whose images of being good or bad are more cemented. Well look at teams who were either under or over .500 for an entire decade. Lets look at all the teams that finished under or over .500 from 2000-2009 and then see how they did against the spread in 2010 and 2011.

Again, the numbers are almost scary. Of the 16 teams who finished 2000-2009 at .500 or better, their combined ATS record in 2010-2011 was 247-252-13. That sort of flies in the face of the notion that good teams have no value. Sure, 247-252-13 isnt great, but its nowhere near bad enough to truly suggest anything substantial we can use as an edge in our wagering.

Of all the teams who were under .500 from 2000-2009, they finished a combined 203-197-16 ATS in 2010-2011. Again, we see no edge. In all of these numbers-breakdowns, we see a nearly 50% ratio on something that covers hundreds of events. Again, we would be remiss in not mentioning the inherent limits of such an analysis. Not all teams who were over .500 from 2000-2009 were considered good teams, while not all below .500 were necessarily bad teams.

What we find when playing with these numbers is another pillar in the foundation of the belief that there are no systems–no predispositions that should nudge you to bet one particular way or another. Every game is an opportunity to beat the bookie and should be judged individually without being hung up on betting good teams or bad teams. Do good teams often have poor value while bad ones can be had at a steal? Sure. But it appears that systematically betting that way in a knee-jerk fashion doesnt really work.