We’ve reached the halfway point of the NFL season, and the presence of fans is still resulting in a better home team coverage rate ATS.

Week 8 saw teams with fans go 5-3 ATS and teams without fans go 3-3 ATS. These results brought the rates to 53% vs. 41%.

While this has been an interesting trend to follow, it’s no longer the end all when I look at the week ahead. That’s the thing about trends, they’re fleeting. I’ll continue keeping tabs on these teams because I think it’s interesting and important work, but the middle of the NFL season brings with it the true contenders, teams that play better than their record indicates, and squads I can’t get a read on.

It’s the latter that I’ve particularly tried to stay away from betting. It’s part of the reason I love this game and this sport so much, anything can happen. When you get these wild teams, it makes for great television and uncertain betting. I’ll let the game play out without my money at stake, please and thank you.

There are a select group of teams that continually are underdogs, and I love taking the points whenever I can, especially in a league like this. It’s these teams I’d like to focus on in this week’s column. Follow me, let me introduce you.

Introducing My Pesky Teams

If I’m going to take favorites, I need them to have emerged as a true contender, which we’ll get to in a minute.

None of the below teams are going to make a serious playoff run, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make us some money. They are continuously keeping games close and beating the odds.

AFC Pesky Teams

Dolphins (4-2 ATS as underdog)

Broncos (5-2 ATS as underdog)

Chargers (3-0 ATS as underdog)

Bengals (5-2 ATS as underdog)

NFC Pesky Teams

Vikings (4-1 ATS as underdog)

Giants (5-2 ATS as underdog)

Bears (5-2 ATS as underdog)

Panthers (4-2 ATS as underdog)

I’ve been on the Dolphins, Bengals and Bears train the last few weeks, but I’m particularly excited to bring the Giants, Panthers, Broncos and Chargers on board as soon as I can.

Miami has handled their rebuild beautifully, and have a strong roster. The defense is coming off a dominant performance against a strong Rams offense, and as Tua acclimates to the NFL, I think they can flirt with the 7th seed in the AFC.

Joe Burrow and the Bengals picked up their second win of the season in an upset over the Titans, and now head to their bye. I touch on it in a bit, but Cincy is 2-0-1 ATS at home with fans and is a team I’ll be keeping an eye on for the rest of the year.

The Bears and Giants are on my list because of their defense. It’s the same approach I go when betting on Tampa Bay – I like teams built around their defensive strength to keep games close.

The Panthers are getting McCaffrey back this weekend, and I’m interested to see how his inclusion impacts the passing game that has been having some success.

I’m all in on Justin Herbert. The Chargers just can’t catch a break, giving away games left and right. They’re building up leads and then losing close, which explains their blemish-free record ATS as an underdog.

Their latest collapse was against the Drew Lock-led Broncos, who are a surprising 5-2 ATS this year. Denver has had a tough schedule, losing close games to the Titans and Steelers and getting blown out by Kansas City and Tampa Bay. Their next game against Atlanta has them once again as an underdog, for the eighth straight time.

The Week 9 Slate for Pesky Teams

Bears +6.5 at Titans

Giants +2.5 at Washington

Panthers +10.5 at Chiefs

Broncos +3.5 at Falcons

Dolphins +4 at Cardinals

The only game from the above that gives me true pause is the Dolphins-Cardinals game. I have Arizona as a true contender, and as only a 4-point favorite, I think they can cover.

My picks: Giants +2.5, Panthers +10.5, Broncos +3.5

Contenders

As I mentioned, teams have started showing their true colors. For the teams off to strong starts, dominance is usually accompanied by large spreads. As always, it’s case-by-case, but if they are playing a bottom team, I’ll take the spread. 

If the spread is under five-points, I’m likely to pounce as well. It’s the games that go against other contenders and teams I can’t figure out that will bring about hesitation.

If you’re reading this, you know who the best teams are, but let us organize our thoughts, shall we? I’ve excluded a few teams that have similar records to the below, as I’ve slotted a few in the next section as teams I don’t know what to make of.

AFC Tier 1 NFC Tier 1
  • Steelers (7-0)
  • Chiefs (7-1)
  • Seahawks (6-1)
  • Bucs (6-2)
AFC Tier 2 NFC Tier 2
  • Bills (6-2)
  • Ravens (5-2)
  • Titans (5-2)
  • Cardinals (5-2)
  • Packers (5-2)

I still stand by the prediction I made back in Week 2 of a Chiefs-Seahawks Super Bowl, which I acknowledge isn’t very bold. Tampa looks legit top-to-bottom and if they can just get their wideouts on the field at the same time, they have a strong chance of making it to the NFC Championship Game.

I have been smitten with the Cardinals since Week 1, and not much has changed as they continue scoring points in droves. Fresh off a bye, they should be able to take down the aforementioned pesky Miami team.

Contender Games for Week 9

We touched on a few contender games above, so just the fresh ones here:

Packers (-7) at 49ers

Seahawks (-3) at Bills 

Ravens (-2) at Colts

Steelers (-13.5) at Cowboys

Saints at Bucs (-4)

The Steelers game fits the bill perfectly of a contender versus a bottom-five team. The Cowboys look to be Jets-esque and will be starting their fourth-string QB.

The other games are tough. The 49ers are ravaged, but have found a way to run every week, which bodes well against the Swiss-Cheeseheads in Lambeau.

Seahawks-Bills is game of the week in my eyes. The Bills have looked a bit flat recently, but they love throwing out of 4-WR sets and the Seahawks struggle to slow down aerial attacks (see: Cardinals game).

The Colts and Saints are two teams squarely in my “don’t know what they are” category, so can I listen to myself and stay away, even with a contender playing each?

My picks: Steelers -13.5, Cardinals -4

Teams I Can’t Figure Out

We’ve alluded to it enough, let me just share the teams I don’t want to touch.

  • Saints
  • Colts
  • Patriots
  • Browns
  • Raiders
  • Lions
  • Rams

Some of the teams above have good records and have a strong chance of making the playoffs, yet I still don’t want to bet on them. I don’t feel the need to back this up with numbers or stats, it’s just a gut-feeling, and until further notice, they’ll be tucked away out of reach.

Teams with Fans

We’ll probably be spending less time on this, but a look at the teams who get to play in front of their faithful:

 

Home Teams With Fans

Team Home ATS Note
Arizona 1-0 1,200 fans
Atlanta 0-2
Baltimore 0-1
Carolina 1-2
Cincinnati 2-0-1 6,000 fans
Cleveland 1-1
Dallas 0-3 25% capacity every game
Denver 1-2
Houston 0-2 25% capacity
Indianapolis 2-1 12,000 fans
Jacksonville 1-2 25% capacity in every game
Kansas City 3-0
Miami 3-1 13,000 fans
Philadelphia 2-1
Pittsburgh 2-0
Tampa Bay 2-1 25% capacity
Tennessee 2-1

*I will keep the above updated throughout this year, and add more teams as states continue navigating health concerns with reopening efforts.

Eight weeks in, the numbers.

  • Home teams with fans: 53% covering, 23-20-1 ATS
  • Home teams without fans: 41% covering, 31-44 ATS

What sticks out to me from the above is the success of Cincinnati, Miami, Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Ok – it doesn’t take advanced analytics to say that Kansas City and Pittsburgh are playing well, but how bout the Bengals and Dolphins?

Neither team plays a home game this week, but I’ll be keeping a close look at that pair in the future.

That will wrap up the weekly look around the league. For more content, please follow me on Twitter @griffybets. Until next time.