Whether there is any basis for believing that the bye can help a team over-perform the following game is something we investigated a few years back. In this article, we will update the findings and take the research one step further!
The thinking behind why a team off a bye week might have the better of it include such notions as:
”¡ Being well rested: The bye team has had nearly two weeks in most cases to heal from the inevitable injuries that occur during a season. The idle week also allows players to recharge their "tanks" and get a little relaxation.
”¡ Extra preparation: This comes across often in reference to particular high profile coaches. Top NFL minds can be lethal with an extra week to scout out their opposition and devise game plans. One would think that the extra week should allow for a better understanding of what works against a particular opponent.
”¡ Additional midseason practices: While every team holds practices during the week, a team on a bye may have more intense ones. Players battling injuries can be expected to get in more snaps. Also, there may be some freedom to experiment with new schemes and still have enough time to go over all the basics.
”¡ Better mindset for players and coaches: To be on an NFL team is no doubt an emotional whirlwind. With only 16 games a season, each one counts so much that players can quickly lose perspective after a tough loss or a great win. Motivation is such an important part of the coaching staff’s job. It seems likely the extra week can promote a healthier sense of balance and get the players to the right level of "being pumped."
The contrary view is that all the attention focused on teams coming off a bye will bring a value against the point spread and incentive for taking the other side.
In our original article, we discovered the following principles over a 10-year span (1991-2000) that led to solid spread results when one team (but not both) was coming off a bye.
”¡ Play against a home favorite.
”¡ Play an underdog off a loss.
Since that article, we’ve had three additional complete seasons to check our findings. Playing the above two angles would have resulted in a 20-17 record (54 percent) going against the home favorites, and 13-10 (57 percent) with underdogs off a loss. That’s not earth shattering, but both suggestions were positive.
In our tables, the off win/loss refers to the team’s last game prior to the bye. In games with a pick’em line, we consider that a home underdog/away favorite situation.
Overall, the bye week has little influence over spread results. Teams off a bye have covered a near-normal 48.9 percent.
There are some oddities. Teams off a bye that lost its last game by less than a touchdown are 35-16. Those losing by more than a touchdown are 38-53.
The other side of the equation is measuring performance based on both the bye team and non-bye team last game straight-up results.
Home favorites off a bye and following a 7+ point win in their last game are just 2-13 ATS facing a team coming off a victory. Bye teams losing their last game and the opponent winning are 26-8 when the last defeat was by less than 7. The record dips to 21-40 when more than a touchdown.
Many of these type of stats don’t really have the sample size to be convincing. Thus, it is often better to stick with the more general case situation. Perhaps the most popular angle is playing a winless team off a bye. The trend has been solid over the years.
Ultimately, it appears there is some value to using the "back from a bye" factor in your handicapping analysis. Only not in the way and extent you might have thought!