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Recent NFL Game 1 Trends
By Jim Kruger

The first game of the regular season in the NFL can be a difficult one to handicap. A team’s preseason results can be very influencing to someone looking to place a wager or two opening week. However, was the team playing their starters for relatively excessive time to develop a winning attitude for the upcoming regular season? Or, were rookies and second-stringers getting a lot of playing time to develop depth for the team? Preseason records should not be used as measuring sticks of the quality of a team.

I heard a handicapper recently preaching to “take the home dogs in Week #1”. “You’ll make money, that’s what the sharps do”. First, when you hear somebody spew some verbiage that sounds believable but they provide no empirical data or logic to support their proclamations, you cannot take what they say as the gospel.

So, how have home dogs done in Week 1? Are sports bettors raking in oodles of money betting home dogs in the raising of the curtain for the regular season? If you go long term back to 1989, betting the home puppies in Week 1 would basically be a break-even situation, assuming you are betting with 10% juice, 68-62 ATS, 52.3%.

However, over the last three years, home dogs have covered the point spread eight of 13 times, 61.5%. The argument can be made that a change in the waters is coming regarding this situation and the time to jump on home dogs is now. Thirteen games is a very small sample size, but in looking at the average margin of the games, you see the home dog losing by 4.46 points in the last three seasons. This compares to the average margin from 1989 through 2011, 118 games total, to be a loss by 4.27 points. The average game margin for the home dog actually worsened the past three years, but only by a scant .19 points.

One area that did change was the average line for the home dog. The 1989-2011 period had the home dogs getting an average of 3.9 points. From 2012 on, the line bumped up to 4.4. A half-point average can make a difference, especially in a small-sample size. Also, wagering on sports has grown significantly the past few years so there are more neophyte bettors plucking their money down on what they perceive as the better team, the road favorite.

Let me present a couple of historically winning situations in the opening week. Sporting a wonderful 49-26 record, 65.3%, since 2000, you play the UNDER the lined total in Week 1 games with a home underdog. Just for the record, the home dog is 38-38 ATS since 2000.

So why has the UNDER been a good bet in Week 1 for games when there was a home team getting points? Home dogs are at their zenith of hope, the beginning of the season. Everybody is starting out with a clean slate. Many times, when a road team is favored, they probably are contemplating that it will be an easier than normal game and wind up not playing with as strong of conviction. However, this is the opening game of the season so you would think every team would be motivated to do well.

The home underdog is going to probably play at a slower pace exhibiting conservatism. They don’t want to lose by turnovers nor have an embarrassing opening game on their home field.

Home favorites in excess of 3 points but not more than ten, in the premier game of the season have had much higher-scoring games over the past five seasons going over the lined total 68.4% of the time, 26-12 OU. Short-lined games tend to be more competitive with much closer final score margins and much fewer points scored.

Comparing the ten-year period of 2000-2009 to the past five seasons, the average lined total has gone up 2.8 points in Game 1 with a home team favored between 3.5 to 10 points. However, in those games the average number of total points scored has increased by 7.9 points. For whatever reason, the lined total has not kept up with the higher scoring in these opening games. Currently, there are two games this season in Week 1, Baltimore at Denver and the NY Giants at Dallas, with the home team favored by 3.5 to 10 points, that fall into the five-year 26-12 OU mark.