Good NFL Teams Cover the Spread at an Incredible Rate

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(Photo by All-Pro Reels Photography/Wikimedia Commons)
Andrew Doughty Sep 08, 2021, 8:51 PM

The Baltimore Ravens failed to win a third straight AFC North title in 2020 – and atone for an early playoff exit in 2019 – but still posted the best point differential in the NFL en route to 11 wins. Generally speaking, the Ravens were a good team on the field. They were also a good team in the sportsbook, becoming the latest data point in an NFL betting trend for good teams over the last decade.

The Ravens obliterated the Cleveland Browns in Week 1, 38-6, the first of nine wins by at least 10 points as they posted the third-best point differential in franchise history, plus-184. They were one of nine NFL teams with an average point differential (APD) of plus-5 points or better in the regular season. 

Only one of those seven teams finished below .500 against the spread (ATS), and only one had a negative average cover plus-minus, i.e., the average number of points by which they failed to cover the spread each week.

TeamATS RecordAVG. POINT DIFFERENTIALAVG. COVER
Ravens10-6+10.3 points+3.5 points
Saints9-79.1 points+4.0 points
Packers10-68.8 points+3.8 points
Buccaneers9-78.6 points+3.8 points
Bills11-57.9 points+5.6 points
Chiefs7-96.9 points-0.4 points
Steelers10-66.5 points+2.2 points
Colts8-85.6 points+1.0 points
Seahawks8-85.5 points+0.8 points

From 2011-20, 77 teams posted an APD of plus-5 points or better in the regular season. Those teams averaged 9.2 ATS wins, and only eight teams finished below .500 ATS, none of which were worse than 7-9 ATS. Twenty-eight of the 77 teams had 10 or more ATS wins, including 14 teams with at least 11 ATS wins.

Only three of the 77 teams finished the season with a negative average cover plus-minus (3.9 percent). The 2012 Houston Texans, 2018 New England Patriots, and 2020 Kansas City Chiefs are the only teams over the last decade to post a positive APD alongside a negative average cover plus-minus. And the Patriots and Chiefs barely made the cut at minus-0.5 points and minus-0.4 points, respectively.

If you increase the range to all teams with an average PD of plus-1 point or better, the rate of negative average cover increases, though it’s still just 12.4 percent (17 of 137 teams). 

Just like bad teams are bad at covering spreads, good teams are good at covering NFL spreads at a mind-blowing rate of 96.1 percent.

 

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About the Author

Andrew Doughty

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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else.

Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else.