With the NFL having played seven weeks of the 2018 season, clearer pictures are starting to form in terms of what teams you can and can’t rely on to cover the spread. And when it comes to teams that you can’t count on to beat the number, there are any number of reasons that they have failed to deliver for bettors who have backed them throughout the season. Here are the eight worst teams in the NFL against the spread through the first seven weeks of the 2018 NFL season.
- Oakland Raiders – 2-5 ATS
For the Oakland Raiders, the inability to cover the spread has been a product of their complete failure to live up to the expectations that were set for them heading into the 2018 season. They were a trendy pick to get back to the playoffs and make some serious noise once they got there, thanks in large part to the hiring of new head coach Jon Gruden. But what has transpired instead has been something that resembles tanking more than it does trying to win now, which the bookmakers weren’t preparing for.
Oakland traded away their best overall player in Khalil Mack, not wanting to pay him for a new contract the way he wanted despite the fact that without him their defense didn’t have much in the way of talent. Rumor had it that the team wanted to keep Mack, but was unable to set enough money aside to pay him, which is almost unheard of in today’s NFL. Well instead of paying Mack, the Raiders have paid for that decision, as the team has found itself in a terrible position as a result of their inability to keep last year’s defense intact heading into the regime change.
On defense, there may not be a worse team than the Raiders, who found themselves in last place in the NFL in yards against per play through seven weeks of the season with 6.7 yards per play allowed. Rarely do roster moves blow up in a team’s face this quickly and this noticeably, but the Raiders are giving up a full yard per play more than they did last season without their star pass rusher. Needless to say, hiring Gruden for $100 million over 10 years hasn’t lived up to the early billing it was given by sportsbooks.
- Green Bay Packers – 2-4 ATS
The story for the Green Bay Packers over the last couple of years has consisted of Aaron Rodgers doing incredible things to paper over the tons of flaws that the rest of the organization has. But this year that is more noticeable than ever, with other components of the team looking outright bad around him. As a result, the betting public has put its faith in the star player in Rodgers, while the rest of the team hasn’t been good enough to justify those types of decisions in a classic case of perception versus reality for NFL bettors.
A great example of those issues for the Packers came in their week six Monday Night Football game against the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers were favored by close to double digits heading into that game, but allowed the Niners to hang around from start to finish, as the Packers needed a game-winning field goal in order to get themselves a much-needed win. The rationale behind the big spread was that Aaron Rodgers was taking on CJ Beathard in the quarterback matchup. And a lot of bettors took the bait there. But NFL betting is about seeing the whole picture, which would have told anyone that the rest of the Packers team is just not that good.
Green Bay may have all of the glamor in the world with Rodgers taking the snaps and unleashing beautiful throws, but a quick look at the team as a whole would reveal that they had thrown just two interceptions on the season after seven weeks, yet are still almost even in turnover margin. Only the New Orleans Saints have fewer through seven weeks, as they had avoided throwing even one pick during that time frame. You can have the best quarterback in the world, but if you can’t get off the field by forcing turnovers of your own, you are going to have a hard time covering spreads consistently in the NFL.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 2-4 ATS
Sometimes there are teams in the NFL who get off to hot starts that force both bettors and oddsmakers to adjust their expectations of a given team. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers failed to deliver on those increased expectations for the most part, as their huge offensive outburst over the first two weeks of the season didn’t translate into a year full of covering the spread to say the least.
Tampa started out the 2018 season scoring in the 40s in a win over a Saints team that many think will make it back to the Super Bowl in 2018. They followed that up with a win over the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles in their second game of the season. Naturally, that raised expectations which has a tangible impact on what kind of line a team has to beat over the course of a season. And unfortunately for Bucs backers, they were unable to keep up with the demands of those more difficult lines.
Since those first two games, the Buccaneers went winless against the spread in their next four games, as their offense sputtered since Ryan Fitzpatrick was the talk of the league with his two masterful opening games. The team went back to Jameis Winston shortly after his three-game suspension was up to start the season. And while the team is still plenty capable of moving the ball, they found themselves worse than everyone but the Raiders in opponent yards per play through the first seven weeks of action.
Keeping an eye on what lines will look like for Bucs games throughout the 2018 season will be interesting, as the team is now back to being underwhelming, which could open the door for some games where they could become a reliable cover again depending on what the perception of the remaining teams on their schedule is heading into the weeks that they play Tampa Bay.
