NFL Betting Tip: Fade Teams in Must-Win Home Games

Dec 16, 2018 6:58 AM EST
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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson

  • The 7-6 Baltimore Ravens need a win on Sunday against Tampa Bay (1 p.m. ET, FOX) to stay in the NFL playoff picture.
  • Using Bet Labs, we analyze how teams have performed against the spread in must-win games.

We have just three weeks of the NFL season remaining and much is still left to be determined. The Chiefs, Saints and Rams are the only teams to have secured playoff berths while a slew of contenders are fighting for the final wild card spots.

If you are a fringe postseason team, games played in Weeks 15-17 are must-wins. For example, the Ravens are 7-6 and currently own the second wild card in the AFC.

If everything breaks right, Lamar Jackson & Co. could host a playoff game as a division winner or could miss out on the playoffs entirely if the team stumbles down the stretch.

According to FiveThirtyEight.com, Baltimore has a 54.6% chance of making the playoffs. A win over Tampa Bay in Week 15 would push the team’s chances of playing past Week 17 to 69.7%, but a loss would drop its playoff probability to 39.5%.

John Harbaugh and the Ravens need a win on Sunday. Oddsmakers like Baltimore’s chance, listing the team as a 7.5-point favorite at home over the 5-8 Buccaneers.

A majority of spread tickets (see live odds) are on the Ravens, making them a popular public play in Week 15.

It is easy to talk yourself into wagering on the Ravens since they are at home and have playoff motivation. However, history shows that such teams are often overvalued.

Since 2003, fringe playoff teams, which we define as having a .500 to .670 win percentage, have gone 188-202-16 (48.2%) against the spread (ATS) in Weeks 15-17 per Bet Labs.

If the team has home-field advantage late in the season, the record falls to 88-118-5 (42.7%) ATS.

Sharp bettors can profit by fading these fringe playoff teams in must-win games.

Casual bettors overvalue playoff motivation and home-field advantage. Oddsmakers are more likely to shade the line for a team perceived to have extra incentive, which creates value betting against a team like Baltimore.

The Ravens aren’t the only team to consider fading on Sunday. There are three other playoff hopefuls with home games that match this system.

System Matches

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+7.5) at Baltimore Ravens (1 p.m. ET, FOX)
  • Dallas Cowboys (+3) at Indianapolis Colts (1 p.m. ET, FOX)
  • Miami Dolphins (+7) at Minnesota Vikings (1 p.m. ET, CBS)
  • New England Patriots (-2.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS)
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