Image licensed from USA Today Sports
The ATS Gold Mine
There have been a few constants over the past couple of NFL seasons and you can bet your bottom dollar the sportsbooks are going to try to do something about it. The first constant has been New England’s ability to cash in spread bets for their backers. New England is 24-8 ATS over the past two regular seasons. A virtual ATM machine. In itself, it’s not all that unusual for some teams to put up an 11-5 ATS season or a 10-6 ATS season. However, to have such overwhelming ATS success in two consecutive seasons is somewhat of an anomaly.
On the flip side of the coin, we have the Cleveland Browns who have also been an ATM machine for those who fade them against the spread. Last year they went 4-12 ATS after going just 3-12-1 the year before. A 7-24-1 ATS mark over a two-year span means that the books need to make adjustments. If you have been betting on New England ATS and fading Cleveland ATS over the past couple of seasons then hats off to you. You have gone 48-15-1 which is well beyond an incredible clip. How long will this gravy train last? Will the bookmakers adjust?
Well, it appears that the bookmakers haven’t pressed the panic button yet. It looks like they will be favoring the Patriots by a full touchdown or more in just 6 games this year. Last year, the Pats were laying at least a touchdown in 11 games. They failed to cover in their first 4 games in this spot before covering 6 of the next 7 as a touchdown or more favorite which made them 6-5 ATS in those games which, theoretically, is what one would expect.
As for the Browns, they were 7-point dogs 8 times in 2017 and they covered just twice. So do the oddsmakers lower the spreads for 2018? Well, they are projected to be underdogs of 7 or more in just 5 games this year. The conclusion? Bet New England confidently if they are anything less than 7-point faves and keep on fading the Browns.
This brings us to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh is a bit of a different animal. In 2016, Pittsburgh went 11-5 SU and 9-6-1 ATS. Last year, they went 13-3 but just 7-9 ATS. They were favored by 7 or more in 8 games and they failed to cover in 5 of those. Perhaps what was most alarming about the Steelers in 2017 was that they were unable to cash in for spread backers in those games in which they were playing losing teams. Two of Cleveland’s four covers came against Pittsburgh. Green Bay and Indy were both double-digit dogs and the Steelers were only able to squeak out 3-point wins. Their week 3 loss to the Bears as 7-point favorites is almost inexcusable. They went 2-6 ATS against losing teams in 2017.
It seems that bettors are already hip to this as the opening line of -6.5 against Cleveland in week one has already dropped a full point to -5.5 at most books. They are projected to be giving 4 points to Tampa, 4 to the Bengals in Cincinnati, 10.5 to Cleveland in Pittsburgh, 3 to the Broncos in Denver, and 3.5 to the Raiders in Oakland. It seems that the bookies are uncomfortable making them big favorites against sub-par teams. And rightfully so. The conclusion? The books have adjusted and don’t think that Pittsburgh will be blowing away bad teams. Bet them against the spread when they are giving 7 points or less versus teams with a winning record. They are 8-2 in that spot over the past 2 years.
Let’s switch gears and talk about a trend that will help you with futures bets. The top-10 teams in rushing yards in 2017 were Jacksonville, Dallas, Philadelphia, Carolina, New Orleans, Buffalo, Minnesota, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City, and the New England Patriots. Each of these teams has a very strong running game and, with the exception of Dallas, each of them made the playoffs in 2018. The Steelers may not have been a top-10 rushing team but Le’Veon Bell rushed for the third-highest total and scored 9 touchdowns. The Titans and the Falcons, who both got in as Wildcard teams, at least have respectable running games. The point is that teams without a very strong running game are going nowhere. Not only that, it is those teams with running backs that can produce through the air as well as on the ground that are the ones who will be successful and provide tremendous value for futures bets.
Dual Threat Running Backs
Alvin Kamara of the Saints accumulated 826 receiving yards, Todd Gurley II racked up 788 yards, Le”Veon Bell had 655 yards, and Carolina’s Christian McCaffery had 651 yards. Kareem Hunt, LeSean McCoy, James White, and Jerick McKinnon were all factors in the passing game as were Devonta Freeman and even Leonard Fournette. All of these guys are legitimate dual threats and all of them saw the post-season. The most conspicuous team to be missing a representative on that list is the Philadelphia Eagles but they had Blount and Ajayi splitting duties and the Eagles still racked up the third-most rushing yards and a Super Bowl title.
So, if those aforementioned running backs can be as effective as they were in 2017 then their teams have a very good shot at making the playoffs and competing for a Super Bowl. This also means that an unlikely team such as the Arizona Cardinals with David Johnson returning shouldn’t be completely written off yet and that Dallas is a serious threat if Ezekiel Elliot stays healthy.
There are those who will relentlessly argue that defense wins championships. While a lot can be said for having a good defense, there is a lot more to it than that. Of course, it takes more than just an elite running back to succeed but it appears that the current trend sees potent running games trumping solid defenses. And hey, if you throw in a decent quarterback then you are well on your way. We’re looking at you, Jacksonville!