Conventional wisdom tells us that, when an NFL team takes a week off, they are able to get healthy and spend more time strategizing for their next game, putting them in a better position than an opponent who played the previous week. On the whole, betting on rested teams, particularly those with veteran coaches who know how to use the time, is a good tactic. However, this year in the NFL, teams coming off byes have performed poorly.
Teams returning from a bye this year are 4-10. If you throw out Denver’s week 5 win over the Cardinals, since both teams were coming off of a bye, the record drops to 3-9. Over the last four weeks, those coming back from a bye are a shocking 1-7. And some of the losses are stunners.
Tom Coughlin has won two Super Bowls with the Giants. On Monday, following a week 8 bye, the Giants looked listless at home in a 40-24 loss to Indianapolis. A day earlier, the 49ers, who are 40-15-1 under Jim Harbaugh, lost in the Bay Area to the 3-5 Rams. In week 7, the Saints, led by Sean Payton (who has guided New Orleans to the playoffs in each of his last four seasons at the helm), choked away a 13-point lead with less than four minutes to go against Detroit.
Interestingly, teams losing off of byes have tended to do so in close games. Besides the Giants’ 16-point setback last week, and the Bengals’ week 5 debacle against a hungry Pats team, the average margin of loss in the seven other games is 3.7 points, including a six point overtime loss by Tampa Bay against Minnesota. So we can infer that bye-week teams are preparing decently and hanging tough; they just aren’t quite getting the job done.
Where does that leave us for this week? The Bears, Bills, Falcons, Lions, Packers, and Titans are all coming off of a week 9 bye.
We can throw out the Bears visiting Green Bay since both teams are coming off of byes. We should also toss the Bills as a small underdog against Kansas City, since our trend seems to indicate that that spread is right on. The Falcons are laying a point in Tampa Bay. If Atlanta continues the trend and loses close, betting the Bucs would be the play, but it is a tepid play at best with the Bucs at 1-7 on the year.
However, we can get behind two wagers.
Tennessee returns to action as a ten-point dog at Baltimore. The Titans are 2-6 overall and 2-5-1 against the spread. However, they are 2-2 against the number on the road after going 5-2-1 last year. With a week to prepare, the trend suggests that the Titans will keep it closer than ten points and cover the spread.
The other play this week is Miami. The Dolphins travel to Detroit on a three game winning streak. The Fins are 3-1 on the road and easily could be 2-0 against the NFC North. The Fins won at Chicago 27-14 in week 7, seven days after losing to Green Bay 27-24 on a last-minute TD pass by Aaron Rodgers. The Lions are coming off of a bye following a come-from-behind win over Atlanta in London. Detroit is a field goal favorite, but a closer examination of what we’ve seen this year indicates the Lions are likely to play competitively but eventually fall short. Take Miami and the points.
(Photo credit: Ed Yourdon [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)