Denver Broncos – 2-4-1 ATS
Teams who bring in new quarterbacks before the start of a season have a lot that they need to deal with, as teams need to get that quarterback used to playing in their offensive system while the quarterback builds a rapport with the rest of the team. For the Denver Broncos, either that process didn’t go well for them in the first half of the season, or they just haven’t had good quarterback play despite all of the money that they’ve paid Case Keenum to be the future of their franchise.
Keenum was very good in 2017 with the Minnesota Vikings, which was a product of a few things. First, the Vikings had the best third down defense in the NFL in 2017. This meant that the defense was getting off the field more consistently, which meant that opposing defenses had to come back onto the field sooner on average. This led to opposing defenses being tired, which meant that Keenum was able to pick apart defenses that were moving slower than they otherwise would have.
There was also the fact that Keenum had one of the best wide receiver duos in the league as a Viking in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. And despite all of that, Keenum still would have went winless in last year’s postseason if not for an absolute gift of a defensive mistake from the New Orleans Saints.
In 2018, Keenum is working with a defense that is good, but not quite as good as last year’s unit. While the Broncos have a great pass rush led by Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, they lack some of the same talent in the secondary that the Vikings had. And trading in the most dynamic pair of receivers in the game for the aging Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders has made things slightly more difficult as well, not to mention the struggling Broncos offensive line.
Everyone expected a winner in Denver with the big splash they made at the quarterback position. But understanding situational elements when it comes to rosters and our perception of them is everything, as the Broncos have been worse than expected, prompting the spread struggles.
- Atlanta Falcons – 2-5 ATS
To win in the NFL, you have to be a complete team for at least enough game days to have a successful season. The Atlanta Falcons often struggle with this, but have a good quarterback and recently made a Super Bowl, which usually causes their betting lines to be favorable to opponents more than themselves. But one of the real stories of this Atlanta Falcons season has been how injuries have derailed them and made it much more difficult for them to beat the number.
The Falcons, in the first half of the 2018 season, suffered injuries to their defensive line and linebacking corps, which had generated an elite pass rush at times in recent seasons. Without those elements to their defense operating at full strength, the Falcons were stuck with a defense that had to rely on a good, but not great, secondary. And having to rely on a secondary to play coverage without the rest of the defense being able to shorten the amount of time they have to cover is often disastrous for a defense.
Through week seven of the season, the Falcons were 30th in the league in yards against per play, giving up 6.4 yards per opponent snap. The two teams behind them, of course, were the aforementioned Raiders and Buccaneers, both of whom are also on this list of the last proficient teams at covering the spread over the first seven weeks of the season. So if you are looking for a common thread among a good chunk of the teams on this list, bad defense is definitely a common bond that a lot of them have.
Defensive injuries are tricky in football betting, because most bettors only think about injuries to more prominent skill position players and offensive players. This is a byproduct of the attention that fantasy football gets and how much more demand there is to know if Julio Jones is playing than if Vic Beasley is playing, even if they are both extremely important to the success of the Falcons. Atlanta’s issues against the spread in the first half of 2018 are a great reminder to read the entire injury report for a team before making picks against the spread, as injuries to linemen and defensive players can often be the difference between beating the number and failing to do so.
- Philadelphia Eagles – 2-5 ATS
The Philadelphia Eagles were another team that came into the 2018 season with sky-high expectations that were a product of the team winning the Super Bowl last season. With Carson Wentz returning at quarterback following his knee injury that ended his 2017 season early, it was expected that the team would run through the rest of the NFC en route to another Super Bowl appearance. But the Eagles spent the first seven games of 2018 struggling to a 3-4 straight up record with just two wins against the spread.
And truthfully, it could have gone even worse for the Eagles and their backers to start the 2018 season. In their season opening game against the Atlanta Falcons, they were forced to make a goal line stand as time expired to preserve a narrow 18-12 win against Atlanta in a rematch of their exciting divisional round playoff game from the season before. But if Atlanta’s red zone offense was capable of getting out of its own way in that game, the Eagles would have been looking at a 1-6 start against the spread, with their destruction of the Giants never really in doubt in terms of their ability to cover.
