NFL Betting Tip: How Bettors Should Handle Surprise Playoff Teams

NFL Betting Tip: How Bettors Should Handle Surprise Playoff Teams article feature image
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Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images. Pictured: Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, Emmanuel Sanders, Richie James Jr. and Jimmy Garoppolo

  • The San Francisco 49ers won 13 games this season, a nine-win improvement from 2018.
  • Using Bet Labs, we analyze how surprise NFL playoff teams have performed against the spread.

The San Francisco 49ers were underdogs to make the playoffs before the season began. Bookmakers gave Kyle Shanahan’s team +200 odds to reach the postseason, an implied probability of 33.3%.

Despite the lack of hype, the Niners have defied the odds. With a balanced offense led by Jimmy Garoppolo and the league’s No. 2 defense according to Football Outsiders DVOA, San Francisco will play past Week 17 for the first time since 2013.

The 49ers won 13 games after notching just four victories in 2018. They earned home-field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs and a first-round bye.

Expectations are high in the Bay area. The 49ers are +320 (FanDuel) to win the Super Bowl and one of just three teams with better than +400 odds. San Francisco opened as a 7-point favorite against the Vikings on Saturday (4:35 p.m. ET, NBC).

But even though the betting market likes the Niners’ chances of advancing to the conference championship game and making a run to the Super Bowl, history suggests the team could struggle after a dramatic year-to-year improvement.

San Francisco saw its win total jump by nine games from 2018 to 2019. Since 1990, only seven other teams enjoyed a win-total improvement of nine or more games from one season to the next.

Of the seven teams, only one made it to the Super Bowl, the 1999 St. Louis Rams, who won it all. Overall, those teams that made a big jump from one year to the next went 4-6 straight up (SU) and 2-8 against the spread (ATS) in the playoffs per Bet Labs.

This is a small sample, but we see similar results for other teams that made big leaps.

Since 1990, 47 teams have added at least six wins to their prior season win total. Only five of those teams reached the Super Bowl, though three ended up lifting the Lombardi Trophy. In the playoffs, these teams went 27-34 SU and 22-38-1 (36.7%) ATS.

San Francisco isn’t the only team that surprised based on the previous season’s win total. The Green Bay Packers won 13 games after going 6-9-1 in 2018.

Historically, teams that enjoy large win total improvements from the previous year have struggled in the playoffs — something to consider if you are going to wager on the 49ers and Packers this weekend.

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