NFL Betting Against the Public 2003-07

Over the years, the NFL point-spread market seems to have gotten more efficient.  Years ago, the “smart money” would “take the points” and play underdogs.  In this article, we’ll take a look at how NFL underdogs have done over the years.  In addition, we’ll study how’s strategy of “Betting Against the Public” has added value over the years.  Our research is now based on over 2,500 games going back to the 2001 NFL season.  Our database includes SIs’ exclusive betting percentages going back to the 2003 season.The information on this site is for entertainment and educational purposes only.  Use of this information in violation of any federal, state, or local laws is prohibited.

Take the Underdog?

Years ago, there seemed to be an edge if a bettor took the underdog.  We have seen academic studies that verify the bias towards underdogs in the NFL (as well as in other major sports).  The past few seasons have seen some extremes in the NFL.  2005 saw underdogs perform poorly (favorites covered at more than a 57% rate!).  And then 2006 saw the underdogs come back with a vengeance, covering the point spread almost 56% of the time.  Over the past five years, dogs have covered the point spread at a 51.2% rate — a far cry from the low-to-mid 53% to 55% win-rate we saw in the early 2000’s.

Here is a table of NFL underdog performance over the past few years.

Table 1: NFL Underdogs vs. Point Spread

Year NFL Underdogs
2001 53.0%
2002 55.8%
2003 53.2%
2004 50.0%
2005 42.8%
2006 55.9%
2007 49.8%
2003 – 2007 51.2%

Betting Against the Public in the NFL

Above, we saw that  betting on dogs would have resulted in a 51.2% winning percentage over the past few years.  If you Bet Against the Public (in the NFL, most of these plays would be on the dog, at the 75% level), you would have hit 55.3% over the same period (see Table 2, below).  Results are fairly consistent each year, with Betting Against the Public adding about 4% value per year.

This shows that Betting Against the Public can be beneficial to your handicapping.  As you can see, the results can jump around from season to season.  This is partly due to the relatively low number of games during the NFL Season.  It’s also the nature of any investment:  there is both risk AND return.  We hope that our readers and Members will use SportsInsights’ tools and betting percentages to help “put the wind in their handicapping sails.”

Table 2: Benefit of Betting Against Public (vs. Spread) at 75% Level

Year All Dogs Dogs, Bet Against Public
2003 53.2% 61.8%
2004 50.0% 50.0%
2005 42.8% 48.1%
2006 55.9% 69.8%
2007 49.8% 53.7%
2003 – 2007 51.2% 55.3%

We do not guarantee that the trends and biases we’ve found will continue to exist. It is impossible to predict the future. Any serious academic research in the field of “market efficiencies” recognizes that inefficiencies may disappear over time. Once inefficiencies are discovered, it is only a matter of time before the market corrects itself. We do not guarantee our data is error-free. However, we’ve tried our best to make sure every score and percentage is correct.