Best and Worst NFL Teams Against the Spread the Last 5 SeasonsThe problem right now for most sports bettors is that the football season is so close that’s alluring, camps are underway, week 1 NFL lines are posted, but there is still a whole pile of time to kill between now and the first meaningful kickoff. Far too long. In an attempt to kill some of that time while still being productive, I thought I’d take a look back at the teams that have been consistently good against the spread over the last five season, and those that have been consistently bad. The reasoning is that the five year time frame smooths out some of the flukes and unexplainable one year glitches – like the year Cleveland was actually good – and gives us a more meaningful long term picture. Before we look at what I found, I’m going to be like a bad comedian and tell the punchline before the joke – it’s really striking here that the teams that have been consistently solid against the spread are the teams that have been consistently very good, and the ones that have consistently burned money are the terrible teams. In this regard at least, the betting public is right in their NFL pick loyalties:
Indianapolis Colts – The Colts have been been always reliable and often incredible during the regular season over the last five years, and that is pretty much what they have been at the betting window at all. They have amassed a combined 44-33-3 ATS record over that time, which is enough to make a tidy profit for loyal bettors. Just once over the course of a season have they not turned at least a small profit, and even then backing them blindly would have been far from disastrous – in 2006-07 they wound up at 8-8 ATS. It’s a testament of their consistency and the strength of their offense that they have consistently been able to cover spreads despite having one of the great quarterbacks of all time at the helm.
San Diego Chargers – Chargers’ fans probably wish that they had the accomplishments that the Colts have had over the last five years – chiefly a Super Bowl. They may not have the hardware, but what they do have is an identical ATS record over that stretch. The biggest difference is that the Chargers’ worst year has been worse than the Colts’ – they were 7-8-1 ATS in 2008-09 during the season when nothing went right and they wound up at 8-8 overall. If you take out the games that the Colts and the Chargers have played against each other you could have made a surprisingly healthy profit just by blindly backing these two teams. This is a case where sometimes handicapping isn’t as tough as we try to make it.
New England Patriots – This really is spooky when you think about it. Along with the Colts and the Chargers, the Pats have been the class of the AFC and really the league for the last five years. They also have virtually the same ATS record as the other two – 44-34-2 ATS. The small difference is that they have had two seasons that would have resulted in small losses instead of just one – 7-7-2 once, and 8-8 the other time.
St. Louis Rams – It should come as a real surprise to no one that the Rams have been a lousy betting team over the last five years because they have been an incredibly lousy team on the field. What is surprising is that they actually had one profitable year over that stretch – they are 32-48 ATS overall, but were 9-7 ATS in 2006-07 when they managed what is, for them, an incredible overall record of 8-8.
Oakland Raiders – Like the Rams, the Raiders have been 32-48 ATS over the last five seasons, so betting against them has been a nice way to make some money. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how this happened – first they got bad enough that they earned the top pick in the draft, then they used that pick to take JaMarcus Russell and ensure their continued failure. Last year was their best ATS year over the period – 8-8 ATS – and that corresponds with the year that they started to show small reasons to believe that they might be able to actually turn this thing around. Now that Russell is long gone there’s at least a chance that they may even be competent at some point in the future.
Detroit Lions – Picking on the Lions is like making fun of the slow kid in school – it’s too easy, and doing it doesn’t make you feel good. The obvious fact, though, is that the Lions have been a terrible team and a terrible bet for a long time thanks in large part to the vision of Matt Millen. Detroit has amassed an ATS record that is only slightly better than the other two on this list – 32-45-3. What I had forgotten about until I looked back on the records, though, was that the team hasn’t been universally terrible from a betting perspective – in 2005-06 they were an underwhelming 5-11 on the field, but a surprising and profitable 9-7 ATS.