Week one of the NFL season saw a shocking upset, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints outright in New Orleans. They did so with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm, with the Bucs being bet up to a double-digit underdog by the time the game kicked off. And while the straight up result of the game was shocking, the result against the spread may have been less so given the performance of double-digit favorites against the spread.
Since the inception of point spreads and wagering on the NFL, double-digit favorites in the league have something close to a .500 record all-time. There is no exact listing of these games given just how many there have been in the history of the sport, but it is safe to say that the Saints have not been the only double-digit favorite to fail to cover the spread.
Favorites have been performing better in recent years, though, even when the spread is in the neighborhood of 10 points or more. This is thanks largely to their performance in the later portions of the season. In the final five weeks of the season, from 2011 to 2016, double digit favorites were covering at a rate of 56.7%, comfortably ahead of the number required to turn a profit.
A lot of that has to do with the widening gap between the teams at the top of the league and the teams at the bottom of the league. With so much of the physicality removed from the game, quarterback play has become more important than ever, as teams without a good quarterback can’t make up for that deficiency by teeing off on their opponents. This allows teams like the New England Patriots to run roughshod over teams like the Cleveland Browns, as Tom Brady is so much better equipped to impact his team in a positive way than someone like Tyrod Taylor.
While double-digit favorites in the NFL do have some value in certain spots, and tend to play well near the end of the season, they still aren’t something that any bettor should make a habit of backing frequently. All bettors should evaluate each game on a case-by-case basis, even if it looks like there is a big mismatch on the horizon. Evaluating the quarterback play of both teams is a good move as well as, with hindsight being 20/20, Bucs bettors were able to see that Ryan Fitzpatrick was capable of moving the ball even if he isn’t in the elite tier of quarterbacks.
It was a rough day for big favorites across the NFL in the first week of the season. Of the four teams that were favored by at least a touchdown, only one managed to cover the spread. The Baltimore Ravens were that team, as they beat up on the hapless Bills in a 40-0 thrashing. The Saints, Green Bay Packers, and Detroit Lions all failed to cover and all would have lost outright if not for Aaron Rodgers’ second half heroics.