As you probably know, every NFL teams receive one bye on the 17-week regular season schedule each year, amounting to 16 total games played by all 32 teams. The bye gives players a chance to catch their breath, heal their injuries, and step away from the grueling grind that is the NFL season, for a weekend at least. While bye weeks have quite the notorious reputation in the world of Fantasy Football, they can actually be used to one’s advantage when it comes to NFL betting. Unfortunately, most bettors do not understand how to properly weigh teams coming off the bye week and how to go about finding a potential advantage at the ticket window. The following article will shed some light on the strategy and process that goes in to successfully handicapping NFL bye weeks.
NFL Bye Week Breakdown
Bye weeks factor into the NFL schedule between Weeks 4 and 14 of the season calendar. Week 4 is always when you see the first teams receive their week off while Week 13 is the very latest point on the season schedule that a team will sit idle. As a result, Week 14 will present a few games where at least one of the teams is coming off of their Week 12 bye. The following table lists the bye weeks of each team in the upcoming 2020 season.
In general, the impact of a bye week on the team and players should be positive. The week away allows for extra rest, time to get healthy, and the undervalued aspect of taking a mental break and refocusing before embarking on the remainder of the season. A week of rest often leads to better practices and increased intensity heading into the first game after the bye. Additionally, coaches have extra time to make adjustments as well as prepare and game plan for the upcoming opponent.
Thursday Night Football
While they aren’t included in actual bye week statistics and trends data, it is worth briefly mentioning Thursday night games. Now a season-long fixture of the NFL schedule, the shortened week of prep for teams going into a Thursday night game has received widespread documentation on multiple fronts, including sloppier gameplay and an increased risk of injury for players. The flip side is that, following a Thursday night game, teams essentially get half a bye week heading into a standard Sunday game the following weekend. Excluding the games played on Thanksgiving, the following chart is the complete Thursday game schedule for the upcoming 2020 season.
Thursday night games have proven to be impactful to the teams that play in them, and bettors should be aware of the trends surrounding these games which are discussed in the next section.
NFL Bye Week Betting Trends
Given the fact that each team only experiences one bye week per season, the best way to analyze statistical data regarding the occurrence is through long-standing trends. In sports betting, trends can consist of data that go back as little as a week or two or span across many years. Given the annual nature of NFL team bye weeks, all useful trends regarding this subject will go back several years.
ATS NFL Bye Week Trends
Since 2003, NFL teams coming off of their bye have combined to go 254-228 ATS, good for a 52.7% winning percentage. Favorites, in particular, have enjoyed tremendous success, going 148-103 (59%), compared to a mark of just 105-125 (45.7%) for underdogs. When playing on the road, favored teams coming off of a bye fare even better, posting a mark of 62-28 (68.9%) ATS. This is undoubtedly helped by the tendency for public bettors to overvalue home field advantage, leading to flawed lines.
While the following trends span almost the same period, they present a different breakdown of the numbers. From 2003-2018, teams playing on 13 or more days rest (thus including both bye weeks and teams coming off a Thursday night game) have combined for a record of 265-232-15 ATS, translating to a 53.3% win rate. Interestingly enough, much of that success actually came in the first half of the data collection period. From 2003-09, the ATS record for teams in the aforementioned scenario was 122-97-5, or 55.7%. However, from 2010-18, the success rate dipped to just 51.4% as teams went 143-135-10 ATS.
Thursday Night Football Trends
One other thing to consider is how teams have fared over time when playing on Thursday. Like bye weeks, or weeks in which a team has extended time off to rest and prepare ahead of their game, the shorter turnaround time from a Sunday game to playing on Thursday also presents a noted edge to the favorites. Since 2003, Thursday Night favorites have gone 113-83 (57.7%) ATS on the short week, with an even better mark of 73-50 (59.3%) coming at home.
Totals NFL Bye Week Trends
Finally, there are also bye week trends to note concerning wagering on NFL game totals. Again, starting with the surface home vs. road breakdown, home teams have combined to go 95-107-5 on the total (a win against the total means an over result, a loss represents an under), translating to a 47% win percentage. Road teams are hardly better, going 98-105-4, a 48.3% over rate. To break it down further, home favorites have gone 65-79-2 (45.1%), road favorites 35-42 (45.5%), and road underdogs 58-61-4 (48.7%) on the total. The outliers preventing a clean sweep by the under in all categories of the data are home favorites. With a combined record of 29-25-3 (53.7%), they are the only group that sees a trend to the over.
NFL Bye Week Betting Tips and Strategy
Trends are all fine and good, but how does one apply them to gain a possible winning advantage against the sportsbooks? It is important to take each facet of a specific trend into account before deciding to blindly follow it. There may be any number of other factors working beneath the surface of the general NFL bye week betting trends broken down above. Here are some tips and strategies to best position yourself for a betting profit.