Perhaps the biggest problem for the Eagles this season was that everyone expected Wentz to return from injury a couple of weeks into the season and for the team to be back to the level it played at with him in 2017 without any sort of adjustment period. Returning from a disastrous knee injury in football is one of the most difficult things a player can do, as the player is tasked with moving at full speed and mobility when it is more difficult to do so, while the rest of the league can effortlessly continue moving at a blinding pace.
That, of course, is unrealistic, and is the reason that you see so many teams with previously injured quarterbacks getting off to such slow starts against the spread in a given season. Bookmakers know that bettors tend to underestimate just how hard it is to get back into the swing of things in an NFL offense after a major injury, yet that fact doesn’t seem to stop anyone from backing those quarterbacks. Wentz should continue to improve as the season goes on, but it could take him until 2019 to be fully ready to play at an MVP level once again.
- Houston Texans – 2-5 ATS
Houston was another case of a team whose star quarterback is returning from a knee injury, with Deshaun Watson being forced to shoulder the load of the offense despite not getting as much time as one might want to fully bounce back from his knee problems. And in what has been an up and down season for the Texans, Watson has made it clear with a little bit of recovery time can do.
The Texans started the 2018 season with a horrendous 0-3 record, losing games to the Patriots, Giants, and Giants. There is nothing wrong with any of those losses, except for being the only loss for the Giants through the first seven weeks of the season, but Houston managed to turn things around as Watson got more and more comfortable in the offense after having to step away due to his injury.
Houston rattled off four straight wins after their 0-3 start, including wins over division rivals Indianapolis and Jacksonville, as well as a win over the in-state rival Dallas Cowboys. Through week seven, the Texans were above .500 as a team against all odds, with Watson looking much more comfortable and much more fresh than he did in the first three weeks of the season as he appeared to have fully recovered from his knee concerns.
But it is also worth pointing out something that bettors should do a better job of paying attention to throughout the season. The Texans, through seven weeks of the 2018 season, played the weakest schedule in the entire National Football League. Their strength of schedule through seven weeks was an abysmal .388. Even the Los Angeles Rams, who started the season at 7-0 and were responsible for a lot of the defeats to their opponents on the year, were slightly above that mark through week seven.
When handicapping NFL games, knowing which teams are legitimate and which teams are pretenders can often have something to do with the quality of schedule that they have played on the season. The Houston Texans were a perfect example of that through seven weeks, and are a great reminder that you might want to take a look at some schedule metrics before you decide whether or not you trust a team with your investment.
- San Francisco 49ers – 2-5 ATS
Quarterback injuries can be a season killer in the NFL, and that’s exactly what the injury to Niners starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was when he suffered a knee injury during a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs early in the 2018 season. But before Garoppolo went down injured, the Niners were victims of inflated expectations and inflated spreads as a result of Jimmy G’s presence on the team.
Garoppolo came into this season as a quarterback who had never lost a single start in his career. Granted, that career consisted of a couple of spot starts in New England when Tom Brady was unavailable along with a few starts at the end of last season after he was traded to the Niners by the Patriots. But it was expected that, despite the lack of experience, Garoppolo was going to make the Niners a legitimate playoff contender right away.
Instead, the Niners went 0-3 against the spread in the three games that Garoppolo started. Their offense was decent for the most part, scoring 27 points or more twice in three games. But the Niners gave up 24 or more points in all three of those games as well, as they lost outright to the Vikings and Chiefs while beating the Lions. There is no shame in losing to the VIkings and Chiefs, two playoff teams from 2017, but Garoppolo did not live up to the hype to that point in the season.
When Garoppolo comes back, keep an eye on the betting lines for the Niners, as they could once again create favorable conditions to go against the Niners and to take advantage of the public perception of Garoppolo being a franchise savior despite a very small body of work. CJ Beathard, Garoppolo’s backup, went 2-2 against the spread in the four weeks following Garoppolo’s injury to close out the first seven games with a 2-5 against the spread record as a team.
You’ll notice, by the way, that out of the eight worst NFL teams against the spread through seven weeks of the 2018 NFL season, that none have under two wins against the spread. This speaks to just how good every NFL team can be when they are at their best, but also to how you can’t just blindly bet on or against one team and expect to have success as a pro football bettor, as things will even out for most teams on a long-term basis.