All sports bets are not created equal. Inside the unpredictable Animal Farm of wagering on overs and unders, some NFL totals “are more equal than others.”

Over Under: betting NFL totals
Betting NFL sides may be more popular, but betting NFL totals might be more profitable. (Image: SI)

Betting on NFL sides makes up the vast majority of football wagers. Betting on NFL totals, however, is frequently where you can find more profitable opportunities.

A look at recent game data shows how, late in the season, betting the under on game totals where there’s a point spread of 10 points or greater is a safe bet more often than not.

Totals, aka Over/Unders, refer to the projected number of total points scored in a game. In the NFL, most totals usually fall within the 35- to 55-point range. The majority of games total somewhere in the mid-40s. Hence, final scores both close to the spread and the total — such as 23-20, 23-21, 24-21, 24-20, 27-17, and so forth — are well within the margins of normal expectations for NFL teams under typical circumstances.

Many factors can (and do) influence a total. The most common include injuries, especially to key players such as starting QBs, running back, and receivers. Weather, particularly in outdoor stadiums subject to adverse playing conditions such as wind, rain, and snow, can also be an important factor in a game’s score. Other intangibles can also have an impact, and what follows below are some factors that have shown their value over the years.

Late-Season Betting Line Indicators

The first thing to do when seeking a solid totals wager is to examine the lines for every NFL game. Look for point spreads of 10 points or higher. Toss out all the others. Only consider games where one team is at least a 10-point favorite.

OK? So far, so good.

This method applies only to regular season games in weeks 13 through 17. This typically means the final four games of the regular season for each team, which will be the only situations to be examined for the purposes of using this betting angle.

So, we are targeting late-season NFL games where one team is at least a 10-point favorite. No other factors will apply when it comes to this very simple betting strategy that tends to produce at least two to three wagers each week.

Still with me? Good, because the angle only applies to one matchup this weekend — Baltimore (-10) at Cleveland. There’s always an exception that proves the rule.

The Theory of Profitable Unders

Here’s the betting angle distilled down to its simple core:

In NFL regular season weeks 13 through 17, in games where one team is at least a 10-point favorite, bet the UNDER.  

It’s that easy.

What makes these particular games more prone to go under the betting total than usual? Here are three theories (all mine) that contribute to this unique subset of games being solid under wagers:

  1. Late-season games often have backup players starting, as injuries have taken their toll on the first string after many weeks of play. Even healthy winning teams may rest their key players in the final few games of the season, especially if a playoff seeding has already been secured. Lesser-skilled and under-experienced players on offense usually translate into sloppy offensive execution, which means fewer points scored. Pro tip: Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) can often provide clues about which players are expected to produce lots of scoring.
  2. Games with big point spreads (-10 or higher) reveal a clear disparity of talent between the teams. A lopsided point spread means one team is far superior to its opponent. Late in the season, many players simply want to stay healthy, not risk injury, and may even be aware of coaching changes coming in the offseason. All of these factors contribute to lackluster performance. It means in games, sometimes with no real meaning, players will just go through the motions. Offenses may even bring in skill players who haven’t played before. These are all ideal conditions for unders.
  3. Fatigue and general disinterest. Coaches and players already out of the playoff race won’t be as inclined to work 70 hours a week studying game film and preparing for the opponent. Hence, some offensive playbooks get scaled-down in the final weeks of the season. Again, this is great if you’re betting unders.

Do these theories make sense? If not, let’s do one more exercise by examining some past results.

Recent NFL Data Confirms

Games in this subset of conditions have performed well as under plays, both in the short- and long-term. Data shows:

  • Since Week #13 of the 2018 NFL regular season (to present), under wagers have produced 12 winners and eight losers, good for a 60 percent win rate.
  • Since 2008, which now includes more than 10 years of data, under wagers have produced 83 winners and 62 losers (with two pushes), good for a 57.2 percent win rate.

These are strong numbers. Not many angles produce such winning percentages with no additional handicapping required.

This angle applies to only one game this week — the Baltimore Ravens at the Cleveland Browns (+10, 48.5). Three games may fit the criteria next week based on early numbers, so keep this angle on file.

Obviously, previous results don’t guarantee future success, but this angle, uncovered by me — and shared publicly for the first time here at OG News — is a great foundation for analyzing late-season NFL games.