• @WizeOwlSports

2020 NFL Week 2: An Uber Profitable Angle on a Handful of Underdogs

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Favorites asserted themselves slightly in week 1, but chalk layers' 8-7 ATS tally left plenty of room for pooch lovers to have some fun. Case in point, of our six published picks we were down on five underdogs (see here and here). Still we managed a 4-2 ATS showing.

Our primary NFL framework continues to emphasize underdogs for week 2, starting with a play on the Bengals Thursday. The following table indicates our TNF pick as well as three NFL Sunday plays for consideration. Read on for a discussion of the supplemental support for each pick.

While most teams will play in empty stadiums in week 2, the list of exceptions is growing. Notably, the Browns will have 6,000 fans in attendance this Thursday night and the Colts will allow 2,500 ticket holders to attend their Sunday meeting with the Vikings. A 1-point home field advantage is reflected in the table above for these teams.

Addendum: The Falcons plus the points at the Cowboys originally also made this cut, however the Cowboys too will have (some still undetermined number of) bodies present at AT&T Stadium for the action Sunday. The value with the Falcons implied by our primary framework looked questionable after we applied the (admittedly unsophisticated) 1-point home field advantage for Dallas.

In addition to the indications from our go-to framework, we note that it has been EXTREMELY profitable historically to back week 2 dogs in match-ups between winless teams. Davis, Fodor, et al (2015) examined NFL week 2 games between 1997 and 2012 and observed that points takers covered the second game of the season 71% of the time after a week 1 defeat and when facing another team off a loss.

Per data from BetLabs, since 2012, this system is 16-12 ATS, for a 57% cover rate and a 10% return on investment.

Cincinnati Bengals +6 -105

This line looks off by at least a point or so to us, after we baked in a 1 point home field advantage for Cleveland. Still, backing an underdog on Thursday Night is counter to the observation that significant favorites have proven very profitable bets on the first football day of the week. We are well aware of this truth (in fact, we rode this trend to a Chiefs' cover just last week).

But we also know that week 2 has proven a tough spot for the Thursday Night favorite to beat the number. In fact, week 2 is the absolute worst week to back the NFL favorite on Thursday, and one of only four weeks of the regular season where this strategy has not turned a long-term profit.

It is rare, in the current iteration of the NFL structure, for a team to be meaningfully favored for week 2 TNF, so perhaps one should not read too much into this statistic, but, of four such instances, chalk layers covered only once.

Carolina Panthers +10 -130

Our work has the week 2 Bucs as no more than one score better than the Carolina. We offer a more detailed discussion of the rationale for backing Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers to cover at TB12-led Tampa Bay in a separate post. In short though, we contend that by now, 43 year old Tom Brady's decline is evident and irreversible, while Bridgewater might be near the height of his super powers. We also identify another supportive history-based trend in Carolina's favor Sunday. See here for complete details.

New York Jets +7 -110

As a basis for our play on the Jets, our power rankings work has the Niners as 6 points better than the New York Football Jets Sunday.

Also worth mentioning, week 2 is historically the best point of the regular season to back teams taking points at home. Week 2 home dogs have been good for a 19% return on investment since 2005.

Despite the favorable backdrop for the prospect of the Jets cover, we are among a select few willing to pull the trigger on this one. But we relish our position out on this lonely limb, as the second week of the NFL season falls in the sweet spot for betting against picks with the strongest consensus backing. This may be due to the betting public's tendency to overemphasize the initial week's performance in their betting considerations for the next out (this fits with the thesis of Davis, Fodor et al).

Early in the season, backing underdogs of at least a field goal that are supported by no more than 30% of public betting volume has been good for a 13% ROI since 2005.

As of the time of this writing, in one of the most lopsided games of the week so far--from the purview of betting flows, only 20% of interested bettors are taking the flyer on the Jets. But, the public's widespread shunning of New York increases our confidence in the cover (as this action suggests the 49ers line is likely overpriced).

There are several other week 2 games where the whole of the public seems to be looking the same way:

  • Colts -3 taking 22% of betting volume vs Vikings,

  • Eagles +1 getting 25% of tickets vs Rams,

  • Dolphins +6 attracting only 17% of bettors vs Bills,

  • Lions +6.5 supported by 22% of the betting public at Green Bay,

  • Titans -8.5 backed by 17% of tickets vs Jaguars,

  • Texans +7 drawing 19% of spread bets vs Ravens,

  • Chargers +8.5 garnering 10% of betting interest vs Chiefs,

  • Raiders +5.5 pulling 28% of spread action vs Saints

Keep in mind though that flows data is subject to change, so check with your favorite data provider just before kickoff to validate this system.

Minnesota Vikings +3 -110

We grade this contest a pick, after giving the Colts the modest kicker for home field. As such, we are happy to take the key three handle.

Despite being slightly favored, the Vikings were outgunned in a thrilling shootout with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in week 1. In addition to the aforementioned support of our power rankings framework and the tendency for the public to undervalue dogs off week 1 losses, that Minnesota fell to Green Bay from the position of 1.5 point favorite likewise supports the expectation ATS redemption this Sunday.

In a twist of the finding by Davis, Fodor, et al, writers for The Action Network recently observed that, since 2003, teams taking points just after week 1 upset losses have been rock solid bets in week 2, delivering a 64% ATS win rate and a 21% ROI (see the graphic below for details).

As a fly in our ointment, the Vikings cover is strongly supported by consensus, during a period when it has been profitable to fade the public. Nonetheless, we are comfortable getting behind Minnesota this week, as we find the the case in favor of the Vikings ATS win to be stronger than the case against that potential.

Worth noting, a few other teams (not clearly favored by our power rankings system) are also slated as week 2 underdogs after dropping a game bookmakers expected them to win.

  • Atlanta Falcons +4.5

  • Philadelphia Eagles +1

  • Detroit Lions +6

Happy betting!!