Bears, Patriots among most reliable vs. spread

September 17, 2002 9:28 AM


   Horseplayers have long been familiar with the notion of a "bridgejumper." This is someone who bets a vast sum of money on a dominating favorite to show in the hopes of collecting the guaranteed 5% payout.

   While horse racing is pari-mutuel, no bet can pay less than $2.10 for a $2 bet, so you can dump in a near infinite amount and still be assured of receiving your 5% profit-as long as the horse finishes in the money.

   These folks really do exist and from time to time you'll hear about someone having wagered $100,000 on some 2-5 shot to show and people will mumble that it's not a bad way to pick up a quick $5,000.

   Damon Runyon however wrote a story entitled "All Horseplayers Die Broke," which tells the sad tale of a fellow who takes the odds-on favorite to show only to see it trip on a hole in the track when leading by 10 in deep stretch. The theory is that when one of these wagers goes awry, the bettor finds a suitably high bridge to jump off.

   Contrarian bridgejumping for the NFL is what we're dealing with here though, and this approach relies on looking at how teams have been performing against the line set on their games. Many people look at a team's "net points" on the year (points for minus points against), but few people actually track how a team has done on average against the spread.

   For instance a team that wins by 10 points when they were favored by seven would have a +10 for "net points" but only a +3 for their performance against the line.

   Last season the top “bridgejumping” teams were Chicago and New England, who both on average beat the spread by eight points. At the bottom end were Indianapolis and New Orleans, who were losing to the line by an average of six.

   The basic premise is you find a matchup where one team has been significantly better than the other in “average net against the line” and you go against the likely public choice and play the poorer of the two teams.

   Historically, this method has been very strong when the difference between teams was six points or more (for instance one team is +2 points per game ATS, the other is -4).

   While some may scoff at only a 55% winning rate, we’re talking about a span of almost 20 years, and over 1,100 plays. That’s impressive for a simple strategy.

   Reviewing how this method had performed lately was cause for concern, as it suffered three straight losing years from 1998 to 2000, but had a great run in 2001 when it wound up 33-22 for 60% against the spread.

   Perhaps this method is not quite enough on its own, but in conjunction with some other solid handicapping, it can be the factor that takes a game from a lean to a pick.

Here are the results from 1983 to 2001 during the heart of the season (weeks 5-12) for this style of handicapping:


PLAY TYPE                   WON-LOST                   SPREAD WIN%

Favorites                        148-105                        58%

Underdogs                        474-396                        54%

Home                        320-244                        57%

Away                        302-257                        54%

OVERALL                        622-501                        55%

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