Identifying NFL Underdogs and Parlays for Profit
The first in a weekly free pick series looking for value plays and underdogs in NFL football. Fairway's Football Forecast examines four games and puts together a fat parlay looking for a maximum payout.
Last season I provided a fun weekly exercise providing 4 pro football underdog picks with analysis each week. Fairway’s Football Forecast was producing more winners than losers through nearly half the NFL season when I went on the disabled list and PUP. The feedback from Fairway’s followers was great, and we’ll fire for the green again with Fairway’s Foursome and Fourpack each week to coincide with our four college football picks and projections.
Last season our pro football picks and plays were 16-8 ATS selecting only underdogs, and of our 16 ATS winners, 11 teams won the game outright. So I came up with a $1,000 per week bankroll to wager on these games as follows:
• $200 bet on each team to cover the point spread ($800)
• $40 bet on the money line for each underdog to win the game outright ($160)
• $20 bet on a 4-team money line parlay ($20)
• $20 bet on a 4-team parlay ($20)
I thought I would add a small parlay wager each week utilizing 2% of this theoretical bankroll each on those two parlays. I know many bettors that like to go for a bigger score and parlay payoff (Big Bertha), so I added that to our wagering portfolio.
So throughout the NFL season, we'll post pro football plays and parlays with a focus on 'dogs. Like our weekly college football underdog picks and parlay’s for profit plays, we'll take a similar approach in the NFL. However, with fewer games each week, finding four underdogs to join Fairway's Foursome is far more challenging. Still, we'll Chip-in our thoughts and analysis, and perhaps modify our Course management along the way.
In the NFL, competitively-priced underdogs are 6-points or less. We'll add in some bigger 'Dogs along the way, but note too you can evaluate these selected teams and consider using them in your straight wagers and parlays without money lines. It's very difficult to hit an underdog money line parlay. But we'll provide the potential payoffs with a small wager each week along with a straight parlay. Straight win wagers are a far more prudent play, but I know from experience that bettors like a bigger score with less risk and want to parlay their profits.
An opening night win by the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles was a bad game to watch as Philly beat Atlanta 18-12. Ratings were down significantly, and the NFL has to be concerned about viewership, but will no doubt get their money back with legal sports betting expansion in the U.S. Advertising dollars and sports betting and sports book sponsors are likely a ‘rules’ change in the years ahead.
A number of line moves to open Week 1 as the number have been getting pounded into place for the past few months and recent week.
This week's underdog plays – Shop lines at the leading offshore sports books.
454 Cleveland (+4.5) vs Pittsburgh – Browns Money Line +185
457 NY Giants (+3) vs Jacksonville – Giants Money Line +130
465 Houston (+6.5) at New England – Texans Money line +220
468 Miami (+1.5) vs Tennessee – Dolphins Money Line +105
$20 4-Team Money Line Parlay = $840
$20 4-Team Parlay = $220
All four of our Week 1 plays apply to a contrary Week 1 situation playing on non-playoff teams against opponents that made the playoffs last season. That situation has produced 59% ATS winners over the past 15 years. In addition, Week 1 teams with the worse win percentage the previous year are also near a 60% play ATS since 1999.
We’ll incorporate some ATS information into our analysis throughout the season, and both reference and reinforce stats in our analysis. That includes some of our rushing guidelines used along the way. It’s often the stronger teams on both offense and defense that hold an edge at the point of attack, and those teams are usually favorites. But the contrary nature and parity of the NFL levels the playing field when it comes to point spread prognosis, and we’ll try to uncover more underdogs with bite in our weekly pursuit of profit.
