Ability vs. Profitability: The Impact of NFL Record on Winning Money in Sports Betting

  • The Kansas City Chiefs went 14-3, but were one of the worst teams ATS last season
  • Team ability does not always translate to profitability in sports betting
  • Teams that win games tend to perform better against the spread, favorite or not
  • Backing losing teams, even with large spreads, leads to long-term failure
NFL logo on phone
Even though sportsbooks balance spreads to account for differences between teams, NFL teams’ overall records can predict betting success. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Ability versus profitability 

Does team success in the NFL directly translate to more money and winnings in sports betting? 

Kansas City Chiefs went 14-3 during the regular season but were only 6-10-1 against the spread

The reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs went 14-3 during the regular season but were only 6-10-1 against the spread, the fourth-worst return in the league. Meanwhile, a pair of 7-10 NFC South teams made money for bettors despite being inferior to the Chiefs and other top contenders.

With a steadily decreasing number of Sundays until football returns to television screens across America, the VegasSlotsOnline News team set out to find the answer. Remember these words when the bookies come knocking in the fall. 

Does NFL record mean sports betting success?

Before we can share our findings, let’s understand how we distinguished ability from profitability.

Ability was simply a team’s capacity to win games, which was reflected by their record. Profitability was determined by their performance against the spread.

Betting against the spread means that users only take a side after oddsmakers balance the scales between disparate teams. So, if the best team in the league is facing the worst team in the league, the spread could theoretically be around 14 points, requiring the favored team to win by more than 14 just to cover the spread and cash the bet.

Spread betting typically makes consistent underdogs more relevant and top contenders less dominant (from a wagering perspective). 

Let’s look at the differences between ability and profitability in 2022, taking the teams with the ten best records (note: we are assuming a $100 bet on every game at -110 odds).

TeamRecordSpread RecordCover RateProfit/Loss
Kansas City Chiefs14-36-10-137.5%-28.41%
Philadelphia Eagles14-38-947.1%-10.16%
Buffalo Bills13-38-7-153.3%+1.82%
San Francisco 49ers13-411-664.7%+23.53%
Minnesota Vikings13-47-9-143.1%-16.48%
Cincinnati Bengals12-412-475%+43.18%
Dallas Cowboys12-510-758.8%+12.3%
Los Angeles Chargers10-711-5-168.8%+31.25%
Baltimore Ravens10-77-9-143.8%-16.48%
New York Giants9-7-113-476.5%+45.99%

There are several takeaways from this chart. The first is that the two best teams in the league – who were also widely regarded as the clear-cut tier-one contenders – both had negative returns in NFL spread betting.

were either consistently strong or exceeded expectations

Four of the ten teams with the best record in the league were also in the red. The standouts were the Bengals, Chargers, and Giants, who were all in the 6-10 range for best record. An outside perspective on this is that these teams were not viewed as obvious Super Bowl threats, but were either consistently strong or exceeded expectations.

The opposite perspective

Next, we used the same approach to analyze the 10 worst teams in the NFL in 2022. Here’s how that looks.

TeamRecordSpread RecordCover RateProfit/Loss
Chicago Bears3-145-11-131.3%-40.34%
Houston Texans3-13-18-8-150%-4.54%
Arizona Cardinals4-138-947.1%-10.16%
Indianapolis Colts4-12-16-1135.5%-32.62%
Los Angeles Rams5-126-9-240%-23.64%
Denver Broncos5-127-1041.2%-21.39%
Las Vegas Raiders6-118-947.1%-10.16%
Atlanta Falcons7-109-852.9%+1.07%
New Orleans Saints7-107-1041.2%-21.39%
Cleveland Browns7-108-947.1%-10.16%

Only one team that was in the bottom 10 for overall record, the Falcons, yielded any money for sports bettors. Interestingly, the Texans and Cardinals, two of the three worst teams in the league, were near the breakeven line. This follows a similar pattern of the five best teams being less profitable than the next five, except in this case, they were less damaging.

influence of expectations

It’s also important to understand the influence of expectations. Most people around the league expected a productive season from the Broncos during Russell Wilson’s first year in his new threads, but were left disappointed. The Rams were also supposed to be a playoff challenger, but underperformed and were riddled with injuries.

Those expectations worked in favor of the Falcons, who many believed would be terrible, but were actually competitive, especially against divisional opponents. 

NFL and sports betting: the broader scale

We’ve already presented an expanded model of how we analyzed ability and profitability. Now, allow us to show a more condensed model that applies to the five preceding years.

Teams from 2017-21Combined RecordsCombined Spread RecordCover RateProfit/Loss
Ten best records586-224463-326-2158.69%+12.03%
Ten worst records226-581-3347-439-2444.15%-15.71%

The major takeaway from this chart is that the ten best teams found better success against the spread than the ten worst teams. In many instances, it was the teams in that 5-10 range that proved to be more profitable than the outright best teams in the league.

There was also more parity between the teams with the best and worst records in the five-year sample compared to 2022. The difference in deviation from the breakeven point was fairly similar, with the “best” group performing 3.68 percentage points better (15.71%-12.03%).

back the teams that win games

As far as the bottom line goes, the data shows that the best approach, in the most basic form, is to back the teams that win games, favorite or underdog. That may seem obvious, but lower-ranked teams are often gifted massive spreads and can appear to be enticing prospects, even against the best teams.

The difference in deviation from the breakeven point also shows that fading the top teams in spots is more profitable than outright backing underdogs weekly.

The influence of expectation was also a pattern that showed up frequently throughout the data collection. The message there is that it is important for bettors to have a keen sense of when to shift from long-term opinion to short-term viewing. 

With that in mind, enjoy sports betting accordingly during NFL season. Be aware of expectations, track the winners, and update your opinions.

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