Can You Make Money Betting On NFL Home Underdogs?
Betting on the NFL home underdog is often presented as though it’s a sure-fire way to make money whenever football season kicks off each year.
In fact, a quick Google search will yield results echoing that line of thought, but unfortunately, none of these sites even show numbers from an NFL season, opting to keep their line of reasoning vague rather than offering specifics.
That changes today because we’re going deep and doing a full examination of Week 1-17 from the 2018 NFL season to see if it’s possible to make some cash or if this “strat” is really just a myth.
So, can you make money betting solely on NFL underdogs?
Let’s find out.
Why Bet On NFL Home Underdogs?
The reasoning as to why the strategy of betting on a home underdog in the NFL is even a thing is simple, yet flawed in many ways.
It stems from the perception that playing on a home field is worth a certain number of points, and typically, it goes like this: If an NFL team plays a game on the road, it’s automatically easier to win, right?
In fact, the “old NFL wives’ tale” rule is that home-field advantage is worth 3 points on average, so before the ball is even kicked off, the home team should be perceived as being up 3-0 on the scoreboard.
And honestly, this isn’t far from the truth.
When playing at home, NFL teams scored an average of 2.32 more points than the away team during the 2018 regular season.
The Patriots had the largest margin of victory at home, scoring an average of 16.2 more points than opponents at Gillette Stadium while the Cardinals were dead last and scored -11.6 fewer points than their road opponents when playing at State Farm Stadium.
And how did the two teams finish the season? The Patriots finished with a perfect 8-0 record at home and went on to win Super Bowl 53 while the Cardinals went 1-7 out in the desert and won the 1st overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
But in theory, since you would’ve — on average — got a 2.32-point advantage last season every time a team suited up at home, if a point spread favored the road team by 2 or fewer points, then you should turn a profit by the end of the season.
Well, hold up there, lil’ underdoggies. Let’s take a look at how well they performed against the spread (ATS) before we smash that “BET” button on every home underdog listed during the 2019 NFL season.
NFL Home Underdogs ATS During 2018 Season
To start, let’s see how well the NFL home underdogs performed against the spread during the 2018 regular season.
The two resources used were:
- FantasyData for a cumulative average of point spreads recorded from several online sportsbooks
- ESPN for the Week 1-17 NFL scoreboard during the 2018 regular season
After compiling the data from both ESPN and FantasyData, here’s how the home underdogs performed in Week 1-17 last season.
ATS Home Underdogs Record
- Week 1: 3-4
- Week 2: 5-1
- Week 3: 4-2
- Week 4: 2-3
- Week 5: 5-0
- Week 6: 4-4
- Week 7: 1-5
- Week 8: 2-5
- Week 9: 2-6
- Week 10: 2-2
- Week 11: 3-0-1
- Week 12: 2-3
- Week 13: 5-2
- Week 14: 5-3
- Week 15: 3-1-1
- Week 16: 2-5
- Week 17: 1-3
- Overall: 46-49-2
In the 2018 NFL season, home underdogs only covered 46 out of 97 games where the road team was favored, giving them a 47.4% win rate for covering the spread.
The road favorite covered 49 out of 97 games, while there were also 2 games that resulted in a “push” or where the spread landed on the exact margin of victory, and the entire handle was returned to all that wagered.
If we consider that each of the spreads was -110, then — with the previously mentioned 47.4% applied — a bettor would lose -9.51% of his or her investment if a wager was placed on the home underdog in each of the games.
On the flip side, you may be thinking: If the home underdog overall lost money after all 97 games were played last season, then that means the road favorite won money in 2018, right?
Wrong. Yes, the road favorite won 49 out of 97 games, giving them a 50.5% win rate of covering the spread. But keep in mind: With the odds for the typical point spread being -110, it means a person is required to win 52.38% of their bets to break even due to the vigorish or “juice” at sportsbooks.
With a cover rate of 50.5% and -110 odds given for a bet on the road favorite’s spread, a bettor would have seen a return on investment of -3.59% after 97 games were played.
Betting on a team because they were the home underdog was a good way to lose money during the 2018 NFL season. And while betting on the road favorite lost less money last season, the fact is that it still lost money, which isn’t what anyone wants.
At the end of the day, the takeaway is this: If you’re looking to make a profit from betting on the NFL point spread, then putting your money on a team solely based on where the game is played is unquestionably the wrong strategy to use.