Treat ATS 'trends' with caution when betting football

Sep 1, 2009 5:09 PM
by David Stratton |

ATS records little help in handicapping

For sports bettors, one of the joys – and challenges – of the football season is evaluating the teams and analyzing matchups, all in the hope of finding that elusive point spread winner.

There’s no shortage of statistics to sift through as witnessed by the dozens of football books and manuals on the shelves of the Gamblers Book Shop in Las Vegas.

Many of the betting guides like to cite "trends" as some sort of road map to betting success. These trends are usually expressed as a team’s record against the spread (ATS), based on a set of parameters.

The parameters can be as simple as where a team plays (home vs. road), who it plays (conference or non-conference), when it plays (at night or in a dome) and so forth.

Trends can also be based on a complex set of parameters, such as a revenge-minded underdog of 18 points or less coming off a straight up dog win (this was a "100 percent" ATS trend for one college team last season).

The problem with ATS trends is they’re based on the point spread. And, if the odds-maker is doing his job effectively (admittedly the "if" can be iffy), the theoretical result is a 50-50 proposition.

For the most part, that has been the case as favorites in the NFL last year covered the spread 50.9 percent of the time, while favorites in the college ranks covered the spread slightly less than 50 percent.

So, if the point-spread outcome is virtually a coin flip, relying solely on it to predict the future outcome can be like rolling the dice.

For instance, take the New England Patriots during their Super Bowl season. They started out winning and covering their first eight games, which may have established in some bettors’ minds a solid ATS trend.

But in the 11 games that followed, the Patriots covered the spread only twice, which probably meant disaster for many trend bettors.

A trendy approach in recent years has been the "100 percent ATS" trend, which is supposed to be a can’t miss proposition.

Unfortunately, if you bet all the so-called 100 percent trends last year, you would have probably lost money.

Here are a few "100 percent trends" that didn’t live up to the hype during the 2007-2008 season.

Northwestern was 14-0 in games prior to Michigan. But that string was broken; they were blown out by Ohio State, 58-7.

BYU was 11-0 ATS as a dog in the first of back-to-back road games. That situation occurred at UCLA, but the Cougars lost and failed to cover the spread.

Nevada was 12-0 ATS when playing the second of back-to-back home games. That scenario unfolded twice, with the Wolf Pack going 1-1.

Oklahoma State was 11-0 ATS in games preceding Texas Tech. They were 11-1 after losing outright to Troy as a 10-point favorite.

Note that some of the 100 percent trends won, as you would expect when the outcome is theoretically 50-50.

But trends should always be viewed with caution, and they should never be used as a substitute for solid analysis, based on teams’ strengths and weaknesses.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: David Stratton