It’s the middle of December and it is teeth-chattering cold outside. Snow is on the ground, and there is a howl in the wind as you snuggle up by the fire to watch your NFL favorite football team. You wouldn’t dare leave the house unless you have three layers on as you sit there watching giant men hitting each other for 3 hours in 20° weather without sleeves on. You sit in your cozy little abode and get a brilliant idea of how to make money fast. Bet the under. The two teams are probably going to run the ball more often, which shrinks the time of the game clock. This means that each team will likely have fewer possessions on offense, so they will not be able to score as many points. Plus, it’s also very cold out, so you would think that both teams would want to get off the field sooner. This seems like easy money in your pocket, but is this strategy always the best? This article will attempt to analyze if it is always the smart play to bet the under-total points in cold weather NFL football games.
What is a Cold Weather Game?
Let’s look at some of the factors that go into this betting strategy. First is the idea of a cold-weather game. A cold-weather game is a game that has a kick-off temperature of 32° Fahrenheit or lower. This doesn’t necessarily mean there needs to be snow on the ground or high wind speeds, but a lot of cold-weather games do. This also means that they typically involve the same 8 teams in the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens. This is because these specific teams play in regions of the country that have a higher frequency of weather that is lower than 32° Fahrenheit. And while teams like the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, and Indianapolis Colts all play in cold weather markets, they also play their home games inside of weather-controlled domes, so those games don’t count as true cold games. Second is that these games usually happen later in the regular season and the playoffs. This might seem obvious as there are fewer freezing days in September and October than in December and January. What might not seem obvious is the injury status and motivation of the teams. Teams can be snake-bitten with injuries near the end of the season and might be less motivated to play since they might not be going to the playoffs. This could lead to them putting in backup players, and thus the points total for their games could be lower. On the flip side, teams could be trying hard for that last playoff spot and want to score as many points as possible, so their game’s total points would be higher.
Cold Weather Games in the Regular and Postseason
Let’s look at the overall points totals in freezing games in the 2020 regular season and postseason. In true freezing games, the over/under was 3-1 in favor of the over, with an average of 48.5 points scored per game. However, these numbers are deceiving as 2 of these 4 games happened in Week 17. One of the games was the Chargers vs. the Chiefs. In this game, Kansas City rested most of their starters, which skews the data. Two of the other true freezing games involved the Packers, who averaged a league-leading 31.5 points per game and scored 40 points against a miserable Titans defense, and 35 against a Bears team that limped into the playoffs. This is not enough data to make a justifiable conclusion into whether you should bet the under on cold-weather football games, so I increased my temperature range.
Instead of taking these data points as the end all be all of how you should bet cold NFL games, I expanded my temperature range to include games that involved weather that was 36° Fahrenheit and lower. I then collected the data and found that for these additional 17 games, there was an average of 50.71 points scored per game, and the over/under was 8-9 in favor of the under. In the regular season, the under had a slight advantage beating the over in 6 of 11 games, and the average total points of these games were 51.5 points per game. These games were interesting because they featured games like when the Buffalo Bills put a 56-26 smackdown on the Miami Dolphins or when the Steelers narrowly beat the Lamar Jackson-less Baltimore Ravens 19-14. Some other notable games were the all-time classic Monday night Baltimore Ravens vs. the Cleveland Browns game, which featured an exhilarating 47-42 final score, and the game where the Denver Broncos didn’t have a quarterback on their active roster and got trounced by the New Orleans Saints 31-3.
In cold-weather games in the playoffs, the over/under was a wash at a 3-3 tie, and the average number of points scored was 49.33. The average number of points scored was slightly lower than its regular-season counterpart, which should be expected as the level of competition increases drastically in the postseason. Some of the notable games from this subset of games were the jaw-dropping and shocking beatdown the Cleveland Browns put on the Pittsburgh Steelers, 48-37, and the smash mouth, gritty, find a way to win 3-17 game between the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills.
Overall, in this 21 game sample, cold games had an over/under record of 11-10 in favor of the over, and the average total points scored was 49.61 per game. So the theory that you should bet the under because it is cold outside is not as great an idea as you think. It was not a bad idea, as this was also my gambling strategy when December and January roll around, but it does not win as often as I previously thought. The main problem with this strategy is that teams have evolved to throwing the ball more often than they run it. The league isn’t the same as it was 10 years ago, and it has adapted to a point where teams can throw the ball in cold weather climates. After looking at the numbers from last season, it appears that NFL players are immune to the cold and can put up points despite the low temperatures.