Everyone who’s dabbled in online sports betting has considered a favorite at least once. After all, it’s easy to like the team that’s supposed to win.
But when it comes to NFL betting, how often does the favorite actually win? And is it actually a good bet?
I did the research so that you don’t have to.
How Often Do NFL Favorites Win?
According to Bet Labs, NFL moneyline favorites that were -115 or lower posted a record of 175-88-2 during the 2022 regular season. That’s a win percentage of 66.5%.
Not bad, right? Winning two-thirds of the time seems pretty good.
It seems especially good when compared to how often NFL favorites covered the spread last season. Spread favorites went 118-147-5 ATS last year, according to Bet Labs. That’s an abysmal 45% cover rate.
I’ll circle back to those moneyline/spread splits here in a second, but let’s answer another important question first.
Are NFL Favorites Profitable?
No, they are not. At least not en masse.
NFL moneyline favorites might win a big majority of their games, but the reduced payout in the moneyline market is more powerful than the on-field advantage that favorites generally have.
If you bet every NFL moneyline favorite in 2022, your overall ROI would be at -3% equity over the course of the regular season.
That 3% loss is roughly in line with historical standards for NFL moneyline betting over the past 20 years.
Of course, very few people are going to bet every single moneyline favorite for an entire NFL season, which means the key lesson here is to choose carefully when identifying betting favorites. For regular bettors, your long-term profitability depends on it.
NFL Spreads 2022
Remember that -3% ROI that moneyline bettors would have suffered in 2022? Well, NFL ATS bettors that bet every favorite would have fared much worse, to the tune of a whopping -15% loss in just one year. By nearly every measurement, the 2022 season was one of the worst years on record for NFL spreads.
Well, for favorite bettors, anyway. Bettors who took the points saw just how often NFL underdogs won last season.
I was curious to see just how much of an outlier the 2022 NFL season was, when it comes to spread betting. Over the last 20 years or so, a bet on every ATS favorite produces a negative ROI of only about -4%. So why was last year so bad?
When I shortened the sample size to the previous four seasons (2018-2021), ATS favorites were still pretty bad: 463-546-23, with a negative ROI around -10%. That’s definitely worse than the last 20 years but still much better than 2022.
I believe that 2022 was a truly, aberrantly bad year for NFL spread favorites. There could be slightly less parity in the league this year, which would lead to more covers for favorites.
On the other hand, NFL spread favorites are showing an overall decline in efficiency over the last five years, which may not be an accident. As more novice gamblers enter the space and more square money perfuses the market, NFL spreads may actually become more reactionary and less efficient.
NFL Strength of Schedule
Using adjusted spreads. pic.twitter.com/Q3FjUCQFbm
— Da Bears (@DaB3ar5) May 18, 2023
NFL Moneyline vs. NFL Spreads
If my theory on NFL spreads is true, this opens up huge opportunities for bettors who are willing to bet NFL spread underdogs.
This would also explain why the popular spread market has seen a big swing, while the moneyline market — not a popular target for straight bets among public, low-dollar bettors — has mostly remained in line with historical trends.
My actionable advice on this information? Target NFL spread underdogs in 2023 and beyond, but don’t neglect the moneyline market. There’s still plenty of room to bet favorites and two-team parlays, ignoring spreads altogether.
Read More: How Do NFL Odds Work?
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