In The NFL, 2020 Is The Year Of The Underdog


This year will be remembered for many developments, few of them positive. The NFL, though, is delivering some good news in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Firstly, the league has just about completed its regular season. True, there’s been plenty of blips caused by coronavirus outbreaks on various teams but through 15 weeks they’d still found a way to get all the games played.

That fact alone could be construed as a mighty upset. There were no shortage of skeptics who were certain that the NFL would never get to the finish line this season. In fact, NFL betting sites were offering a preseason prop wager on whether or not the season would be completed.

It’s been a regular season unlike any other. When the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings meet on Christmas Day - a Friday - it will mean that an NFL game will have been played on every day of the week this season. There were two Tuesday contests and one Wednesday game played due to COVID-19-caused delays.

"Chase Young and Dwayne Haskins" by All-Pro Reels is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Underdogs Having Their Day

COVID-19 have enforced several protocols on the NFL that have dramatically altered the landscape of game play. Without a doubt, the loss of players who contract the virus has impacted outcomes. The Denver Broncos were forced to play a game with wide receiver Kendall Hinton, a college quarterback at Wake Forest, under center against the New Orleans Saints when all four of the team’s QBs were put into quarantine on the eve of the game.

Most teams are playing in empty stadiums, or at the very most, extremely-limited capacity due to COVID-19 social distancing regulations. Clearly, minus the roar of a partisan crown, this measure is significantly undercutting the home-field advantage that often proves impactful in the NFL.

This leveling of the playing field is apparent in 2020 NFL betting numbers as well. Data compiled by statistical analysis website is displaying that it is proving to be a record season for betting underdogs.

Underdogs are covering point spreads at an unprecedented rate of return this season. Of the 32 NFL teams, there are that 20 clubs that show a winning record against the spread as an underdog. That’s 62.5 percent of all teams. Only six teams are displaying a losing slate ATS as the betting underdog.

The Miami Dolphins are 6-2 ATS as an underdog. The New York Giants (8-3), Carolina Panthers (7-3) and Washington Football Team (7-4) are other clubs that have been faring well when the public is betting against them enjoying a successful performance.

Overall, through games of Dec. 14, NFL underdogs owned a 117-92 edge ATS over favorites this season. That’s a 55.98 percent success ratio.

"Terry McLaurin" by All-Pro Reels is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s Not Just COVID

Further research over the past couple of decades of NFL play indicates that while COVID-19 may be causing more of an uptick this season, the fact of the matter is that underdogs were already trending in an upward direction.

During the 2019 regular season, underdogs went 131-116-9 ATS against betting favorites. Over the course of the year, they delivered a 52.92 percent edge.

It’s easy to scoff at a 3.08 upturn in numbers as not being significant. In fact, pollsters would tell you that it’s within the margin of error.

However, anyone who is a sports better knows that difference is massive. On average, professional sports bettors - the sharps or the smart money, as they’re also known - need to hit about 52 percent of their wagers in order to take home a profit.

Clicking at just shy of 56 percent would offer these players a very healthy stipend that would ensure everyone in their circle would have a Merry Christmas.

There definitely is a trend at work here where NFL underdogs are concerned, and it began last season. A compilation of data researched by showed that NFL underdogs went 1,992-1,974 against the spread from 2003-18. That works out to a 50.2 percent winning margin - a virtual break even scenario.

Is COVID-19 solely responsible for the continued improvement in the success of NFL underdogs, or is it simply a continuation of what was developing in 2019? It will take another year or two of research and the return to the pre-pandemic days when NFL stadiums were packed with spectators to determine exactly how much coronavirus has helped NFL underdogs to win more often than ever before.

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