Can You Make Money Betting Must-Win NFL Games?

Entering the final week of the NFL regular season the playoff picture is almost set, but there remain a number of meaningful games to be played in week 17. The Cowboys will host the Eagles with the NFC East crown on the line, while Miami, Baltimore, San Diego and Pittsburgh remain in contention for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot.

Although there is no way of definitively categorizing a game as “must-win”, for the sake of this article we will be looking at all teams with a winning percentage between 50% and 67% entering the final two weeks of the regular season. Since this is only examining the final two weeks of the year, this will include teams with records ranging between 7-7 and 10-5 as they are most likely to be fighting for a playoff berth or divisional championship.

By utilizing our Bet Labs software, we found that since 2003, there have been over 200 regular season games that can be categorized as “must-win” with teams posting a 117-107 ATS record with +4.6 units won and a 2.1% return on investment (ROI). While these numbers aren’t particularly noteworthy, we were curious as to whether home field advantage could benefit teams in must-win games. Our historical archive tells us that home-field advantage is overvalued by bettors, but could the increased fan excitement lead to a stronger than usual performance?

As we expected, this pattern of bettors overvaluing home field advantage is amplified in “must-win” games which creates value betting against these home teams. Fading home teams in these late season games has performed exceedingly well, posting an impressive 70-49 ATS record with +18.24 units earned and a 15.3% ROI. Better yet, if it was a conference game the record improved to 60-37 (+20.32 units, 21% ROI).

Must Win

This week there are eight home teams playing what can be categorized as a must-win game: Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Indianapolis, New Orleans, San Diego, Arizona and Miami. Since this is a fade system, you would want to bet against these teams meaning there is value on their opponents.

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