Based on our results from last year when 11 of our 16 ATS winners won outright, you should also consider a smaller percentage of your wager and place it on the money line when betting the underdogs. The payoff and return from the sports books is rewarding.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland – This line has been dropping as the Browns look to win opening week after losing all 16 games last season. As bad as the Browns were last season, they still covered both games against the Steelers while losing by 4 and 3 points including 21-18 in Week 1 on this field. That was also with completely clueless QB Deshone Kizer under center each game, and their turkey and hopeless coach Hugh Jackson calling the shots. Well, Kizer is gone, but somehow no clue Hue survived. He did however bring in a new offensive coordinator as an upgrade, and Todd Haley knows the Steelers personnel having served as Pittsburgh’s OC the last 6 years. The Browns have new QB’s with Tyrod Taylor in from Buffalo and top draft pick Baker Mayfield, and the turnovers that plagued the offense last year will be reduced significantly. The focus for the Browns will be on ball control and the running game, with new RB Carlos Hyde running behind an improved offensive line. Many don’t realize how good the Browns defense was last season, especially against the run, despite wearing down with the team’s putrid offense unable to sustain drives and consistently turning the ball over, which hurt the defense. Now they have an upgraded secondary that can slow more passing attacks even against efficient QB’s like Big Ben. Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell is doubtful to play, and along with his running strength, the Steelers lose his abilities in the passing game. We bet UNDER the total early, knowing weather was also going to be an issue, and it will be raining with 20+ MPH winds in Cleveland to kick off Week 1. Also note that the under is 8-0-1 in the Steelers last 9 road games. Upset call on the ‘bad’ Browns to snap their season long winless streak from 2017.
Jacksonville at NY Giants – Here’s a disrespected ‘Dog and another perceived bad team off a horrendous season. The Giants coaching was as laughable as the Browns last season, but New York’s coach was shown the exit door, as expected. In comes former Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to lead the Giants, who will have a healthy and talented wide receiving core returning along with projected future star running back Saquon Barkley – a top rookie and the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft. The future is now, but Barkley will get a rough introduction to the pro ranks facing a dominant Jaguars defense from a year ago. Jacksonville’s defense is likely to regress some this season, as they faced perhaps the easiest schedule in the NFL last season while facing many sub-par quarterbacks. The Jags do have some edges at the point of attack and appear they will out-rush the Giants in this contest. Still, the Giants have plenty of talent from their 11-win team in 2016, and that includes on its defense. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and his sub-par passer rating will also be under pressure, and note Bortles has still won less than 35% of his games as an NFL starter despite the Jaguars strong season last year. Laying these points on the road against a motivated host in a hostile and amped up environment in New York cannot be advised, even if some of the supporting stats from a year ago says otherwise. A resurgent and Giant ‘Dog is ready to attack at MetLife.
Houston at New England – Year after year the Patriots benefit by playing six games against division opponents who have cumulatively put some of the worst quarterbacks on the field. Meanwhile, QB Tom Brady, now age 41, comes off an MVP season and coach Bellichick plugs and plays personnel around him at the skill positions and hires new coordinators. But the Patriots will not be nearly as strong this season, and recall last year they had a potent offense but one of the league’s worst defenses early in the season before showing some improvement. Still, the run defense was a problem area and New England did add a few new players to improve the defense. Houston returns some of their stars on defense following injuries last season, and also back from injury is QB Deshaun Watson, who was playing at a Pro Bowl level through nearly half a season before suffering an injury. He also played under pressure often, and the Texans added three new offensive linemen who are significant upgrades. I have Houston with a solid rushing edge in this game, and the Patriots offense won’t be nearly as potent after losing a number or wide receivers. Brady will be under pressure from Houston’s potent pass rush with J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus returning from injuries to play alongside Jadeveon Clowney. Add in another All-Pro with the addition of safety Tyrann Mathieu and Nickelback Aaron Colvin and we’ll play the better defensive ‘Dog in Week 1 of a bounce back season for the Texans. ATS note: Since 2001, Super Bowl losers are 2-15 ATS in Week 1.
Tennessee at Miami – The Dolphins suffered through a season of injuries last year that included QB Ryan Tannehill. Miami also had a ridiculous early season schedule and travel that included the postponement of their Week 1 game. This season the Dolphins pass defense will be above average again and benefit from a better run defense with interior line additions. That will be significant to start the season, as the Titans appear to have the better of it in the ground game for this match-up. Tennessee has an entirely new coaching staff after the Titans made the playoffs and won a playoff game last season. Tennessee also looked bad and played poorly in the preseason while going winless, and QB Marcus Mariota was mediocre at best last year and has been a poor performer on the road, which included 11 INT’s away from home last year. Many forget Miami was a playoff team in 2016 under the superior coach in this contest Adam Gase. He’s feeling a little heat as are the Dolphins to perform better. We think they will as the host in hot and humid Miami, where the Dolphins are 4-1 SU and 5-0 ATS in their last five home openers.
Best wishes in your Week 1 NFL picks and predictions as you fire for the green.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay