NFL Bye Week Strategy

The NFL bye week is a factor many recreational gamblers don’t pay enough attention to. If you consider yourself a novice sports bettor, and you spot the type of betting line that has you quickly heading to Google News and your favorite sports stat site to see if a player is injured, don’t forget to also notice if that team’s opponent is coming off a bye. For those advanced sports bettors struggling with the bye week, I’ll cover some higher level research and insights about the bye in this article. Before getting to that, I’ll address some general points for anyone not sure what a bye week is, or on which weeks teams have byes.

Basics of the NFL Bye Week

As you probably know, an NFL regular season consists of each team playing 16 games. Back in 1990, the league changed to a 17 week season in order to profit more from television advertising. This left each team with a single week off at some point in the season called a bye week. The bye week used to be random spanning over the entire season, but in 2004 to create a more uniform schedule for the playoff race, the format was changed. How it works now is bye weeks always fall between weeks 4 and 10. As a sports bettor, you’ll need to pay extra attention during weeks 5-11 for teams coming off a bye, as they have the advantage of extra time to rest, get healthy, practice and prepare.

While we won’t include this in our analysis, one other area recreational bettors need to pay attention to is Thursday games. Starting week 10 of the NFL season there is a single Thursday night game, and on Thanksgiving there are two additional Thursday day games. This means that on Thursday, teams will often be playing on short rest, which is usually the case for both teams; so it is not something to worry about. Where it becomes a concern is the following week. Here, teams are coming off added rest and will gain a similar advantage to the one they have from a bye week. Be sure when making bets on the NFL to pay attention both to teams coming off the bye, and to teams coming off a Thursday game.

Capping the NFL bye Week

Considering that this isn’t an article about statistical handicapping models, a topic which 95% of readers might find too advanced, I won’t go into it in much more detail than to make a single statement and then support it. That statement: the better a team is, the more they benefit from the bye week. This is not a theory, but something well quantified via statistical analysis that the best odds makers are aware of. To give you a small clue, the modifier for teams coming off a bye is a multiplier based on power rankings. All teams benefit from the bye week, but how much they benefit is proportional to how good of a team they are.

If the above statement is at all confusing, don’t sweat it. I’ll share some basic stats about how well teams coming off the bye week have fared that will help you understand the lines a little better.

How Teams coming off the Bye Have Fared in Recent Years

Over the four most recent seasons (2007-2010), in games where only one team is coming off the bye, the team coming off the bye has a record of 65-54-1 straight up, and 61-44-5 against the spread.

Now, if you’re thinking about betting teams coming off the bye because the past four years they’ve covered 58.1% of the time, read my article on the current betting market. A system such as that might have worked in 2006; but, more likely than not, this trend won’t continue. This is because today NFL betting lines are far more efficient, and the market will likely correct itself.

The standard ATS data is nice, but it really doesn’t tell us much unless we break it down further. After doing so, a more interesting trend appears. Using the same 110 game sample, teams coming off the bye week that are favored have a record of 48-12 straight up and 36-20-4 ATS, while underdogs coming off the bye have a record of 17-32-1 straight up and 25-24-1 ATS.

Next, let’s look at this data broken down into four subsets:

Home Favorites: 31-11 Straight / 21-19-2 ATS
Road Favorites: 17-1 Straight / 15-1-2 ATS
Home Underdogs: 9-8-1 Straight / 11-6-1 ATS
Road Underdogs: 8-24 Straight / 14-18 ATS

The sample size on road favorites is rather small, but 15-1-2 against the spread is massively impressive, nonetheless. To share a remote stat out of an article I wrote a couple of years back, from 1990 to 2008 (over a 150 game sample size), road favored teams coming off a bye week covered the spread nearly 70% of the time.

To go back to and get more accurate four year numbers for all favorites coming off the bye, there are 9 games missing from the 110 sample size I used. This is because 9 times since 2007 there were games where both teams were coming off the bye. (32×4=128), I got the 110 sample size because 18 of the byes were not relevant to opening discussion. To take a look at these games where both teams were coming off a bye, the favorite’s record is 8-1 straight up and 7-2 ATS. Using all data from the past four seasons, the records for favorites coming of the bye are as follows:

All Favorites: 56-13 Straight / 43-22-4 ATS
Home Favorites: 37-11 Straight / 26-20-2 ATS
Road Favorites: 19-2 Straight / 17-2-2 ATS

The data here strongly supports that good teams benefit from the bye more than the market is giving them credit for. I say that because only good teams are favored on the road in the NFL. Using just road favorites is a bit quirky, however, and some might consider it “data mining”, even though this trend is well founded when dating back much further than 2007. If we’re going to really look at this in depth, though, we need to look at subsets of all favorites disregarding home and away, as that’s built into the spread.

Using all data from the past four seasons:

Favorites of -14 or more coming off a bye week
5-1-1 (ATS)

Favorites -7.5 to -13.5 coming off a bye week
8-4 (ATS)

Favorites -7 or less coming off a bye week
30-17-3 (ATS)

The important thing to note here is that there is no guarantee these trends will continue. In fact, as a firm believer in efficient market theory applied to sports betting, I believe it’s unlikely we will see the same results in 2011. It is still something to be conscious of going forward.

Again, experts have known for years that in a statistical based model, the adjustment for teams coming off the bye week is a multiplier based on power rankings. The good news, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a recreational bettor who bets on feel, someone that caps the market, or a sharp or odds maker, it’s still good news, “I won’t be writing an article on that topic”. If you’re looking for a source of profit betting the NFL, study the bye week better, as this has been the largest area of market efficiency, and this dates back to its introduction.

While we didn’t hand you the full rice bowl so to speak, this article does provide some excellent tips to point any sports bettor in the right direction, more than most are willing to share. If you appreciate and find this information valuable, please consider supporting our site by opening an account via this link to BetUS (one of the best betting sites out there).

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