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Handicapping the NFL After Bye Weeks
by Scott Spreitzer - 09/30/2008
We've come to the first week of the NFL season where some teams will be playing after a bye week. I think many handicappers place too much weight on this early in a campaign, then not enough later on when it can be really helpful.
Do you remember what happened last year during this week? What about the season before? Byes have been around a long time now. Do you have a formalized strategy for how to handicap teams after they've had a week off?
Far too many assume that coming off a bye means "fresh and rested." It's a universal positive in their minds. A team will get all their banged up players healthy. They'll be at top speed. They'll be at peak intensity. And, they'll leave their opponents in the dust.
And, usually there are game results that reinforce that view. Last year, after the first week of byes, fresh Washington drilled Detroit 34-3 as a 3.5-point favorite. Everyone sees the blowout, sees the bye, and assumes there's a direct correlation.
Jacksonville won and covered after the first bye weekend last year, beating Kansas City on the road 17-7 as 1.5-point favorites. It wasn't pretty, but it cashed the ticket for folks betting that the fresh Jaguars would dominate the Chiefs.
Two games, two nice covers.
Unfortunately for the theory there were FOUR teams that weekend playing off a bye. New Orleans lost outright as 3.5-point favorites over Carolina 16-13 at home. Tennessee was an 8-point favorite over Atlanta, and won 20-13 despite losing the ball five times.
People prone to believe that byes provide a big boost remember the Washington blowout, but forget that all the rested teams combined to go just 2-2 ATS.
Oh, the same thing happened the next week. Bye teams were 2-2 ATS again.
You see, byes aren't all positive. Offenses lose their timing (particularly early in the season), leading to potential turnover disasters. Teams who are playing well lose their momentum, and get overconfident because they spend the extra time reading the local papers about how great they are. Guys who are poisons in the clubhouse get extra time in the clubhouse. Players who hate their coaches are spending more time with their coaches. Some teams know how to make the most of an off week. Others are hampered by them.
As bettors, we need to be careful how we handle these scheduling opportunities. Don't assume it's an automatic positive. Don't go around blindly betting the bye teams. It's dumb to invest in a dysfunctional squad right after they lose whatever rhythm they might have had! How bad is THAT going to get? On the other hand, some veteran teams are really helped by bye weeks (particularly later in the season). That break allows them to refuel their tanks. And, veteran teams often have their offensive timing down from all the time they've spent together over the years anyway.
I suggest handling byes on a case-by-case basis. This is time consuming. But it gives you a chance to win money instead of juicing out!
Consider these guidelines:
EARLY SEASON BYES ARE POSITIVE FOR: Teams off to slow starts; teams suffering early injuries; teams with young coaches who are still learning the ropes; teams residing in hot weather cities (they miss a calendar date that might have worn them down).
EARLY SEASON BYES ARE NEGATIVE FOR: Teams off to fast starts; teams who are healthy; teams with young quarterbacks who might lose their timing; teams residing in Ice Belt cities who miss a nice-weather date.
MID OR LATE SEASON BYES ARE POSITIVE FOR: Veteran teams who really need a break to get their juices flowing again; teams who suffered early season injuries; teams who just played a few divisional games in a row; really, I think most teams benefit from mid to late-season byes.
MID OR LATE SEASON BYES ARE NEGATIVE FOR: Teams with chemistry issues who will find those negative emotions festering. You'd think that some time away from the weekly grind would be good for them. But instead, it just gives different factions time to figure out the season is lost and blame each other for it.
In my own handicapping, I tend to stay very conservative in making adjustments to my stat projections and power ratings. How much is a bye week worth in the best of times? If a veteran team that was badly in need of a bye got one, I might lift them 2-3 points in my ratings in that first game back. If a hot early team didn't need a late September or early October interruption, I might dock them 1-2 points on the assumption that turnovers and incomplete passes are going to be an issue when they take the field again.
I think bye angles are strongest when they're in harmony with other factors. Let's say a banged-up veteran team is coming off a loss THEN a bye week. You're really going to get peak intensity in that first game back. Divisional revenge? Even better. Maybe that combination is worth another three points.
Nobody said handicapping the NFL was easy. It takes hard work and serious analysis. Don't make the mistake of assuming bye weeks will give you a shortcut!