The 2018 regular season went out with a bang. There were a number of blowouts in meaningless contests, but five games were decided by three points or fewer including a Ravens-Browns matchup which decided the playoff fates of both Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The play-in game between the Colts and Titans on Sunday night was also a surprisingly close affair until the Colts pulled away late in the game.
As for the basics of the betting week, there was a perfectly even split between favorites and underdogs as well as overs and unders, but road teams dominated with 10 ATS wins to six for the home squads. Four of those were straight up wins by road underdogs of six or more points – the Cowboys, Lions, Panthers, and Bears. Home teams were even worse in Week 16, going 2-12-2 against the spread. This run is almost certainly just an interesting fluke, but it is something to keep in mind heading into what looks like a wide-open playoffs.
G.O.A.Ts and Goats
The nature of a betting line means most teams, regardless of how good or bad they are, hover around .500 against the spread each season. Several teams each year, however, defy public perception enough to really shine against the spread. The Bears were the gold standard in 2018, finishing a cool 12-4 against the spread including a straight up win as a road underdog in the season finale. The Seahawks, Saints, Browns, Chiefs, and Cowboys also managed to cover 60 percent or more of their games this season.
On the other side, the Falcons and 49ers consistently fell short of expectations, both finishing 5-11 against the spread. In a nice touch, the Falcons won their final game of the season by two points after closing as 2.5-point favorites. The Jets, Jaguars, and Raiders also covered the spread in fewer than 40 percent of their contests this season.
An interesting trend I have tracked the past few seasons is the performance of soon-to-be-fired coaches late in the year. Since 2012, lame-duck coaches not playing another coach about to fired are 11-15 against the spread in the season finale, and that includes what originally looked like a fluky Week 17 last year in which five of the six eventually fired coaches covered the spread, three of them as favorites. In the five seasons before that result, lame-duck coaches were 6-14 against the spread in the season finale.
Interestingly, the good performances continued this season. The six fired coaches still working in Week 17 were 0-6 straight up, but they were 3-3 against the spread including surprising results by the Cardinals and Bengals as big underdogs. The Jets and Dolphins did their part by being blown out, but recent results suggest betting against teams likely to change coaches in the season finale is not a guaranteed win.
There were not any terrible beats on Sunday, but Falcons backers have to feel a little hard done by Atlanta winning by two points as 2.5-point favorites, especially since they led by 11 at one point in the fourth quarter.
The Sunday night game also offered a tiny slice of heartache. The total in that game closed at 43.5, but it opened at 45 and sat at 44 for most of the day on Sunday. 44 points is exactly where the Titans and Colts landed following a field goal with just 3:55 left in the game, but a turnover on downs followed by an eight-yard touchdown run on the next play ended the dreams of any under bettors.
Finally, three games this week featured a high scoring team held down by offensive ineptitude on the other side. Despite the Patriots scoring 38 points, the under hit in their game because the Jets only managed to put three on the board. It was the same story in Kanas City, where the Chiefs scored 35 but the Raiders only ended up with a field goal. Finally, the Lions put up 31 points in Green Bay, but the Packers were shut out to close the season. All three games went under the total.