Research Specific Team(s) in Question
Taking your bye week handicapping research to the next level starts with looking at team-specific trends surrounding the annual week off. Using relatively recent data here is the best way to go, given the ever-changing personnel of NFL teams. You’d probably be surprised at how varying the records can be, but the data doesn’t lie.
Successful Teams After a Bye Week
Over the five years from 2014-2018, eight teams went 4-1 straight up following their bye week. This list includes the Ravens, Patriots, Chiefs, Panthers, Texans, Seahawks, Bills, and Lions. With the Lions and Bills probably being the biggest outliers to this claim, it is noticeable how the teams on this list have all consistently been some of the better teams from a win-loss standpoint over that same time. This supports the idea that teams with better records tend to benefit more from the bye week historically than those with poor win-loss differentials.
From a numerical vantage point, teams with winning records combined to go 139-83 straight up (62.6%-win rate) following their byes. And as an added nugget, when facing teams with losing records following their bye, teams with a winning record combined to go 103-77-5 (57.2%-win rate).
Unsuccessful Teams After a Bye Week
On the flip side, the bye week doesn’t always guarantee success for every NFL franchise. Of those teams who finished with losing records in games played following the bye from 2014-18, four teams stand out in particular as a result of stumbling their way to a combined 2 wins. The Bengals and Jets each went 1-4 over these five years while the Bears and 49ers laid goose eggs, going 0-5. Again, similar to the relative success enjoyed by the teams in the previous paragraph, all four of these franchises have been mired in mediocrity or worse for the last several years, outside of the 49ers in 2019, the year immediately following the data sample.
Just as there is plenty of historical data suggesting that better teams (favorites coming off their respective byes) enjoy a greater benefit from the week off, there are also numbers suggesting that poorer teams (specifically road underdogs) benefit little to none from the week away from what likely is well on its way to being a miserable season.
Note Timing of the Bye
While we discussed those teams that tend to play better following their bye week above, it is also worth noting that having a bye in certain weeks tends to lead to better performance by all NFL teams in the following week across the board. Based on data from 2014-18, the two best weeks to have a bye are Weeks 5 and 6, with winning percentages in the following weeks of .625 and .615, respectively.
Byes don’t normally happen in Week 1 of course, so the data for this week should be considered an outlier. The Dolphins and Buccaneers each received Week 1 byes back in 2017 due to the extenuating circumstances caused by Hurricane Irma.
When mining data and trends to find a betting advantage for a team coming off a bye, astute handicappers shouldn’t stop at the teams. The NFL coaching carousel never stops turning, and different coaches can carry with them varying degrees of success following a bye week regardless of their current franchise, or the number of teams they have led prior. Chiefs’ head man Andy Reid is the poster boy for this sentiment. Over his 21-year NFL head coaching career, Reid is 18-3 following a bye week. This includes a 40-9 drubbing of the Raiders following Kansas City’s Week 12 bye in the 2019 season. Another coach with great success following the bye is the Patriots’ Bill Belichick, who boasts a career mark of 15-5. Knowing how a coach tends to fare with an extra week of preparation can be vital to beating the books.
Study the Schedule Spot
Studying the schedule spots of teams coming off their bye week includes a couple of different aspects to consider. First, it is worth looking at how the team was doing going into the bye week. In a similar manner to bye weeks benefiting teams with better records more, there is also a host of data that supports the notion that teams who enter the bye on a winning streak (trending up) fare much better on the other side than those teams who enter their open date on a downward spiral. Consider the following statistics in which teams who won the last game before their bye had a 59.4%-win rate straight up in their first game after the off week with a combined record of 123-84-1. Upward-trending teams are also a good bet ATS where they posted a 115-91-2 mark (55.8%) over the same span. On the contrary, teams who entered the bye week amidst a downward spiral can often struggle to come back from the break with a renewed level of intensity after a string of defeats.
The other aspect of the scheduling spot is looking for the potential trap game. While this is a factor more commonly associated with the peaks and valleys of a College Football schedule, it can occasionally rear its ugly head in the NFL as well. If a primetime showdown for first place in the division is looming the following week, it’s only natural for a team to possibly peak past the opponent directly in front of them, whether coming off a bye week or not. As such, knowing the schedule and scenarios inside and out may, at the very least, help you proceed with caution should the look-ahead factor possibly be in effect.
Scour the Injury Report
A thorough analysis of team injury reports should be an integral part of NFL handicapping every week. But coming out of a bye, teams potentially will have more guys available than they would on normal rest due to the extra time to heal from what ails them. Of course, no NFL player will be completely free of aches and pains by the time their open date rolls around, but knowing which difference-makers might be able to return following the extra week off can impact how you weigh aspects of team performance from the week(s) before the bye in which these players might’ve been inactive.
NFL bye weeks can be a handicapper’s best friend or his/her kryptonite depending on how he/she approaches them. In summary, do not bet on teams coming off of their byes blindly. Instead, do some research into trends and data points. Look at the schedules, coaches, and injury reports. Gather as much information as possible to make the most educated bet you can. Your bankroll will thank you later for the extra time put in.