With only three weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, teams like the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts have clinched playoff spots while others are battling to qualify for one of the remaining postseason berths. Looking ahead to the Week 15 schedule, I noticed a handful of situations in which teams in the thick of the playoff hunt are matched up against teams with losing records.
Do teams with potential playoff spots on the line actually play better because they're motivated to make the postseason? Or is the opposite true, where bad teams are motivated to play the role of "spoiler" and actually perform better in these scenarios?
To answer these questions, I turned to our Bet Labs data analysis software and developed a late-season NFL betting system to analyze where the value lies when winning teams face opponents with losing records over the final weeks of the season.
To start, I used Bet Labs' "game number" filter to isolate only games played over the final three weeks of the season. Next, I layered in the "team win %" and "opponent win %" filters to examine winning teams versus losing teams. For the purposes of the analysis, I defined a winning team as one with a winning percentage above .500, while those with a winning percentage below .500 were considered losing teams.
At this point, there was a very slight edge for losing teams, which covered the spread 53.7 percent of the time. In previous articles for Insider and SportsInsights, we've found that, in general, home field is overrated in the NFL and therefore visiting teams have an advantage. With this in mind, I filtered out all home teams and instantly improved the ATS win rate of our system to 57.4 percent.
The table below summarizes the results of the analysis.